Forced to buy car insurance from Avis — can I get a refund?

Not again. That’s what I thought when I saw Nancy Ferguson’s case with Avis.

Yes, again.

Another forced-to-buy-car-insurance story.

And that’s a problem, because it’s not the first — and it will almost certainly not be the last. Car rental companies are now insisting you purchase their overpriced collision damage waivers. If you don’t, you won’t be able to rent.

Worse, none of the parties involved in this transaction has responded to us. Apparently, they believe that ignoring us will make us go away.

It won’t.

Before I get to the details of her complaint, let’s sort out a few things. If insurance is required for renting a car, companies need to include that detail up front, in the initial price quote. In other words, they can’t offer a rate that doesn’t include mandatory insurance and then sock it to their customers. That would be, in the Federal Trade Commission’s words, “unfair and deceptive.”

As you’ll see in a moment, Avis technically did just that. But while it didn’t do anything legally wrong, it certainly knows that its actions are morally questionable. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Ferguson had reserved a car online, at CarRentals.com, through Thrifty (owned by Hertz). Her 1 a.m. pickup in Indianapolis practically guaranteed she’d get the last car on the lot, if she got one at all. Sure enough, a weary Thrifty employee pointed her to the Avis counter and told her Thrifty would refund her for the rental.

“The Thrifty agent walked me to the Avis counter and stood with me during the entire rental transaction,” she says.

The Avis agent insisted she take out the pricey insurance, which tripled her rate.

“I pointed out that I had full coverage with USAA, including loss-of-use fees, and primary damage coverage with my Chase Sapphire card,” she says. “He repeated that unless I took the insurance I could not get the car.

Ferguson asked the Thrifty agent if it would cover the entire cost of the rental, including insurance.

No problem, said the agent. So she took the rental.

Of course, Thrifty didn’t cover the entire rental. It paid the base rate. After a series of seemingly endless arguments with Thrifty, CarRentals.com and Avis, she received an $87 check from Thrifty. By her accounting, she’s still owed $414.

“At this point I am frustrated, unhappy, and losing sleep over this whole incident,” she says. “I would very much appreciate any guidance and assistance you can give me.”

Well, our advocacy team reached out to all of the parties in this transaction. We were also stonewalled.

Maybe the $87 was the approved amount for insurance that Thrifty had allocated, and because Ferguson didn’t have a written promise to cover the insurance, well, there you are.

But there’s a much, much bigger problem here. This is one in a series of cases where a car rental company insisted a customer take insurance. It often happens when they believe the customer has no other choice. Maybe they’ve just arrived from an international destination or the hour is late.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say car rental companies have found a new way to make money by telling customers who can’t leave it to “take it or leave it.” You’ll triple your revenue and best of all, it’s completely legal.

Legal, yes. But not right.

Was Thrifty's offer of $87 enough compensation?

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