After van problems “ruined” our vacation, why won’t Avis offer a refund?

Sheila Addiego’s wedding anniversary is not going well because the battery in her rental van died. Is she entitled to a full refund?

Question: I want a refund from Avis for seven-passenger van we recently rented in Italy.

We picked up the vehicle and drove four hours to our destination, stopped to check into our hotel and when we got back in the vehicle to go to dinner it would not start. Our hotel clerk called for a mechanic who determined the battery was dead and would not hold a charge.

We repeatedly called Avis and they said, “Call emergency roadside service.” We did that many times and there was never any answer.

When we called back to the Avis location where we picked up the van, they said we needed to return it to them. That was impossible because the van would not start.

Even if we had the help of the mechanic to start the van, we would be missing our 50th wedding anniversary party with a large group of family members that had been planned for one year.

Avis would not authorize the use of the local mechanic to replace the battery. We were stuck having to use the local mechanic to start the van every time we ventured out and we had to make sure we could get help at each destination in order to get back to the hotel.

We missed half of the planned activities and encountered a lot of stress and anxiety. We put in a claim with Avis for a refund and were denied.

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Avis refunded us 50 euros for the mechanic’s bill. We also disputed the charges with our credit card, but were denied. Can you help us get our $597 back? — Sheila Addiego, El Cerrito, Calif.

Answer: Avis should have offered you a working vehicle, no question about it. Although there’s not specific guarantee that its vans are roadworthy, there’s certainly an implicit warranty that any vehicle you rent from Avis will be driveable.

Interestingly, car rental companies are trying to separate the issue of rental from a working rental. Many rental companies are selling additional emergency roadside service packages to customers like you, as kind of an insurance against breakdowns. A review of the paper trail between you and Avis suggests you weren’t offered such “protection” and didn’t have it.

Avis should have fixed its broken van promptly, and the thread between you and the company shows that it would have replaced the battery, as long as it was done by an Avis mechanic. But that was impractical for you.

You couldn’t have known that your battery was about to die. It may have even been impossible for Avis to know that the vehicle had a bad battery. But once you knew it needed to be fixed, the company should have done the right thing and replaced it.

Avis needed a reminder that it’s in not just the car rental business, but also the people business. A brief, polite email to one of its executives might have helped. You can find their names, numbers and email addresses on my consumer advocacy site.

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I’m not sure if a full refund is in order. After all, you had a car and you drove it, albeit with some difficulty. Avis needs to make this right, but zeroing out your bill may be a bit too much to ask.

I contacted Avis on your behalf. It apologized for the malfunctioning vehicle and agreed to refund you $219 of your rental in addition to the reimbursed mechanic bill. I think that’s a more than fair resolution.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at

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