I want a full refund for my broken down rental car

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By Christopher Elliott

Deborah Gray’s rental car broke down and she wants her money back. Hertz won’t pay her. She’d like me to encourage the company to reconsider.

The circumstances surrounding the mechanical failure are unfortunate. Complicating things further, there’s no provision in Hertz’ rental agreement for a refund. It appears to be at the discretion of each location.

As is the case every Monday, we’re looking at completely unvetted problem. We’re not trying to determine what happened, but whether this case is worth bringing to the company’s attention. (We have plenty of vetted cases like this Avis refund problem if you’re interested.)

Gray, a frequent renter with Hertz, rented an SUV to drive from Boston to Richmond with her husband and daughter this summer. The University of Virginia was trying to recruit her daughter.

She continues,

We arrived on campus early so parked the car in a garage and went for lunch. When we returned to pick up the car to drive to our meeting with the coach, the car would not start.

My husband called Hertz to let them know about the issue. After being on hold for quite a while, they said they would send a mechanic. We did not want to miss our time with the coach so my husband stayed in the garage to wait for the mechanic and I and my daughter walked over to the meeting without my husband.

The Hertz mechanic arrived and after much trying could not get the car started and said he didn’t know what was wrong. My husband called Hertz to let them know.

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After another agonizing wait time, he finally got a live person who told him to leave the car in the garage and they would come pick it up. Now we had no way to get to the airport so we called a taxi.

What a hassle. Gray expected that Hertz would zero out her bill as an apology, but it didn’t.

Instead …

They not only did not comp us, they charged us a $50 service charge, I presume for the mechanic’s time or a pick up charge, and for a full tank of gas since it wasn’t full when they retrieved the car ($26.70). We were flabbergasted.

I would have been, too.

Gray sent a brief, polite complaint to Hertz, describing her disappointment. She also detailed the charges for her $151 taxi ride to the Richmond airport. (Related: Hertz found my lost wallet. So where is it now?)

Here’s how Hertz responded:

We are very sorry for the condition of your rental vehicle and the inconvenience you experienced.

All Hertz vehicles should be properly cleaned, serviced, and in good mechanical condition before being released for rental.

We always want to provide quality vehicles to our customers and certainly appreciate your letting us know of your experience. This matter will be reviewed with our maintenance personnel.

As a gesture of our concern, a credit of $50.00 will be processed to the account billed for this rental. The adjustment is being made at this time, but may not appear on the next monthly statement due to billing cut-off dates.

Every effort will be made to serve your future needs in a manner more consistent with your expectations and our standards.

Huh? How about the fees and the taxi charge?

“This does not come close to compensating us for the expenses we incurred due to the malfunctioning car,” she told me. “Considering that we have been longtime Gold members, I would think that Hertz would reimburse us for the entire rental due to the time and aggravation caused by the car not working.”

Gray is willing to accept less — say, the fees and expenses they charged her. But she also wants something for the trouble.

And I agree. It looks as if additional compensation is definitely in order, although I should note that I haven’t yet asked Hertz about the case. It might have a different story to tell. (Related: Hertz sent me a $700 bill for eight extra days! How do I get a refund?)

The question is, how much? Should she get a full refund, which is her ideal resolution? (Here is our guide on how to rent a car.)

Her rental agreement makes no mention of a refund, even when a car stops working. It’s up to the discretion of the company to refund her rental charges. There’s also this: She did have access to a car for part of the time and Hertz should be paid for it, right? (This is similar to the non-working first class seat. It’s difficult to argue for a full refund when the airline provided transportation.)

I think my advocacy team and I need to contact Hertz about this. But what should I ask it to do?

Hertz should:

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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 Rio de Janeiro.

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