Why the #%@** doesn’t my power outlet work?

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By Christopher Elliott

The auxiliary power outlet in Robert Mitchell’s rental car doesn’t work. Was it intentionally disabled, and if so, why wasn’t he told about it?

Question

I rented a car in Gloucester, England, through AutoEurope and National. My own GPS navigation died within two hours, even though it was plugged in to the auxiliary power outlet.

I called the Gloucester office, and they said if I brought back the car they could “check it out,” but by then I was over 150 miles west of there. So I was not able to use my GPS for the remainder of the eight-day rental.

When I turned the car in at Heathrow Airport, I made a note of the problem with the agent, who said someone from National would get back to me. Nobody ever did, and after repeated attempts to get someone to answer my question, I finally heard back from the car rental company, which admitted that it had disabled the auxiliary power outlet in the car to prevent people from smoking.

I am surprised that they would do such a thing to keep people from using the power outlet. There was no cigarette lighter in the car. I think people should be informed of the runaround you get while trying to address a complaint, and warned about this practice that would prevent them from charging a phone or using a GPS or other device. — Robert Mitchell, Downers Grove, Ill.

Answer

Disabling the power outlet in a rental car is no way to stop drivers from smoking. Haven’t they ever heard of lighters or matches? Also, in this era of power-hungry smartphones and GPS navigation devices, without which we’d literally be lost, I just don’t see how any car rental company could do a thing like this and not tell customers about it. Come on.

Making matters worse, no one could give you a straight answer about the auxiliary power outlet. (I edited your letter for brevity, but let’s just say you jumped through some serious hoops to get that written response from the car rental company.)

Were AutoEurope and National able to to assist?

AutoEurope should have helped you get a fast answer, not deferred to National. After all, you booked your rental car through AutoEurope. It took your money, and accepted the responsibility for your rental booking along with it. (Related: Do you trust GPS directions?)

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

I think National may have offered a straight answer sooner if you’d pushed a little harder, but what good what that have done? You really wanted something in writing: a confession. Once you had that, you could share it with AutoEurope, and possibly get some compensation. (Here is our guide on how to rent a car.)

It is no surprise that travelers are rethinking rental cars lately. I contacted AutoEurope on your behalf. Like me, it was surprised to hear that National had disabled its power outlets. It refunded $50 of your rental charge and offered a $50 voucher off a future rental.

Should National have disabled its outlets?

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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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