Is the clutch failure on my rental car my fault?

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By Christopher Elliott

Mary Mason doesn’t want to pay for the clutch failure on her Easirent rental; and after you hear her story, you’ll understand why.

See, it’s not just that her clutch failed. It’s that Easirent is charging her $2,256 to fix it without any due process. Her credit card company has sided with the car rental company and authorized the charges.

Yep, it’s another case of a clutch failure on a European car rental. (Some have happy endings, like this one.) Now half of you probably are already saying, “Americans can’t drive standard transmission cars,” and the other half is saying, “This is a scam.”

But wait. Let’s hear from Mason before we make up our minds.

A rental in Scotland and a clutch failure

Mason rented a new Peugeot 308S last month at Easirent’s Edinburgh Airport branch. She declined the optional insurance, although it’s unclear if a clutch failure would have been covered.

According to the company, the vehicle was “fully checked out and tested” before they handed over the keys.

An hour later, Mason called the branch to report an issue with the clutch. A representative told her she would be liable for any damage to the vehicle and eventually charged her card $2,256 in accordance with the rental terms and conditions.

Mason says the car rental company never told her the clutch “worked fine.”

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“They said they had no maintenance records,” she says.

“One thing is sure,” she adds. “Within an hour of my renting the vehicle — and driving it 50 miles — the clutch failed.”

But is the clutch failure her fault?

Easirent won’t say she damaged the clutch, only that it happened on her watch and that she’s responsible.

“There are only two plausible reasons,” she says. “Either I handled the clutch so badly in that one hour and 50 miles, that something I did caused its catastrophic failure. Or I drove appropriately, but the clutch failed because of an underlying mechanical issue – no doubt due to many folks mangling the clutch, but not me in particular. Of those two scenarios, which is more likely?”

I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. I’m willing to believe she drove the Peugeot carefully and did not ruin the clutch.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter.

Car rental agreements say that if the damage happened while you are renting the car, it’s your responsibility. Even if the other driver is at fault. Even if the damage is pre-existing. You pay.

A clutch failure case dismissed

My advocacy team contacted Easirent and it repeated its denial. Unless Mason has a signed affidavit from the previous renter confessing to offroading in the 308S, there’s nothing more we can do.

Her credit card dispute department is out of options, too. She filed a credit card chargeback and lost.

There’s something about this case that strikes me as unfair.

You too?

I mean, Mason had no way of telling if the clutch had been abused by the previous driver. Her only option? To buy the pricey car rental insurance Easirent offered. Additional insurance coverage can easily double the cost of your rental.

There has to be a better way than sticking your renter for $2,256. But if there is, I don’t see it.

Until we figure this out, you’d better rent an automatic.

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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. He is based in Panamá City.

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