Six months later, Dollar wants me to pay $808

Talk about a late bill.

Six months ago, Les Baker rented a car from Dollar Rent A Car in St. Louis. The car experienced a “mechanical problem” and wouldn’t start. Now, the car rental company wants him to pay $808 for alleged damage to the vehicle.

If he doesn’t pay up, it threatened to report him to a collection agency.

“I thought I paid the rental then,” he says. “Can a car rental company demand payment six months after a rental and threaten to take me to collections?”

Actually, yes.

In an email to Baker, Dollar explained what went wrong:

While I agree that it may seem unprofessional to have not communicated for six months, the fact remains that there are outstanding bills associated with this account. By the time we received all of the invoices, your credit card had expired so I believe that may have had something to do with it.

As you can see from what I sent you, the car did not have a mechanical problem. The car was disabled due to having diesel fuel pumped into the car.

I discussed this with my service manager who went out to retrieve the vehicle and they could smell the diesel fuel odor that was coming from the fuel filling door. We also have a sample of the diesel fuel that had to be drained from the tank, after the vehicle had to be towed, per the invoices I sent you.

Unfortunately, I can’t discount invoices that we were forced to pay on account of this rental. I can remove one day off of the rental charges for the delay in bringing this to your attention, which would bring the bill down to $741.04.

This case set off all kinds of alarms, of course. Why had it taken six months to figure out the car was damaged? What was it doing in the meantime — sitting in a parking lot? Why couldn’t Dollar show Baker an invoice for the repair? And most importantly, why was the car rental company being so aggressive?

Here’s the latest email it sent him:

Since I have not heard back from you nor have I received your payment that we had agreed to of $741.04, this will be my last attempt to collect your unpaid balance. If I don’t hear from you by next Tuesday, then this settlement offer will expire and I will be forwarding this matter to our collection agency, Khoury Alternative Claims.

At that point, they will pursue the full amount due plus loss of use and administrative fees which you agreed to when you signed our rental agreement.

Come on.

I heard back from a Dollar Rent a Car rep after several attempts to reach someone there to get the company’s side of the story.

Here’s an excerpt from the lengthy rebuttal:

We agree that it should not have taken this long to rectify this issue with Mr. Baker. As was explained to him in our initial contact, we were auditing for our year-end and discovered that this rental had not been paid.

We are installing procedures that will keep this from happening. We think part of the reason this could happen was that we were waiting to receive the repair invoices for the associated costs, and by the time we had them all in hand, his credit card had expired.

Obviously it somehow fell through the cracks, but we do not feel that because of this that we should not be reimbursed for the rental costs nor our expenses to restore the vehicle to its pre-rental condition.

The way Dollar sees it, it rented him a brand-new vehicle with just 33 miles on it. It had to be towed after he drove 367 miles.

It added,

There was a diesel odor that could be smelled outside the vehicle after it would not start. A diesel-gasoline mixture was drained from the fuel tank. We incurred expenses of $445.45 to retrieve the vehicle and restore it to its pre-rental condition.

What’s more, Dollar says Baker never paid his rental bill.

“If he can show a charge then we will gladly drop that portion of our claim,” a representative said.

Baker has reluctantly agreed to pay $741. But he’s not happy.

“I consider this commercial extortion,” he says.

I see his point. Now, I’m not saying the Dollar charges are without merit. But it needs to show him a repair invoice in a timely manner.

Baker needs a friend in the Missouri legislature who can draft a law that prevents car rental companies from billing customers six months after a rental. Really, there ought to be a law against that kind of thing.

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