Sounds like a scam: Budget Ireland bills me for a new clutch, but I only drove a few clicks

Renting a car in Europe can take some getting used to for the average American visitor. The vehicles are smaller. Gas is more expensive. And most of the cars have manual transmissions.

And Americans, who are accustomed to driving automatic-transmission vehicles, are notorious for burning out clutches. It’s gotten to the point where any transmission problems are blamed on operator error — whether it’s true or not.

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But when Ashley Pallotta contacted me back in 2009 with her burned-out transmission story from Ireland, it sounded like a possible scam.

She explained,

I rented a car from the Dublin airport, a VW Golf, and it was acting funny from the start. It stalled when the clutch was almost fully depressed and the gears would grind even when the clutch was fully depressed.

At first I dismissed the stalling as learning a new car’s behavior. But after only driving the vehicle for 9 km, the clutch burnt out leaving me stranded.

Keep in mind I have years of experience on a stick shift as it was the first car I learned how to drive.

I filled out an incident report and was told I would be contacted within days if there were any issues. I left Ireland for the USA 16 days later. Six weeks after that, I received a bill in the mail.

Her car rental agency, Budget Ireland, ended up charging her credit card $1,800. But the charges looked funny to her.

This was over $200 to tow the vehicle from Dublin to Galway (apparently there are no car shops in the country’s capital?) along with $700 for 8 hours of labor, plus parts, an a “loss of car hire” fee.

Even insurance companies get to assess damage before paying. Why wasn’t I afforded this opportunity? I was never given a copy of my statement or given a copy of the investigative report that apparently concluded I was at fault. I was never even notified I was being held liable until after my credit card had been charged.

There is no way I burned out a clutch in only 9 km and there is no way it should cost almost $2K to repair. I’m stuck because I can’t fight an international battle. Budget of the U.S says they have no jurisdiction and I’ve called the Ireland Budget HQ directly to no avail.

This is troubling on many levels. The bill didn’t make much sense, from the towing charge to the highly questionable “loss of use” fee. I don’t understand how a car rental company can justify a loss of use without proving it would have lost the revenue, and even then, it sets a very bothersome precedent. By that logic, we should be able to charge car rental firms a “loss of vacation” fee when they keep us waiting in a long line at the car rental counter.

Anyway, my records show that I contacted Budget, but that nothing happened. The bill stuck.

But Palotta didn’t give up. She wrote to every appropriate regulatory agency. She disputed the charges on her credit card (it didn’t work). Finally, she did what very few Americans do: She teamed up with another customer who’d received a similar bill from Budget, and pursued a claim through the Irish courts.

An initial demand letter from the attorney was unsuccessful. But the weren’t deterred.

I made a spreadsheet of all of my costs (hours spent on this case over 8 months times my engineering wage, plus international calls, certified letters sent, etc) and that, plus the $1,800 came out to $4,700.

I started demanding that cost instead.

When the lawyer finally served them with a court date, guess what? They sent us both checks for $4,700!

It took 8 months of stress and is not worth it still.

But for the two St. Patty’s Day since that has happened, I’ve thrown huge Anti-Budget St. Patty’s day parties at my house to remind everyone not to use Budget. I have a Budget “wheel of misfortune” where people can spin and see what happens and I use real cases that I found on the internet (i.e. “oops, there is a 2 inch scratch on your car. You owe Budget $1,500!”).

The first year I sent the evite to the Budget folks in Ireland and about half of them at least viewed the invitation, which I found entertaining.

I’m happy this case was finally resolved. Had I successfully mediated her case, the best she could have hoped for was a refund of $1,800. (It’s unclear from my own records how Budget managed to squirm out of this one. Often, companies try to ignore complaints that I share with them in the hopes that I’ll just go away, and when you’re mediating hundreds of cases a week, a case can slip through the cracks. I should have been more vigilant.)

As to the clutch problem, beware folks! This could be the European version of the ding and dent scam, and it apparently preys on American tourists. If you’re uncomfortable driving a standard-transmission car on the wrong side of the road, do yourself a favor and take the train.

