My rental car is a “gasoline bomb” — am I entitled to a refund?

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By Christopher Elliott

Nothing extraordinary happened when Paul Candia rented a car from Budget in New York recently. There’s no frivolous damage claim, no extra fee, not even a rude employee to complain about.

But Candia wants a full refund. The reason? Halfway through the rental, he received a message from the rental agency that his vehicle had been recalled, and that he needed to change cars immediately.

“It was a terrible experience,” he says.

Terrible enough to merit a full refund? Absolutely, he says.

After receiving a voice-mail message, he tried to contact Budget for clarification. That’s when the problems started.

I called Randy who was in Costa Rica who gave me no help. Lindsay in Kansas gave me no help, either. Ryan in Dallas finally explained to me that there was a problem with the car and it was dangerous to drive. He said there was a problem where the gas line was welded to the gas tank.

He said we would be OK as long as we were not in an accident.

Oh, that’s reassuring.

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What followed was a confusing back-and-forth, with Candia trying to make arrangements to return the car and still make all of his appointments. He eventually returned the vehicle to a Manhattan location, but ran up an extra $12 in cab fare.

That’s not all.

My wife and I suffered extreme anxiety during this ordeal as we felt we were driving a gasoline bomb that could explode at any time — accident or not.

We were extremely upset from the time we found out about the recall until the time we turned the car in to Budget.

My wife and I suffered extreme anxiety during this entire ordeal and would like the entire bill of $207 plus $12 for the cab ride to our hotel reimbursed immediately.

Budget hasn’t refunded the money. Candia wants me to help him get one.

Here are a few relevant details:

The vehicle in question is a 2012 Chevy Cruze. The recall affected nearly half a million cars. Here are a few details from GM.

I haven’t said much about the recall controversy, mostly because it’s a non-issue for readers of this site. My advocacy team and I respond to complaints, and since no one has complained about driving a recalled car, I haven’t really had a horse in this race.

Interestingly, while Budget’s position on recalled cars may not sit well with some consumer advocates, it is, in practice, pretty responsive when it comes to recalls. Earlier this year, Avis Budget Group removed 10,000 Ford Focus models from its fleet after a recall, for example. (Here’s our ultimate guide to renting a car.)

Switching vehicles was a hassle for the Candias, no question about it. Also, Budget could have handled his incoming calls better by briefing its agents on the recalls or providing him with a dedicated phone number for customers affected by the recall. It might have also handled the transfer better by agreeing to cover some of his costs.

Budget couldn’t have known that its Chevy Cruze vehicles were about to be recalled, and they did the right thing by phoning Candia immediately and arranging a switch.

In the end, Candia and his wife got what they paid for: a rental car. But aren’t they entitled to something for the anxiety and hassle? Certainly, an apology would be a good start. Those are free. A voucher would be good too, but Budget isn’t really required to do anything beyond giving this customer a functioning car.

Or is it?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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