My Alamo rental broke down — can’t someone give me a refund?

John Nicholson books an Alamo rental car through Hotwire. One day after he picks up the car it starts spewing oil, but Alamo doesn’t have a replacement. His quest for a replacement car and compensation for the lost day brings him to us.

Question: In short, a midsize car I rented from Alamo through Hotwire developed a mechanical problem. I called Alamo’s roadside assistance number. Instead of sending me a car, they sent a tow truck, took the car, and dropped me off at a local Enterprise Rent-A-Car Office.

Alamo stated that they would have a replacement car for me. Enterprise didn’t know I was coming and had no cars available. After two hours of waiting, browbeating the poor Enterprise staff, and calling every Alamo number available, Enterprise gave me a lime green Kia Soul with 30,000 miles on it, half a tank of gas, and no paperwork. I am certain Enterprise staff did this to get me out of their office.

I have asked Alamo and Hotwire to refund one day’s rental because I was without a car, and to pay me the difference between a midsize and a compact. They feel that they cannot do either. Alamo has twice told me to take up my problem with Hotwire. Hotwire said they could not help me because my booking is complete! Now I am starting to think I deserve some compensation for my time and trouble as well. If they charge me for a midsize but provide me with a compact is that fraud? Really poor customer service from both entities is all I know at this point.

At a minimum, I want one day’s rental refunded, as well as the difference between a midsize and a compact for the whole rental period of July 30 to August 11. The total cost of the rental was $405, and I’m requesting $100 back. — John Nicholson, Washington, D.C.

Answer: This sounds like a very unpleasant day and I’m sorry you were shuffled between three different companies trying to get this resolved.

When your car started spewing oil you did the right thing by calling the number Alamo provided for emergency assistance. I’m surprised that Hotwire seems to say that this was the wrong thing to do, but calling Hotwire after the car had been picked up might have saved you some trouble. It might have been able to help you navigate the Enterprise pickup debacle.

I definitely understand your assumption that Enterprise’s Kia Soul is a downgrade from the Chevrolet Malibu that you picked up from Alamo. I thought the same thing, but I looked up the car classifications on several rental car sites and both seem to be equal to the definition of a standard vehicle. I also looked on Kia’s site to see if the manufacturer classifies it as a compact car, and I learned that it is considered a “crossover” vehicle. The capacity for both people and luggage match the Enterprise standard vehicle category.

Enterprise’s definition of a standard vehicle is a bit more generous than Alamo’s. In Alamo’s rental car options it lists far more classifications than Enterprise, and the standard rental is purported to hold five people, one large piece of luggage and two small pieces of luggage. The Enterprise standard vehicle accommodates five people and two large bags.

Given that, I believe you received a comparable vehicle, and so did Alamo, and your request for compensation for a downgrade was denied.

The lost day was another matter entirely.

Your initial contact with Alamo was unsuccessful because you hadn’t actually paid Alamo — you paid Hotwire. Alamo refused your refund request and referred you to Hotwire, but Hotwire refused your request as well.

As I read through Hotwire’s response to you I wondered if its staff was actually reading what you wrote to the company. In its correspondence to you Hotwire told you that you should have called the company from the Alamo office when you were unhappy with the vehicle that it was offering you. It also asked you to confirm that you were referencing the correct rental because the voucher it issued was to Alamo but your letter referenced an Enterprise rental. But when I read your correspondence it was immediately clear to me that Alamo had sent you to Enterprise for a replacement car. Hotwire also thought you were asking for a full refund of the rental when you only ever asked for a one-day refund.

You could have escalated your case to the contacts we list on our website for Alamo and Hotwire. I think either one could have resolved this for you — someone just needed to decide they would do it. But you decided to reach out to us, instead.

We reached out to Alamo and it agreed to issue a $25 credit. Our contact also noted that the standard-class car you received from Alamo was an upgrade from the class that you originally reserved. The refund reflects the cost of the category you originally reserved.

I’m glad we could resolve this for you, but if you ever have something like this happen in the future, be sure to contact the company that you actually paid for the rental. It can help advocate for you with the company providing the rental.

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