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Cheap Rental Cars - The Hard Way

Updated on May 6, 2014

“You know how to TAKE the reservation, you just don’t know how to KEEP the reservation”. A classic line from the Seinfeld TV show when a rental car clerk explained she knew what a reservation was. Jerry had reserved a particular type of car but it was no longer available when arrived to pick it up.

How many times has that happened and you just rolled with it? Perhaps you complained to the clerk? That’s not good enough! Usually when I rent a car everything goes well, but this one time…’s the story.


I was driving from Michigan to New Mexico. My wife and two grade school aged children needed a comfortable car for the trip. I reserved a full sized car online with a reputable big name company for the trip. Their stated policy in the online documentation was unlimited miles. We were dropped at the airport in the morning to pick up of comfortable, new full sized automobile to begin the long trip. “Sorry we have no more full sized cars available” the rental car clerk said. “But I reserved a full sized car” was my helpless reply. “Sorry”, she said with a look of “I don’t really care”. After checking with another rental car company in the airport, I went back and reluctantly accepted the little Chevy Malibu that the original rental company offered me for my 3400 mile trip. Ok, I put it behind me and tried to make the best of it…. until I got onto the highway and found that the front end of the car shook like the wheel was about to come off. Now I was furious, and returned to the airport and rental desk, stating that car was unacceptable. Again, “Sorry but that was our last car” she said, and that I could cancel my rental “contract” if I wanted. Now it got heated. “You can’t do this, I need a car and this one is not safe”. After a complete unwillingness to help I convinced her to call the nearest company office where I could exchange the junk pile of a vehicle for one that I could use. That was about 50 miles away. I listened to her talking to someone, I confirmed with her that an exchange could be made, but when I arrived at the nearby office I found that she had not called them. She faked me out to get me to leave. Now I was really furious, all kinds of dark and evil thoughts filled my mind. Having no choice I continued my trip determined to beat the hell out of that car at the least, but my main idea was to just abandon it at the first opportunity. Luckily my wife had remained calm as I was fuming and spewing and spitting. I think I popped a vein in my forehead. She called the rental company and arranged an exchange in Ft. Wayne, Indiana after convincing them our car was not safe to drive. That was another 200 miles down the road. We exchanged for a Pontiac Grand Prix, not a full sized car but it was new, in good condition at allowed us to continue with some confidence that we’d actually survive the drive.


The rest of the trip was without problems and the car actually performed well. When I returned home I did a little research online and found names and email addresses of top executives from the rental car company. I wrote a letter explaining what had happened and that the company I worked for normally rented several cars from them in the course of conducting our daily business, so I had incorrectly assumed that I would be treated fairly and in a professional manner. I included my phone number and that I expected a full refund and a review of the employee conduct at the original rental location. I received a call from their marketing director a few weeks later. He stated that records showed that I put 4000 miles on the car and they don’t make any money when people like me rent their cars. I told him then they should eliminate the policy of unlimited miles it they don’t like, that is not my problem, it’s theirs. He offered a 50% refund. I accepted stating that it was not adequate compensation for what they had put me through but he should do what he thought was fair. I also sent the same statement in an email to the top executives. A few weeks later, after I had already received the 50% refund check, I received a phone call from the personal secretary of the company CEO telling me I would receive a full refund. The check came andwhole ordeal resulted in me getting paid by the company to use their car. Of course I would have rather received fair treatment and taken the trip without these infuriating complications.


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