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Rental car get a flat? You may pay

Companies are charging customers for roadside assistance, unless they pay a daily fee up front. But whose fault is a flat?

By Teresa Mears Nov 2, 2010 2:18PM

Just in case you don't have enough fees when you travel, the rental car industry is piling on more.

It's not just the "privilege fee" or the "energy surcharge" or the fee for an extra driver.


Now if THEIR car has trouble on the road and you haven't paid the daily roadside assistance fee, you may pay extra for a repair, such as fixing a flat tire.


USA Today reports:

… frequent renters are finding that rental car companies, which once came to customers' rescue with free roadside assistance, increasingly are charging them when the companies' cars have trouble on the road -- especially if travelers don't pay extra for roadside assistance coverage before they drive off.

That coverage costs $2.99 to $4.99 per day, in addition to the regular daily charge and all the other fees.


Karen Carpenter rented a car in Pennsylvania, only to have an indicator show that the air in the tire was low. She added air, but the indicator came on again the next day. She called Avis and suggested the company either fix the tire or exchange her car for one with a good tire. The company's response surprised her.


"An Avis agent said I had not purchased roadside assistance at the rental counter, so I had to either buy a tire at my expense or drive 35 miles to the nearest Avis location," Carpenter told USA Today.

She continued to drive the car (the USA Today story doesn't indicate how often she had to put air in the tire) until the end of her trip. If she had damaged the tire, undoubtedly Avis would have charged her for a new one.


The proliferation of new fees has exploded as car rental companies struggle financially, reports travel columnist Christopher Elliott. He writes:

Shocking anecdotes aside, there's a pattern here, and you don't have to be an investigative reporter or a conspiracy theory-obsessed columnist to see it. Just read the annual reports issued by one of the publicly traded car rental companies. (Look for the form 10-K and then scroll down to "Legal Proceedings" for an enlightening read.) They're littered with lawsuits over fees, surcharges and add-ons that motorists say broadsided them when they rented a car.

Representatives of companies interviewed by USA Today say they only charge for roadside assistance if the problem was caused by the customer. Running out of gas is usually the customer's fault, unless the gauge is broken. But how do they determine who caused a flat tire? Was the tire already in bad shape? Presumably, running over a nail will be deemed the customer's fault.


USA Today has a chart of the fees that rental car companies charge customers who have trouble on the road if they didn't pay for roadside assistance.


More from MSN Money:

Nov 2, 2010 5:37PM

So let me get this strait, If I have a flat tire on one of THEIR vehicles it's my fault? Guess I better check out the tires a little more carefully before I sign the rental agreement. What happens if a tire blows and causes an accident? Am I then responsible for all costs associated in that accident? ie: other parties damages, injuries or death


You know there are some tire companies that have manufactured some shabby products these days. There are even rental companies that are using tires that are out of date even though they are still technically "brand new".


What ever happened to servicing the customer. If you pay for a service then you should have a reasonable expectation that that service would be provided. The maintenance and upkeep on the vehicles is their responsibility, not mine. They have an obligation to provide me what I paid for.


Check out the Insurance policy VERY carefully. I am finding more and more policies being written these days that cover nothing. All the amendments to policies seem to be written to benefit the policy issurer not the insured.


Just more greedy ba%&*#ds trying to make a buck.

Nov 2, 2010 11:31PM
redwhiteblued - yes, if you are involved in an accident, the rental company can come after you and/or your insurance company. You would not only be responsible for the cost of the repairs to the car, but also the per day cost that the rental car is out of service.  Also you could be charged for minor damage, such as scratches, dents and windshield damage.
Nov 2, 2010 7:53PM
Give me a break... if someone can't change a tire on their own they deserve to pay the fee.  Regarding the lady who had the problem with the tire I'm quite sure if she escalted the issue to the corporate phone number she would have been fine.  I always get hassled at the branch locations but have a perfectly fine expierence if I cut them out of the loop.
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