Did Hertz upgrade me into a broken SUV?

By | February 19th, 2016

When Robert Pascal picks up his rental car in Shannon, a representative hands him the keys to the wrong vehicle. And that’s just the beginning of his problems. Can this rental be saved?

Question: I recently reserved a midsize rental car in Shannon, Ireland, through Hertz. At the airport, a Hertz representative upgraded us to an SUV, which sounded bigger, but was not.

We were given the keys to an Opel Mokka, which was so small we could not fit our bags into it without putting two of them on our laps.

I have driven a stick-shift car for the past 53 years, but when I started driving this car I had trouble getting it into gear. I must say I was a bit frazzled since the car was so small and there were four of us in it. I did get it going, but noticed a smell coming from the car right away, so I drove it around the airport block back to Hertz. I had the car 15 minutes max.

Hertz claimed I ruined the clutch. They “upgraded” me to an automatic for 50 euros a day more. I did not have any problems with that automatic Audi. But when I turned the car in I was charged another 802 Euros for damage to the clutch, so my total cost was 1,699 euros instead of the 268 euros that I had been quoted.

I did not get the Hertz rental car insurance because of the cost and I felt that I was already covered. I had expected that my car insurance, or my Platinum Amex card, or my USAA travel insurance with rental car coverage would cover the damage, but none of them would, because the first two do not cover Ireland and the latter does not cover mechanical damage.

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At this point I do not have any other solution to this expense, which equaled the whole cost of our trip, less airfare. This is a very big expense for us, as you can imagine. I would appreciate anything that you can do since I think that the clutch was already defective as the smell started almost immediately. — Robert Pascal, Bellevue, Wash.

Answer: Hertz was generous to upgrade you into an SUV. I would hate to see what a midsize car would have looked like, or how your party of four would have handled your luggage. But the company should have also offered you a working car, and I’m not sure if it did.

The transmissions on European cars don’t always work the same way as on American vehicles. If you don’t believe me, try putting that European rental into “reverse.” I will gather a few car rental employees so we can watch you.

My point is, Hertz should tell its American customers about any idiosyncrasies with their transmissions before they drive away. And you should ask. Otherwise you could end up with a burned-out clutch, which is what Hertz claims you did. Was that you or the previous renter? It’s hard to know for sure. But it happened while you were driving it, which means you’re responsible.

I’m surprised Hertz didn’t require you to purchase its insurance. Ireland is among the countries that more or less require you buy the car rental company’s expensive insurance option. You must have showed the representative proof of comparable coverage, which should have covered this event.

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You weren’t at the end of the line, by the way. You could have contacted one of Hertz’ executives. I list their names, numbers and email addresses on my consumer advocacy site.

I contacted Hertz on your behalf. It insists you damaged the transmission, but agreed to refund half of the repair bill, or 401 euro.

  • TMMao

    That horrible smell is the clutch lining burning away. It usually happens when someone unfamiliar with a vehicle’s clutch pedal feel rides the clutch. Mr. Pascal may have driven a stick-shift for over 50 years however he probably never drove an Opel Mokka before. Not all clutch pedals feel the same and it wouldn’t be unusual for someone unfamiliar with that SUV’s clutch pedal feel to ruin it within 15 minutes. Kind of like two-foot drivers that ride the brake pedal all the time, or
    the sight of rental cars descending mountain passes with brakes smoking
    all the way down. Clutch damage can also be a result of cumulative wear, kind of like a bald tire on its last legs, so maybe he was just the unlucky one. In the end, it’s a he said/she said argument and good for Hertz to offer a 50% credit. There probably isn’t any rental car insurance/waiver that covers abuse of the vehicle anyway, so next time just pay extra for the automatic.

  • Rebecca

    One important thing, among several, that I have learned on this site is to never rent a manual transmission car in Europe. I can drive stick, but there’s so many stories of this happening, it just isn’t worth it. I’ve never rented a car overseas, I’ve only taken public transportation. But if I did, I would pay extra for an automatic. After all, that’s what I do with my own car. It’s not that I can’t drive it, it’s just well worth the convenience.

  • sirwired

    The proverbial moral of the story is if you are American, never, ever, Ever, EVER rent a vehicle with a manual transmission. If anything at all goes wrong with it, it will be judged to be your fault, even if it was The Last Guy.

  • sirwired

    Mere poor shifting technique because it’s an Opel vs., say, a Jeep can shorten the life of a clutch, but it won’t burn it out in 15 minutes. That could only be accomplished by driving around riding the clutch, which I’m going to go out on a limb and say that somebody who’s driven a stick for a half-century probably knows not to do.

  • Fishplate

    If you were in third instead of first, that could do it.


    My husband immigrated to the states in his mid-20s and did not drive an automatic until he was in his 30s (other than mine occasionally.) Even he will not rent a manual car when we travel. Says it is simply a damage claim waiting to happen.

  • John Baker

    Points to remember… Almost no credit card insurance cover the Republic of Ireland. Always purchase the rental car company’s insurance. As a an American, avoid manuals. Even if you drive one all the time, you’re shifting with the opposite hand and the Irish all realize that most of us don’t drive manuals. Its a scam waiting to happen (which isn’t to say that rental places are looking to scam you. More like walking down a dark alley at night with a $10,000 necklace. Just not the smartest thing)

  • Nathan Witt

    It used to be that most cars I rented in Europe were an ordeal revolving around the transmission. I’m perfectly capable of driving a manual (my daily driver has one), and they always try to give me an automatic. If I tell them I don’t want an automatic, about half the time, the first car they give me clearly has clutch or transmission problems, and they’re hoping I won’t notice. I’ve taken to telling the counter person this story, and lo and behold, now I generally get what I reserved or better with a working clutch.

  • Éamon deValera

    The Opel Mokka is similar to the US Nissan Juke, neither of which I would call an SUV, frankly neither of which I would call transportation.

    I’ve never noticed any difference with a standard transmission in Ireland and one in Cleveland. You can’t really ruin a transmission driving around the block. It was nice of Hertz to refund half, but I wouldn’t be satisfied.

  • Éamon deValera

    Discover Card does cover ROI, in fact that is the prime (perhaps sole) reason I have a Discover Card, although it is secondary and collision only. In this instance I believe it would be considered isolated mechanical and as such not covered by the Discover Card insurance.

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