(Photo: physis3141/Flickr)

38 thoughts on “Sounds like a scam: Budget Ireland bills me for a new clutch, but I only drove a few clicks

  1. I’m an American living here and I find the way the above customer was treated as disgraceful.  Many Irish people seem to have this notion that all American’s are rich and rolling in the money, which we know definitely is NOT the case.  Some companies here also try to pull the wool over people’s eyes like the above company did.  And the fact that Dublin didn’t have a garage to fix the vehicle but had to ship it across the country to County Galway makes little sense as well.

    For some reason, Automatic’s aren’t popular here.  I’ve been fortunate enough to get an Automatic but even when getting a license here, if you take the test in an Automatic, that is all you are licensed to drive whereas if you take your driving test in a Manual, you can drive either type of car.  

    I’m glad the American spirit and will prevailed in this case and that the customer got compensated for their illegal charges.  

    1. Well put, I have driven in Ireland,from Dublin to Cork, in a Alpha Romeo sedan that I was upgraded to by Hertz. Unfortunately, I had a sideswipe incident with a tour bus, kind of mushed in the side of the car. Had taken out full insurance just in case, and the damage was covered completely. No problem, I always take out insurance, it is not that expensive, and you know that you will not have any problems. Loved driving in Ireland, a beautiful country.

        1. The fact that you drove it only 10 miles would indicate to me that it was your fault the clutch burnt out. If you had driven it 1000 miles then it would be less likely that you had caused it. Believe me I work in car hire and I have seen brand new cars had their clutch burnt out within driving 2 km. If you drive in too low a gear or too high a gear, or if you keep your foot even slightly on the clutch while driving you will brun the clutch.

          I work in car rental and believe me the only people who burn out the clutch on cars are Americans and Canadians. The simple reason, they don’t know how to drive Manual cars and only take them because they are about 60% cheaper than an Auto.

          In my 3 years in car rental I have seen probabley on average 2 clutches burnt out a month. Clutches don’t burn easily and if you start buring a clutch the smell is disguisting and white smoke will come from the car. If you smell this, pull over and get someone who can drive a manual to take the car back before you burn out the clutch totally.

  2. Budget is the car company that caused me to lose my airmiles with United Airlines.  I will never use them again.

  3. I live in Ireland – drive a manual here and an automatic when I’m in the tri-state (NY/NJ/CT) area almost every other two weeks

    I’ve hired both here and there – sometimes good, sometimes bad

    Generally – as Chris always says – if I don’t like what I see (or hear(!)) from the car, I will look for another

    I’ve never had a car as bad as the one mentioned (although I have had a car with over 60K from a Hertz Local Edition in Jersey City, NJ… it was the 4th one they produced – I avoid that HLE now!)

    Having said that, it looks like Budget were trying to pull a fast one on so many levels with their bill that they would be lucky to get away with USD 4700 damages when it came to court – so no wonder they paid up! The publicity in court would have cost them considerably more

  4. Kudos to Pallotta for spending the time to pursue this!  It’s the kind of case you hope makes an impact when a company thinks of doing this to another poor sucker, er, I mean, vacationer.

  5. We at applaud this customer’s persistence and tenacity in pursuing this matter all the way to an international court–and win!  Kudos to you Ashley!

    As Gabbygirl below said, it’s disgraceful when a rental company tries to take advantage of a customer in this manner, and it leaves people with the feeling that car rental companies are all thieves, which just isn’t true.  

    Of course there are many horror stories here (and we’ve heard a bunch more), but by and large, 99% of customers have a positive rental experience.  It’s a shame that a few bad apples spoil it for everyone.

  6. Good for the OP for pursuing this to the end. 

    I’m sick of hearing “Americans can’t drive sticks” as an excuse on the part of the European car rental companies. How do they know what I can and cannot drive simply by hearing my accent? Idiots.

  7. Hey!  I’m the girl mentioned in the story above and am so thankful this was published.  I want to make a few extra points known:
    -Zoltan from CA found me after seeing my complaint on a consumer site.  Turns out we both rented gray VW Golfs from the same location (his a week prior to mine).  He returned his car after a few miles because he recognized the problem before I did.  So his clutch never burnt out, yet he was STILL charged $1800. I am so grateful we found each other.
    -I called all 6 certified VW shops right there in Dublin, and all quoted a cheaper price to repair if they had the chance to repair
    -Upon further investigation, I discovered the owner of the “repair shop” in Galway that “repaired” my car…is the brother of the owner of that Budget rental car location!  At that point I definitely knew I was scammed!

