No spare tire in my car rental – do I deserve a credit?

Where's my donut? / Photo by H Rocker - Flickr
The late model Hyundai Elantra that Joe Gershman rented from Dollar in Charleston, SC, recently looked fine from the outside.

But while he was driving the rental car one evening, he discovered it had a big problem.

“We got a flat tire,” he says. “And when we opened the trunk to pull out the spare, there was no spare.”

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No spare tire? Is that legal?

My reading of the South Carolina Code of Regulations says is is. Rental cars aren’t required to have spare tires. But common sense tells you they probably should.

Gershman says learned of the oversight when he called called AAA for a tow.

He explains,

AAA inflated the tire so that we could drive the vehicle to a gas station to get fixed the next day (they were closed for the night), and then we had to pay a cab to take us to our lodging, which was about 10 miles away.

Had there been a spare, as is normal and customary, we would have continued to have use of the car while the tire was fixed – and I would have had no complaints.

Hmm, well, two problems with that one. The first call you make when a rental car is having mechanical trouble is not AAA, but the rental car company. It’s up to the agency — not AAA — to get the vehicle back on the road.

Also, you wouldn’t drive around on a donut for several days. That could create even more problems. A spare tire is meant to get you to the garage, where you can get a new tire. If you drive it for longer than 70 miles, it could blow out.

Dollar offered him a replacement car. Gershman decided to take the matter up with Dollar when he returned it.

We requested that we be credited for the one day that we were without a car (approximately $37) because they had rented us a car without a spare – and without notifying us of that fact.

A supervisor refused. She first claimed that Hyundai did not make the Elantra with a spare. We pointed out that that was untrue, as the owners manual discusses the spare for several pages, and the trunk includes a space for it — they just chose not to provide their customers with one.

She then said, well, the Elantras that Dollar buys don’t have a spare — they rented us a car with four tires, and if we had a flat that was our problem and we would have to continue paying for the rental even if they didn’t provide us with a spare.

When I asked where it was disclosed in our contract that they were renting us a car with no spare tire, she denied Dollar had any obligation to inform us and said that the contract did not commit that they were providing us with a spare tire.

Appeals to Dollar corporate were met with the same response.

Gershman wants to know if I can mediate his case.

“The dollar amount is not huge, but the principal is important,” he says. “Rental car companies shouldn’t be renting cars without a spare and then charging for the time you are without a car because they inconvenienced you by renting you a car without a spare.”

I agree, having a car without a spare was inconvenient. But there’s no federal or state law I’m aware of that requires a car rental company to include a spare tire.

A more compelling question would be: Does Gershman deserve compensation for his loss of use of the vehicle?

Car rental companies routinely charge a “loss of use” fee when their vehicles are being repaired. Why shouldn’t it go the other way?

Update: Here are a few more details of the time loss from Gershman:

After several calls with Dollar on the night of the 4th and the morning of the 5th, in which we complained about being rented a car with no spare, we were permitted to take another vehicle that had a spare tire around 1 pm on the 5th (the tire on the Elantra had to be replaced, and was still being worked on at that time).