“The pictures clearly show ashes. We will not be able to remove the charge.”

Two weeks after Mary Garrow rented a car from Budget Rent a Car in Tulsa, she got an unpleasant surprise: A $250 cleaning charge for her vehicle. Budget claimed someone had been smoking in the car.

Garrow doesn’t smoke. She’d been in Tulsa for a funeral, which explains the presence of the ashes on the seat, and she believes the charges are unfair.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth. Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Budget sent her photos of the car (see above) but Garrow isn’t buying it. I’d like your opinion on this case, because frankly, I don’t know what to think.

Garrow rented the car on Oct. 10, and the new charge showed up on her credit card Oct. 28. A few days later, Budget notified her of the cleaning charge.

I called Budget and told them there must be some mistake – we don’t smoke. As a matter of fact, I have Advair and Albuteral inhalers for Asthma.

They said they had pictures of ashes on the back seat, which they emailed to me.

The photos look fairly convincing. They show a white, ash-like substance on the back seats.

But what is it?

On our way to the funeral, we picked up a mum plant and placed it on the back seat on a plastic bag. The plant tipped a little, spilling a little of the dry potting mixture on the seat.

I brushed most of it out of the car, possibly there were a few small crumbs which could possibly look like ash. Other than that, the car was returned just as we had received it.

I explained that to the Budget agent with no success. She said there was a report of a smoke smell by the cleaning crew.

I find this incredibly frustrating. If there is a problem with a rental car return, shouldn’t it be noted at the time that the customer is there to defend himself? That a company can just decide to impose a fine and put it on our credit card — before we even know about it — is just amazing to me.

Garrow asked Budget to reconsider, but received a terse response by email:

The initial observation for the review was the smoke smell. The pictures clearly show ashes. We will not be able to remove the charge.

Should I follow up with Budget and ask it to reconsider? I believe Garrow when she says she doesn’t smoke, and I also think the white substance could be potash, but at the same time, the car would have needed to get cleaned after she used it. Still, a $250 fee seems a little excessive.

What do you think?

A survey of more than 500 readers this morning says I should mediate the case. Let me see what I can do.

Update: Turns out Budget is able to remove the charges after all. I contacted the company, and a short while later was told the case had been resolved. Garrow tells me she’s “off the hook” for the charges.

%d bloggers like this: