Lyft surprised me with a $150 cleaning charge. Is that allowed? 

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By Christopher Elliott

Jared Hakimi finds a $150 charge on his credit card after a Lyft ride. Is that allowed — and will the charge stick?

Question

I took a Lyft recently in New York. I did not damage the vehicle, but after the ride, Lyft charged me a $150 damage fee. 

Initially, my bank flagged the charge as fraud. But when I contacted Lyft and asked for an explanation, the company claimed I caused damage to the car. Lyft also sent photos that the company said the driver had shared. 

I did not cause any damage whatsoever. The photos did not depict any damage I actually caused.

I’d like my $150 fee to be refunded. But even that would be disappointing based on what I’ve had to go through, including the initial stress when being billed $150 but also the many hours I’ve spent trying to rectify this with Lyft to no avail. I’d also like $1,500 as compensation for the stress this has caused. 

Ultimately, I’d like to be a loyal Lyft customer again, and these false allegations against me should not be the cause of a severed business relationship. Someone with some sense at the company needs to review this and should also consider investigating the driver making these accusations. — Jared Hakimi, Briarwood, N.Y.

Answer

Lyft should have notified you immediately of the damage and sent you evidence that you were responsible. It’s not difficult. Lyft could have sent you time-stamped photos of the vehicle’s interior showing the alleged damage. Instead, you say it just charged your credit card.

This looks like another case of the Lyft vomit scam. (It’s called a vomit scam because drivers frequently claim their passengers have vomited in the back of the car.) Drivers charge their passengers anywhere from $80 to $150 for a “cleanup” even when there’s little or no evidence of a passenger’s guilt.

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How to avoid a Lyft cleaning fee dispute

You don’t have to end up with a surprise cleaning fee. Here are a few ways to avoid a dispute:

Inspect the vehicle

Before and after your ride, carefully inspect the vehicle for any existing damages or cleanliness issues. Look for any existing stains, spills, or damage that could be mistaken for something you did during your ride. Take photos or videos to document the state of the car before you get in. This will help protect you from being charged for pre-existing messes. If the car is not clean, cancel the ride and call another one.

Document the condition of the vehicle carefully

Pay attention to the condition of the vehicle while you’re in it. Notice the floor, seats, and trunk. Pay special attention to the floor mats and side panels. Most of the “damage” happens to those two areas, in our experience. If you see anything unusual, take a photo of it and mention it to the driver. Do not ignore it. (Related: Can you help me with this $80 cleaning charge from Lyft?)

Report any problems immediately

If you notice anything out of the ordinary, report it to the driver and to Lyft immediately through its app. It’s better to be first with a potential damage claim than to have Lyft contact you and arbitrarily charge your credit card, which is something we have seen repeatedly. 

Tell Lyft your side of the story — politely

Communicate quickly and clearly with Lyft’s customer support team via the app, providing all necessary details. Send them your photos that show you left the car in the same shape as you found it. Avoid using any emotional language such as, “WE NEVER CAUSED THIS STAIN!” or “We’ll never take another Lyft ride after this absurd bill!” Be brief and polite.

Do I have to take pictures of every Lyft ride?

You don’t have to take photos of every Lyft ride. But you’ll know when you need to. 

  • If the vehicle is well-worn.
  • If it looks like it hasn’t been to the car wash in a while.
  • If the driver complains about how little money he makes with ridesharing or if he’s tip-baiting you by griping about how much he relies on gratuities to earn a living.

These can be signs that the driver will try to find a way to extract more money from you, possibly by filing a fake claim against you.

You could have also appealed this to one of the executives at Lyft. I list their names, numbers and email addresses on my consumer advocacy site, Elliott.org. (Here’s our guide to contacting the CEO directly.)

The evidence Lyft sent you appears to be inconclusive, and the way it handled the claim was incorrect. According to you, it didn’t even bother notifying you about the problem. It just charged your card. Your bank was suspicious; I would have been, too. (Related: Lyft charged me $80 for damage to a car. But it wasn’t me!)

Regarding your request for additional compensation, I think adding a zero to your claim is a bit much. In fact, requesting too much compensation can sometimes harm your chances of getting anything from a company.

You could sue Lyft in small claims court and possibly get a judge to side with you, but where my advocacy is concerned, a simple refund is all that’s warranted..

How Lyft resolved your case

You reached out to one of the executives at Lyft. Your email was polite and it noted that you had been a good customer for many years. A representative wrote back to you.

“We’ve completed another review of the cleaning fee request and the details you shared with us,” a representative wrote. “After a second review, I have forgiven the $150 damage fee you had on your account. We completely understand your frustration, Jared, and your feelings are completely valid.”

About this story

Lyft vomit scams are so big that I have an entire file of unresolved cases on my desk. This one has a twist: It was resolved through self-advocacy and using the proven principles of the Elliott Method. I’m very grateful to Jared for being willing to roll up his sleeves and get in the ring with us and then share the final outcome of this case with us. And I am grateful to our A-Team for guiding him through the process. You’re the best!

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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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