Arnold Berman's rental car doesn't run right, so he calls his rental company for a new car. Now his rental company wants to charge a $138 fee to tow the vehicle. But Berman says it's not his fault. Can he get a refund?
Q: I rented a car through Auto Europe. During my rental, the car didn't work properly. The vehicle wouldn't move when I pressed on the accelerator, and it felt dangerous to drive. I called the company from my hotel and asked for another car.
Auto Europe insisted on charging my credit card $138 to tow the car. They say the car wouldn't start, but it actually did -- it just didn't run right. I've been back and forth with Auto Europe by email, and it has offered $50 off on my next car rental.
I think it's the rental company's responsibility to give me a working car. Auto Europe won't do anything. Can you help me get a refund for the tow? -- Arnold Berman, Devon, Pa.
A: You're right. Auto Europe should have made sure you received a working car. Actually Auto Europe handles reservations for several European car rental companies, so technically, it was that car rental company's responsibility -- but that doesn't really matter to you.
Your case underscores the importance of conducting a careful inspection of your car before you accept it. If your vehicle doesn't start immediately or if anything else looks suspicious -- for instance, if the lights don't turn on, the windshield wiper doesn't work or the tags are about to expire -- then politely ask for another car.
Auto Europe says that when you contacted the car rental company, it sent its roadside assistance service to your hotel to bring the car back to the garage. They determined that nothing was wrong with your car, and claim that it has been rented since then "with no further issues."
In the event that a vehicle is towed, the rental policy you signed when you checked out your rental says you will be charged for it. I guess the real question is: Did you receive a car that broke down, and if so, whose fault is it?
If, as you say, the car was having trouble and simply stopped working while you were driving it, then I agree -- the car rental company should take responsibility for it. But if the car worked fine and you were unfamiliar with how it worked (a common problem with Americans renting in Europe) then the company would have cause to charge you for towing the vehicle.
I can't tell which it is. When you have an intractable conflict like this, you have one last option before contacting me: You can get in touch with your credit card company and dispute the charge.
But I thought I would ask Auto Europe about your case before you did that. Auto Europe credited your card for $138, the entire amount of the tow charges. I hope your next rental car works better.
(Christopher Elliott is the author of "Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals" (Wiley). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Christopher Elliott receives a great deal of reader mail, and though he answers them as quickly as possible, your story may not be published for several months because of a backlog of cases.)Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun