After car rental disaster, angry customer mails “gesture of goodwill” back to Thrifty

junk carLike most travelers, Bette Waterstreet doesn’t expect much when she rents a car. A clean, running vehicle that’s in the same car class she ordered will do just fine. But that’s not what she got when she rented from Thrifty in Ontario, Calif., recently.

“It was a junkmobile,” she says. “Absolutely filthy.”

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Does Thrifty owe her anything for the inconvenience?

Yes. And no.

Yes, in the sense that it should have never handed a customer the keys to a dirty vehicle. Ever.

But no, in the sense that Waterstreet didn’t give Thrifty an opportunity to make things right when it could.

“They gave us a two-year-old car that sounded like a washing machine on the road,” she recalls. “I should have marched right back to the office, but couldn’t be late to a meeting.”

That’s exactly what she should have done. Thrifty would have probably been happy to swap out the old, dirty rental for a newer one — if it had been given a chance. More car rental companies are aging their fleets in order to save money, which means that an increasing number of customers are being given higher-mileage cars.

I suggested Waterstreet send a brief, polite email to Thrifty, explaining her disappointment. She did.

Here’s its response:

Thank you for notifying us of your recent experience with Thrifty Car Rental in Ontario.

Please accept my sincere apology that we didn’t have the vehicle you expected based on your reservation and for the poor condition of the vehicle you received. We are unable to guarantee a make or model of vehicle when reserved only a car class. Our available fleet is affected by late returns and vehicles that must be serviced and are briefly not available on a given day.

Your requests are important and we try to maintain a fleet that meets your preferences and needs. When a reserved vehicle is not available, it becomes our priority to ensure you receive a vehicle; however, I am sorry this did not meet your expectations.

As a gesture of goodwill, I have mailed you two rental discount certificates, which are redeemable at any Thrifty Car Rental location in the United States, Canada, Latin America, Caribbean, and Australia.

We appreciate your business and hope you will allow us another opportunity to fulfill your car rental needs in the efficient, professional manner you expect and deserve.

Obviously a form letter, but not a bad response. Assuming, of course, the vouchers are worth anything.

Turns out, they weren’t.

I got a follow-up note from Waterstreet.

I received two “big deal” coupons in the mail today. They are for $10 each. I wouldn’t waste my time with Thrifty for that amount.

I’m seriously annoyed at their business practices, but should I drop it at this point? Obviously, my friend and I would NEVER rent from them again, and they don’t seem to care about that with this silly, inconsequential, offensive offer.

I’ve been thinking a lot about it, and what I’ve decided to do is return the coupons with a short note.

Waterstreet’s anger is justified. A $10 gift certificate won’t even cover the refueling option on her next rental.

Lesson learned? When you have a problem with your rental, speak up.

And when it comes to apologies, don’t be thrifty.

(Photo: trbpix/Flickr Creative Commons)