What Do You Do When a Big Company Tries to Swindle You?Wednesday, January 27, 2010
You fight back on a level where you can win: intellectually, or with a fierce desire to not be ripped off.
For most companies, it is obviously in their best interests to bring in new customers and treat them well enough to turn them into return customers. In the free market, poor customer service usually means that you can pick up and go to the nearest competitor with a better product or service. Bad service happens, and it’s usually not intentional. A company is then wise to make up for bad service by extending the customer some sort of courtesy – a credit, bonus service, or other token to soften the blow to the customer who received poor service or a bad product (except in the domestic auto industry). Usually, the future benefit of such actions will exceed the immediate cost.
I recently had the most surreal experience with Thrifty Car Rental. I have always heard about the swindles from various car rentals companies, mostly when they try to “double-dip” on damages, meaning they will charge, and collect from, more than one customer for the same damage repair. It is evil, but remember that the assumption is always made – and it is often correct – that generally, most people are too stupid and inept to properly defend their interests. A little strong arm goes a long way in our public-schooled populace.
I had a flat tire in a Thrifty Rental vehicle, and what ensued is rather remarkable. I followed the advice of someone in customer service, and turned the vehicle in with the spare on and without fixing the flat – because I was in strange, rural territory, rushing back to Salt Lake City to catch a 5am flight in the morning. I fully expected to pay the cost of the flat. So I was billed one month later – $190 for a new tire, $40 for a “loss of use” fee, and $50 for an “administrative fee” so they could pay for the costs of sending me a scary-looking letter, threatening to send me into collections if I did not pay the amounts listed (almost $300) immediately. There was no justification for the new tire – just pay it. The letter was what most people would consider to be very “threatening” and overt, and it was from the very “scary” Subrogation Management Team LTD. Of course, the threat to “send me to collections” was stated more than once in the letter. These people making the decision to handle situations like mine, in this way, know that the majority of folks receiving this letter will write out a check and pay it – out of ignorance, fear, and sometimes laziness. It’s easier, as they know, for most people to just pay it and make the thing go away. The numbers – in terms of claims collected – will tell them that these letters that are sent out and order the full-on press are an effective means to pressure people into paying up without question.
Then they sent one of their bold and unfriendly, threatening letters to me. Mistake.
I was super busy, so I didn’t get to it as quickly as I had planned. Thirty days later I got the follow-up notice from Global Collection & Recoveries, LLC , and it stated that I was off to collections if they received no response or formal dispute within thirty days. So I had to take an hour out of my stressful and long work days to address this nonsense. I really despise wasting time on defensive maneuvers. I especially hated this case since this vehicle was already causing me issues before the flat – issues which I put on record with a few friendly phone calls to Thrifty before the day of the flat. But I was feeling spunky and sarcastic one Sunday evening, so I sent the following letter to the collector at Global Collection & Recoveries, LLC, and I cc’d the person in charge of the claim at Thrifty Car Rental.
In response to your letter, I hereby dispute the validity of this claim (#TH 88110 SLC).
Car rental companies are known to make outrageous claims against their customers and then try to fleece them through the various means available to them. Unfortunately, most people are too timed and/or too ignorant (along with being powerless) to stand up against these companies and protect their interests. As a Certified Public Accountant who spends a fair amount of time handling the business matters and financial dilemmas of private persons, I dare to say that Thrifty has chosen the wrong person to bullyrag in this particular case. As a person who has at least one credit score – out of three – above 800, I am not the type of person to walk away from bona fide responsibilities. Additionally, I will not stand by and allow you to try and destroy my credit with your baseless claims over a tire and preposterous administrative fees.
I rented a Ford Explorer and on the last full day of my vacation I ended up with a flat tire near Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. A friend, who is a reliable farm mechanic, tried to change the tire and could not do so. The reason? The wheel was completely rusted onto the frame and it could not be removed. Since I was out in the middle of a rural area, a few calls to the nearest tow shops garnered me prices of $120 and up to come out and get the wheel off, and change the flat. The Explorer had almost 30k miles on at the time, and it was clearly visible that the tire had never come off the vehicle, meaning that the simple maintenance act of tire rotation had never been performed. It is obvious that Thrifty Car Rental is not too concerned about maintaining its vehicles. The rust was spread throughout the entire wheel assembly and the hub where it attached, and this kept my mechanic friend from getting the tire off. The car was only a 2009 model. I am told by my friend that this rust is a common occurrence in the Salt Lake City area, and regular maintenance is needed to prevent the rust and “caking.” Thrifty clearly performed no such maintenance or ever rotated the vehicle’s tires in its 30,000 miles (tire rotation recommended every 6,000 miles).
