Budget wants to charge me for refueling and cleaning. Is that allowed?

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By Christopher Elliott

When William Houck returns his rental car to LAX, Budget tries to charge him a fee for refueling and cleaning. But he brought the car back with a full gas tank, and it was clean. How can he fight these charges?

Question

I rented a car from Budget at Los Angeles International Airport recently. I returned the vehicle with a full tank of gas after stopping at a station a few blocks away. 

After I dropped off the car, I received a receipt that indicated they would charge me a $90 fuel service fee. I immediately called Budget, and they agreed to reverse the charge. 

Today I received a letter from Budget that they will charge me $125 for a cleaning fee. I absolutely dispute this.

I contacted Budget again and asked them to remove the cleaning fee. Budget refuses. Supposedly, they had to send the car to a detailer for cleaning. They sent pictures of the car, but I am disputing the charge. I feel as though I am being scammed. Can you help me get rid of this $125 cleaning fee? — William Houck, Prince Frederick, Md.

Answer

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say Budget was trying to make a little extra money off your rental — first with the refueling charge, then with a cleaning fee.

I’m glad you could get the refueling fee removed. Always remember to keep the gas station receipt and to take a picture of the gas gauge on “full,” which will help prove you returned your rental car with a full tank.

But the cleaning fee is a mystery. Budget sent you photos, but you say they are not of the car you rented. I’m reluctant to intervene in disputes like this. It’s difficult to advocate in a ‘he said, she said’ circumstance, where no proof is available. (Related: Budget threatens customer with lawsuit, garnishment after he questions damage claim.)

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Sometimes, the car rental company makes a mistake. I recall a Budget case last year where the company tried to charge a customer $450 to clean up after his dog. He didn’t have a dog. Could this be one of those times?

It looks like you did your best to resolve this in writing using the proven Elliott Method for resolving consumer complaints. You also reached out to the Budget customer service executives I publish on my consumer advocacy site, Elliott.org. But Budget wouldn’t budge. (In a recent incident, a reader was unexpectedely charged an additional $104 due to an internal audit error.)

I was on the fence about your cleaning bill until I read your invoice. According to Budget, you returned your car on the day you picked it up. Since you had rented the car for a week, that was impossible. Maybe Budget had confused you with another customer?

I asked Budget about your cleaning fee. In response, Budget told me it would waive your cleaning fee. It also contacted you and zeroed out your bill.

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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 Panamá City.

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