Budget car rental cleaning fee problem: Hey, that’s not my vehicle!

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By Christopher Elliott

After discovering animal hairs in Bernard Sia’s vehicle, Budget charges him a $125 rental car cleaning fee.

Question

Budget charged my credit card a $125 rental car cleaning fee after finding animal hair in the car I returned. I do not have any pets, and the people I stayed with on my trip to Austin, Texas, do not have any pets. 

I asked for a damage report. It is not clear how they determined that what they found was animal hair. Additionally, they made the claim based on less than 10 hairs. Don’t you think the fee seems excessive, considering what they found? — Bernard Sia, Shelby Township, Mich.

Answer

You’re right, something is not quite right with this Budget cleaning fee.

For starters, the damage report has several photos that show several tiny white strands in the vehicle. A Budget employee could have vacuumed them away during the cleaning. Are they animal hairs? I have no idea, but the point is, there weren’t that many. (Related: Budget wants to charge me for refueling and cleaning. Is that allowed?)

But there’s a bigger issue. Upon reviewing the bill for the rental car cleaning fee, a discrepancy was found, suggesting Budget should have waived the charge. It appears the company had sent you a bill for a car other than the one you rented.

How to avoid a cleaning fee from Budget

Budget claims that it usually charges a $50 cleaning fee, but our advocacy team has seen much higher bills. I’ll get to the specifics in a minute.

The car rental company charges these fees if you return a car and it’s “excessively dirty” inside or outside. This includes stains, dirt, mud, or other substances that require special cleaning methods.

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Keep it clean

Treat the car as if it’s your own. Don’t smoke or eat in it. Remove all personal items when you’re done, empty the trash, and wipe down surfaces with a damp cloth. In other words, be a good renter. (Related: Oh no, Budget had second thoughts about my discount.)

Document the car’s condition

Take photos or videos of the car before and after your rental period to verify that you returned it in good shape. This can help dispute any potential damage claims or cleaning fees. (Related: “What should I have done in this situation?”)

Report any issues right away

If you notice any damage or cleanliness issues during your rental period, report them immediately to Budget’s customer service department. The company may waive the cleaning fee or provide a complimentary car wash. (Here’s our guide to renting a car.)

These easy steps can prevent most damage fees, but not all of them. Sometimes, the rental car cleaning fee is an error, and challenging it requires a different approach.

What if a car rental company sends you a bill for the wrong car?

This isn’t the first time a car rental company has apparently sent a bill to a customer for the wrong car. It’s a good reminder to keep your car rental records and, when you’re taking your pictures, to get a shot of the VIN — the vehicle identification number — which you can normally find on the driver’s side of the vehicle on the dashboard near the windshield.

While we’re on the topic of cleaning fees for pets, it’s definitely a thing. Budget has a reputation for charging these fees, which can go as high as $450. So make sure that if you’re renting a car with anything that sheds — a dog, cat or even a coat or blanket — that you clean your rental thoroughly before returning it.

But as I’ve already said, this looks like a case of mistaken identity. So an appeal to one of the Budget executives I list on this site, might have convinced the company to drop its bill.

I contacted Budget on your behalf. It reviewed the bill and refunded the $125 cleaning fee.

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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.

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