I made a few calls to Thrifty customer service, explaining the problem. Those calls should be logged. That shows that I made the steps to correct the problem. I asked them what procedure they wanted me to follow to get this taken care of, and I thought I followed them as explained to me. Eventually, my friend used some industrial farming solvents and special tools to get the tire off – 6 hours later! – so he could save me the $120 road service. I lost a half-day of my vacation, and I had to immediately get back to Salt Lake City before dark to make my flight early in the a.m. I drove using the spare tire from Mesa Verde to Salt Lake, with no additional spare. Within a month, Thrifty sent me a threatening letter trying to bully me into paying for a brand new tire (not a flat repair), with absolutely no justification for purchasing a new tire. Thrifty did not have to purchase a new tire, though I am sure they could ask the tire shop to give them whatever substantiation they need. I would be happy to be billed for, and pay for, the flat repair that I could not make because I was in a strange place that was mostly rural, and I had no time to look for a tire repair shop off the highway.
Thrifty’s intent became clear when I noted, from its letter to me, that they were charging me – in addition to a new tire – for “loss of use” ($39.99) and, outrageously enough, for an “administrative fee” ($50). This is where the malicious purpose becomes a bit obvious perhaps? At no time did I receive a phone call, an explanation for the new tire, or otherwise. They also claimed that the “flat tire cover” for the rim was missing. It was not. To insure it would not fall off while driving, it was placed, by me, right next to the flat tire in the rear of the vehicle.
Now here’s another tidbit in my car rental drama. One day 2 of my rental, the “change engine oil” light started blinking at me, making noises, and claiming “it was time for an oil change.” Each time I started the car the dashboard warning system went through the routine. On Day 3, a different indicator came on claiming “OIL MUST BE CHANGED NOW.” This light remained for the entire time I had the vehicle. It not only came on when starting the vehicle, it also flashed on approximately every 15 minutes *while driving*. These indicators are set according to recommended, pre-determined mileage levels and the warning system can only be changed by a mechanic with proper access (or by changing the oil). I dealt with these flashing, noisy indicators for many days.
When I called Thrifty about the flat I also mentioned this problem, and asked for a credit to my account due to the inconvenience and my lack of confidence in the vehicle. Thrifty had managed to not perform the very simple maintenance act of changing the oil on the vehicle, leaving me with an unreliable car for almost a full week. Add this to the fact that the tires were never rotated and the wheels were rusted solid to the frame. I have friends in Colorado that are witnesses to these events. And Thrifty is trying to gouge me for $90 in made-up fees, along with the cost of a new tire?
Feel free to bill me for the flat repair, and I will gladly pay it. The flat needed to be repaired, indeed, but the new tire was Thrifty’s decision. I talked to my State Farm agent and he has said he will look at covering the cost of the new tire *if* proper justification can be made, with all proper documentation. If they want to pay based on your justification, fine. However, I will not pay you for a tire that you replaced so you could bill me for your unnecessary (new) purchase. Additionally, there will be no payment for an “administrative fee” or “loss of use” fee. In return, I’d like to bill you for my “loss of use” (approx. 6 hours), and I think that would come out to about $90, so it’s a wash.
I apologize for the lengthy letter, but the proper case needed to be in writing for your presentation. P.S. – Please feel free to read this story about Thrifty double-dipping its customers for so-called damages. http://www.elliott.org/blog/are-car-rental-companies-double-dipping-on-damage-claims/
I really enjoyed writing this – perhaps too much. I mailed this on Monday morning and was fully prepared to engage them head-on should they dare to deal with it. On Friday afternoon, I received a phone call and recognized the lady’s name as the gal spearheading the collection for Global Collection & Recoveries, LLC. She said, “Miss DeCoster, has anyone called you yet about your claim?” I said, “No Ma’am, I just mailed it a few days ago.” She said, “I am calling you to inform you that we will not pursue the claim. This claim has been closed. Would you like a formal acknowledgment of this?” I said “Yes, send it to my email address….”
Ha! Take that you scoundrels. The whole thing was a sham, and the $90 in added fees really gave that away. My message is this: as often as I hear about peoples’ horrible experiences with being threatened, bullied, walked-on, and beat up (and I am not talking about bona fide deadbeats), I know few people who look the monster in the eye and challenge it. Remember that many companies conduct a lot of bad business, and they always will, and that’s because they know that only a small number of people on the receiving end of their bully tactics will respond with a fight. Those who do respond are often deemed more trouble than the pursuit is worth, so they move on to the next sucker.
Don’t be a sucker. Take the time to let them know you are not going to be one of their victims.