    1. Oh yeah, also Budget had to pay my lawyer fees because in Ireland, whoever loses a case pays both lawyer fees!

    2. You are one amazing, fantastic consumer!  Congratulations, and you deserved all (+ much more) than you received from Budget.

    3. Hahah, love that the brother of the rental agency owned the car shop. I hope this blog gets linked everywhere in warning to all potential Budget customers in Dublin.

    4. Chris, maybe you can follow up with Budget to have this location’s franchise pulled?  This is such an obvious scam with no wiggle room, it’s crazy.

    5. Something I am wondering about this…Budget is an international company based here so there name is on this rental location.  I am surprised they can claim they dont have “control” over this case and they havent done anything because this particular rental site is using their name.

      1. Yeah I definitely sent certified mail to the international HQ here but received no response. I submitted a complaint to the BBB (where they aren’t even a member) and their response was their international office only covers North America and maybe south. And they had “no control” over other franchises.

      2. Budget Ireland is  an independent Irish company, franchised, Ashley and I contacted Budget USA several time, we did not get any help, we had to fight our own battle, it was time consuming but at the end we prevailed. Budget Ireland knows, unless they issue the credit to our credit card we have no other recourse, accept the local court. In most  cases companies (including insurance) just pay a few hundred dollars, but we were not ready to roll over for obvious scam for $ 1,800.00.
        On the my2cents web site there was a similar scam posted by an another tourist renting a car in Portugal, unless you fight it on the local court level they will get you.

    6. Ashley, you’re my hero!  Major kudos for standing up for yourself and not letting the bad guys get away with screwing the “little guy”.  You’re an inspiration. 

      As for Budget – there’s one more rental agency off my list.  Doesn’t matter if it was the Irish division – the US division should have been willing to step in and help out a US citizen being scammed by their counterparts in Europe.  The fact that they were unwilling to do anything shows that they don’t care about their customers, or their company’s name.  So they don’t deserve our business.

      Christopher, thanks for publishing!  It’s so gratifying to read a positive story in which the scammers get their comeuppance for their malfeasance. 

    7. Hello,
      My name is Paula.Last month my cousin and I rented a Skoda Fabia from Budget in City Centre Dublin. We took out the collision insurance which was mandated because we had a scrape on a stone bridge trying to avoid a Mercedes coming the other way. On the 5th day of our rental we left to go to Dublin Airport for a flight to Isle of Man. Outside of Kells at 6:30 am in the dark the clutch went out. We had had no previous problems and we both know how to use a manual shift, our other 3 car rentals were all manual. We sat there and an AA guy showed up to help us. My phone wasn’t working so he called a tow truck which took at least 1/2 hr and then 15 minutes to set it up and towed us to a “Skoda” dealership although that’s not what the RO said. We got a cab to the airport and found out the plane had already landed on the Isle of Man. They did not honor our tickets for the afternoon flight, said we would have to pay 200 euros each, which we didn’t have.While I was checking on the flight my cousin was dealing with Budget. Aside from the deposit I had put down, I have a debit card, no credit card, her credit card was charged 260 euros extra. I have to say I set up our trip from my house here in the states and went through Auto Europe. They have told me they can’t do anything about refunding money for things already reserved and more expense that wasn’t planned. I found this sight by accident. I was trying to see if Budget was a franchise or Internationally owned. Everyone of my friends and family are telling me to let it go but I can’t I believe we got screwed. When we turned in the car to Skoda it had 26000 klicks on it.I’ve had cars where the clutch goes out, most of the time you can tell by shifting. I can’t afford a lawyer but if this is a trend then something needs to be done. I called Budget in Ireland and was told to talk to Anne Marie. She is never there or they get her hours mixed up. I know a lawyer but I don’t think he’ll help me and I don’t know how to start.
      Thanks for any advice.

  8. The clutch master cylinder was probably bad.  I cannot imagine how they construed this as driver abuse.  If the driver had driven the car improperly, the clutch would have been burnt out and not moved the car.  Burnt clutches don’t cause grinding or stalling, they cause the engine to turn without the car going anywhere.

