TAMPA - Frequent rental car users like Dr. Allen Friedman know the drill at the counter. He says he's never had a problem until he arrived at the rent a car counter during a trip to Denver in 2011.
Friedman claims he declined the optional insurance and all extras. Nine days later he returned the car and discovered a 215 dollar charge for insurance and another 53 dollars for roadside protection on his bill.
But this customer claims Dollar Rent a Car refused to remove the fees that effectively doubled his rental bill.
This Sarasota consumer did not complain to the state but we found plenty who did. The I-Team combed through reports filed with the Attorney General's office in the last two years. We found more than 180 against Dollar or Thrifty which are owned by the same company. Most involved optional insurance charges and fees for unpaid tolls. In comparison, we found a total of 42 complaints against Budget/Avis rental cars.
Former employee Jamal Powell worked at Dollar's Tampa Airport office. He described a sales driven culture and commission structure that rewards agents who up sell optional items.
Powell says he spent 18 months at Dollar before being let go. He showed us what he says is the company's training manual. On page 31 it instructs employees to disclose what is on the screen. Powell told us customers may have signed off on charges they verbally rejected, but the agent did not physically remove.
Gordon Wong admits he did not read the fine print on the key pad at Dollar's San Diego branch. He too got hit with the optional insurance charge.
The I-Team along with Scripps stations across the country rented more than a dozen rental cars from Dollar or Thrifty rent a car. A third of the time the agent asked us more than twice about purchasing additional insurance. We were never charged for it. We were only charged for what we agreed to.
Consumer complaints regarding unauthorized charges triggered lawsuits against Dollar Thrifty in Colorado and California. Florida's Attorney General has opened its own investigation " for alleged violations of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act as it relates to charges and fees for optional items."
The AG confirms it's also investigating Budget/Avis Rental Car over the same allegations. We asked Dollar/Thrifty's corporate office in Tulsa about the complaints.
A spokesperson responded in an email, "We do not typically comment on pending litigation. However, we can say that Dollar Thrifty complies with all laws and denies allegations that it sells customers products they do not want. The company intends to defend the cases vigorously ."
Allen Friedman is named as a plaintiff in the Colorado lawsuit. [ Read the lawsuit below ]
He told us he wants the company to change its practices and issue refunds to those who were wrongfully charged. Meanwhile, here's some consumer advice from AAA and the Attorney General's office on what to do before you rent your next car.
- Ask what the total cost will be after all fees are included. There may be an airport surcharge or drop-off fees, insurance fees, fuel charges, mileage fees, taxes, additional-driver fees, under aged-driver fees, and equipment rental fees (for items such as ski racks and car seats).
See information on drip pricing . Mobile Users follow this link: http://wfts.tv/13AkqjF
- Ask whether the rental company checks the driving records of customers when they arrive at the counter. If so, you could be rejected even if you have a confirmed reservation.
- Check in advance to be sure you aren't duplicating insurance coverage. If you're traveling on business, your employer might have insurance that covers accidental damage to the vehicle. You might also have coverage through your personal auto insurance, a motor club membership, or the credit card you used to reserve the rental.
- Carefully inspect the vehicle and its tires before renting and when you return it. Try to return the car during regular hours so you and the rental staff can look at the car together to verify that you didn't damage it.
- Check refueling policies and charges.
- Pay with a credit card rather than a debit card, to avoid holds on other funds in your checking account.
- Ask the rental company if a deposit is required. If so, ask for a clear explanation of the deposit refund procedures.