A flat tire and a surprise fee with Budget — can you guys fix this?

Patrick Novak rented a car for a week from Budget at its Edmonton airport facility in Alberta, Canada. During the rental period, between Jasper National Park and Banff, the car got a flat. Novak changed the tire and installed the emergency spare.

Novak’s case raises a question that may come up the next time you rent a car: What are your responsibilities for the repair of a car?

And there’s a question for us, too: Should we try to help him?

The spare tire had a 50-mile limit, and Novak couldn’t use it to travel for the remainder of the week. So, Novak phoned Budget road service.

“I was directed to a Budget office in Banff. While en route, the service office phoned me back and told me to go to an Avis co-owner) auto rental in Banff for service, since their Budget office was no longer operating,” he says.

That sounded reasonable to Novak, so he drove to the Avis facility.

When he arrived at the Avis facility, a representative told him that although Avis and Budget are owned by the same company, there was no mechanism for servicing Budget customers. Eventually, the Avis manager rented Novak another car at the same daily rate as the Budget rental. Novak accepted the new rental and left the Budget car at the Avis facility with a full gas tank. At the end of the week, Novak returned the Avis car to the Edmonton airport facility with a full gas tank.

After returning home, Novak realized that Budget had charged his credit card $309 more than the original rate. Novak requested an itemized bill from Budget. He found that Budget had charged him a $225 one way fee, and a corresponding increase in the concession recovery fee, from $49 to $84. Yet, Novak’s Budget rental was for pickup and dropoff at the Edmonton airport facility. Novak never had a one way rental agreement. So why is Budget charging Novak for a one way rental?

Novak took the car to the Avis facility, the place Budget directed him to — a facility that said it could not repair the tire on the Budget car. Budget knew that Avis would rent Novak another car at the Budget rate. Budget also knew that Novak couldn’t drive two cars and would leave the Budget car at the Avis facility. Novak didn’t return the disabled Budget car to its original rental location at the airport, so Budget charged him an extra fee for a one way rental.

Novak disputed the charge with his credit card company, which resulted in Budget issuing a credit for half of the charge. Budget refused to credit the entire amount of the charge and has stopped communicating with Novak.

Budget’s ineptitude in helping its stranded customer is inexcusable. First, Budget directed its customer to a Budget facility that wasn’t operating. Then, it sent him to an Avis facility that could not help with a Budget car. Finally, it charged him a hefty penalty for taking the car to the place where Budget told him to go. Really, that is what Budget did and how it justified the charge.

When you rent a car and you encounter a problem, you expect the rental company to help. When the company “helps,” you expect it to be real help. You don’t expect illusory “help” that costs you hundreds more dollars.

Novak could have purchased optional insurance when he rented the car from Budget, but he did not. The Budget roadside assistance terms note that it is an optional service purchased for an added charge. For flat tires, the optional service will “replace a flat or damaged tire with the spare, or get the car towed to the nearest service facility.”

Without the optional insurance, the renter is on his or her own, which is where Novak found himself. Why didn’t Budget tell him that the tire charge was his responsibility? Why did Budget “help” him by sending him first to a nonexistent Budget facility, and then to an Avis facility that could not help? Why did Budget “help” Novak at the cost of $309 that was never disclosed to him? And, when questioned, why would Budget only refund half of the charge, and then ignore further inquiries?

Our advocates suggested that Novak post his issue to our help forums to see if he could get some suggestions from company representatives who read the forums, subject matter experts who volunteer to assist consumers, or other consumers who have had similar issues could offer some suggestions. Novak could also have tried to contact Budget executives for assistance. We list Budget company contacts on our website.

When Novak rented the Budget vehicle and he contacted the company for assistance, he should have been able to rely on the information given to him. Under these circumstances, should Budget return the remainder of Novak’s money?

Should we advocate on Patrick Novak's behalf?

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