    1. Please read  my comment below, there  was nothing wrong  with the clutch, they rented  my VW for an additional seven more weeks as I called the garage manager in Galway when the car was actually towed for “this phony repair”. Several VW service dealers told me, that this VW had a new type of transmission which needs fluid, if you drain it it is like you “burned the clutch “, it becomes inoperable, you re-fill it, rent it  to the next guy, and bill the next soccer for 1,300 Euro instead of getting 50.00 E /day rent. What a profit in a hour !! No they did not wanted to have this exposed in the court, so Budget caved.

  9. I didn’t answer the survey because it is unfair to say “all” clutch invoices are a scam.  However, this one most certainly appears to be.

    towing halfway across the country is absurd.  They shouldn’t have rented the car out in the first place.  I’m very glad the renter was persistent, and even happier that they went for the costs incurred too.  I think the only thing that’s right for budget to do is to pull the franchise and they should also go through the books for fraudulent activity to other renters.  The perpetrators should pay damages and go to jail.

    I was planning to rent a standard next time I go to the UK.  Now, I”m not sure if I will…but I don’t deal with Budget anyays.

  10. I am the one who stood up against Budget of Ireland after finding Ashley on the Internet who got scammed with me in the same manner. Just type budget scam in Dublin on the you tube for the whole story. Budget billed me for $ 1,800 seven weeks after I left Ireland(!!) while renting the car to some other customers. I believe what they did is they drained some clutch fluid (this transmission type has it) so you could not drive more than a few 100 meters, after I left they re filled it, than rented it to the next person. This would explain the seven weeks gap of the towing and my rental date. In the bill they charged me for the defective clutch, towing, loss of rental and I was in their VW for less than 15 minutes, the car stalled 3 times, never had a chance to leave the airport area. I also have 2 stick shift cars and 3 automatic ones and I have rented cars in over 15 countries. The Budget people were very arrogant I was ready to fly over to the court and testify in this case, than Budget paid for all the legal fees, reimbursement for they FRAUD (they never admitted to it), plus time spent I spent on investigation. Budget waited till the court papers were served, I instructed my solicitor in Roscomon (Budget’s head office) asked for maintenance record, towing date, original clutch (they destroyed the evidence?), their garage is owned by Budget under a different name called them too, no evil. Mailed info to local papers, radio, credit card company, local police, Dublin Fraud investigation unit, at the end only the court will do, they look at as a consumer fraud what needs to be judicated. If you feel you are scammed, just fight back! Add to my fun in Ireland, one hotel by the airport wanted to charge me 95 Euro/night, when I check in at 45 Euro/night, crime against tourists, be careful out there.

    1. Hi, I was in Ireland at the start of july 2012, rented a car in Dublin from Budget, Ford Fiesta. Drove to Cork, all higway driving. Got to Cork Turned a corner and all of a sudden the clutch pedal stays on the floor, can’t shift gears. Call Budget they can’t pick-me and wife up and say to leave car and come to Cork airport and get another car. By the way he mentions if it is a burnt out clutch then I have to pay. Well I go balistic and tell him its not a burnt out clutch ( i drive a 4×4 truck at home) but the hydralic piston broke or something he says he will have the gargage look at it and he will call before anything is done. We had a cell number for euroe and were traveling for another 2 weeks and we gave him our home number. We hear nothing back we go to airpot in dubin to return our second car and we asked about the car in the garage and he says there is nothing on file about it. We get home middle of july then middle of august the $1795.00 bill hits our mastercard…… Glad to hear you made some headway and got your money back gives me hope….If you could send me a link with more info to give to the credit card company it would be appreciated..

  11. Had my own Budget scam incident in Frankfurt a couple of years back involving a fictitious charge of 800 euros.  I learned a long time ago that it’s best to cancel any credit cards used on an overseas trip as soon as you can as the bogus bills come well after you’ve left the country.  This may not always work but it did for me.  Budget never pursued their attempted scam.  I bad mouth Budget every chance I get and would love to receive an invitation to your St. Pattie’s day affair.  Let me know what I can bring.

