Shaken down by a car rental agent

How far will a car rental company go to get a customer to buy its highly profitable “optional” insurance policy? If you said, “Too far,” then you must know Cheryl Manzo.

Manzo rented a car from Economy Rent a Car in Orlando recently. “When I arrived to pick up rental Saturday morning, a representative told me I had to pay additional $60 for insurance,” she says. The reason? “I did not have my policy declaration page with me,” she says.

Huh? Last time I checked, insurance was totally optional for most rental cars. How odd.

“I did have my insurance card with basic information and suggested we call the company so he could have the proof he required. He refused. Then I suggested I could call home and have my husband fax or email or text a copy, but no, that wasn’t acceptable either,” she says.

Now, we’ve heard stories about unscrupulous car rental agents pulling the ol’ insurance swindle, but it’s normally on tourists visiting from out of the country. They say insurance is required for foreign visitors, and — boom! — your car rental bill doubles. You’ve been scammed!

But Manzo is American, and she’s been renting cars in the States for years. Never before has she experienced something like this. A closer look at her case is merited.

The representative told Manzo she was in luck. She could avoid the required insurance if she paid Economy a $2,000 deposit, which “the company would keep even if there was something minor as a scratch,” she says.

“That seemed excessive and wrong,” she says. “He insisted I needed to pay the additional $60, or he would have the van driver take me back to the airport.”

So Manzo reluctantly paid the extra $60 for insurance and decided to take the matter up later with the company, and if that didn’t work, with our advocacy team.

“In the van returning to the airport, I chatted with a couple who did not have to pay the extra money for insurance,” she says. “But they did witness that same scenario with two young female renters. Interesting. Does Economy only charge this fee when they think they can get away with it?

Well, the suspense is killing me here. We reached out to Economy to get its side of the story.

We apologize for the lack of consideration in the service she received when she arrived: there is never an excuse for poor service. We contacted our Orlando affiliate manager with regard to her issue, and this is their response:

1. I’m not sure where the disconnect stems from; but this customer used her own insurance. She did NOT purchase insurance through Economy, as she provided her Erie insurance card. The customer states that she did not have her declaration, just basics with her an insurance card. Her insurance card does NOT give us adequate information; no deductibles indicating transfer to car rental.

2. The customer purchased the Umbrella Policy which allowed her to self-insure without placing the required deposit of $1000. She did not have to opt for this, as this is an optional service. As stated initially, “he offered me the option of leaving a $2000 deposit which the company would keep for a minor scratch” which is correct.

The customer needs to understand that we are serving her with a $20K vehicle; the least we can do is verify coverage. All policies are disclosed at the time of rental, as we have hundreds of customers that self-insure. We understand that not all customers read terms and conditions, which is why policies are reiterated at the time of pickup.

3. We do not accept fax, nor a text message of the policy. We need to ensure that the policy is active.

While we wish to satisfy every customer, our shuttle would have been able to return [her] to the airport and rent from a different vendor if not wishing to adhere to our policies.

No reimbursements will be issued. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Well, this response is noteworthy for several reasons.

If I’m reading this correctly, then Economy won’t rent a car to customers without proof of insurance, a fact that it says it clearly disclosed to customers. While there’s no legal requirement that a car rental customer have insurance, it is an industry standard practice to make the purchase of insurance optional. Economy is deviating from that policy, a decision that is almost certainly helping it make a few more bucks.

Economy doesn’t deny that its representative threatened to put Manzo on the next van back to the airport. That tactic really feels a little like bullying.

The “no fax” rule seems intended to make it all the more difficult to prove you have a valid policy and to compel you to buy Economy’s “optional” policy. Again, that feels wrong.

So there you have it: In an effort to boost sales of their insurance, some car rental companies are insisting you show them a valid policy on real paper. Something to remember the next time you see an unbelievably good car rental deal in Orlando, or anywhere else for that matter.

It may actually be too good to be true.

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