Help, Hertz is charging me for a burnt clutch!

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By Christopher Elliott

When the clutch on his car fails, Hertz sends Hadley Roeltgen a 850 euro bill. But his credit card company says he shouldn’t be responsible, and reverses the charge. Now, a collections agency is after him. What should he do?

Question

My husband rented a car from Hertz in Madrid last summer. The car broke while he was on his way back to the airport, and he had to abandon it by the side of the road in order to make his flight back to the States.

He informed the Hertz people at the airport what had happened and they told him it was fine and the car would be retrieved. Three weeks later, we received a letter that there was 850 euro charge for a burnt clutch on our credit card. We tried to contact Hertz Spain, both before and after the bill, to ensure the car had been collected and everything was fine but they didn’t answer the phone or respond to emails.

Hertz sent us an email saying our insurance coverage did not cover “negligence” and that it was our fault and that we owed it 850 euro. It didn’t answer any other emails, so we disputed the charge. The investigation by the credit card company came out in our favor, but now Hertz has sent the matter to a collections agency. Do you have any suggestions? — Hadley Roeltgen, Philadelphia

Answer

Don’t take it personally; credit card disputes that go in your favor are automatically sent to a collection agency. Some car rental companies also add you to a “do not rent” list. This means you’re blacklisted from ever renting from it again.

The key to fixing this problem would have been to get it addressed before this became an 850 euro charge on your credit card bill. Calling Hertz and mentioning the breakdown before hailing a cab for the airport might have given the company a chance to offer you a ride back to the airport, where you could fill out the paperwork.

Getting assurances by phone is pointless. You need something in writing before you leave the country. Even if your flight is soon, visit the Hertz counter to discuss next steps and get documentation that everything is “fine. But don’t take a representative’s word for it. It’s not enough.

Can’t blame you for disputing the credit card bill. Hertz appeared unresponsive when you sought an explanation. But what you might not know is that burned clutches are common problems with American renters in Europe. We don’t have as much experience driving standard-transmission, and are presumed guilty for every ruined clutch. (Related: Hertz billed her for eight extra days on her car. Where’s the refund?)

Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

The solution? Wherever possible, ask for a rental car with an automatic transmission. This effectively eliminates the clutch problem. (Here’s what you need to know before renting your next car.)

Hertz should have provided a better mechanism through which to appeal its 850 euro charge. Simply reiterating its claim only ratchets up your level of frustration.

My advocacy team and I contacted Hertz on your behalf. It dropped the claim.

Should car rental companies charge customers for burnt-out clutches?

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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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