    1. You are lucky, in most cases they get pre-approval for at least an additional $ 500.00 for  ” un-forseable damage claim”, if they get the pre-approval, than it is too late  to cancel your card. 

  12. What’s next? Charging us for wearing out the brakes? What about oil changes? After all, running the engine ages the oil.

    I’m sure renting manual cars to Americans is asking for trouble, but the solution is simple: Rent cars with automatics. They aren’t as common in Europe, but they do sell them.

  13. I’m happy that you pursued this incident and won.  I don’t like being taken advantage of either!  It seems that any more it’s a crap shoot with car rentals.

  14. We also had the clutch go out on our Budget Rental on the first day of rental. Unfortunately, we had driven from Dublin to Galway. We noticed a smell as soon as we rented it but thought it was due to the vehicle being a diesel enginge. What solicitor would you recommend in Ireland to assist wit our case?

  15. Just came across this while searching for Budget complaints before making mine.

    Not on the same scale but I believe another ”customer scam” by Budget Ireland. Deposit for fuel put through on my credit card in Shannon in sterling (no exchange rate conversion) £79.20 then refunded at 89.61 euro converted on my statement to £69.69 costing me £9.51. But dont worry they will have spent more than that in wages to deal with my complaint unless I get an immediate refund.

  16. In August 2012, I rented a car from Hertz, Shannon Airport, Ireland. They immediately declined my Credit Card’s statement of coverage and told me I had to use their CDW. This was the only thing offered and not knowing any better, I accepted it at a very pricy amount per day. A few days into the trip, I was going up a mountain when the clutch started sticking and a strange smell came into the car. I was in the middle of no where with no cell phone service, I made it to the top then coasted down hill until I came upon a house that I could walk to. It was pitch black out and terrifying to breakdown in another country with no phone. Hertz sent a tow truck after 2 hours and towed me to the nearest town to a hotel, replaced the car the next day… no paperwork was given to me, no hint of a cost for that matter. Upon returning the car to Hertz at the end of my trip, I was given a bill for 1600EUR for the previous car. I refused to sign but they said the car would be considered unreturned if I did not sign. I signed and immediately called my credit card company to dispute the charges. I was given no breakdown of the charges, my credit carded disputed it for a month and result was ” I receive the services signed for”. So, then months of trying to reach someone at Hertz Ireland, no response to emails, no one answers the phone, I called Hertz US customer relations. They were able to get a a breakdown of expenses, which included 220 EUR for towing?! Isn’t towing included in insurance if your car breaks down?? I paid a total of 861 EUR in insurance alone! Hertz US sent me an email Jan 2012 stating that the charges only came up to 1046.40 EUR, apologized for the overcharge and said I would be credited 553 EUR. Today, I call Hertz US again because of no refund showing on my credit card and they inform me that Hertz Ireland corresponded again stating that I signed for the 1600 EUR charge and that is what I will pay. How can they do this and does anyone have any info on where to go from here. I am so feed up with this and my interest on my credit card is killing me.

    1. Ashley – Unfortunately, Hertz in Ireland was exactly correct. If you read the fine print on your credit card, you’ll find that they don’t cover the Republic of Ireland at all (at least I have yet to find one that doesn’t). I’m not sure which policy you got from Hertz but the last time I rented in SNN, there were two policies that they sold. One had like a €2000 deductible and the other had a small one (€200 I think). I was responsible for any charges up to the deductible. Sounds like you probably had the more basic version.

      Since you signed the charge, I’m sorry but I don’t think you have any other steps…

  17. I learned to drive in a manual transmission when I was 14 and didn’t consider myself an expert until 4-5 years experience in multiple cars. I burned out the clutch in the first car I drove, but even then it was an old car and I was abusing it for fun (burnouts etc.). The clutch smell was warning me for thousands of miles before it happened. To burn out a clutch in 9km in a healthy car you would need to have the pedal half way down for almost the entire duration, and be giving it plenty of gas. Maybe that happened to this person and they convinced themselves it didn’t happen. It’s very stressful arriving in an airport and driving in an unfamiliar car on a different side in a strange country, and the clutch was probably the last thing on their mind. But far more probable is that Budget systematically charge whoever is in the car when a long dying clutch that has been misused its whole life finally gives up.

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