Posts Tagged ‘rental cars’

Deciphering rental-car ‘dialogue’

April 18, 2008

Ever since I first rented a car some 30 years ago, I’ve been doing battle with car-rental companies. I think they have some of the most blatantly unethical consumer practices in the country. (Enterprise is the only company I sort of trust.) I’ve given the industry dozens of opportunities to disprove that, but so far that hasn’t happened. Here’s a recent example:

On April 3, I rented a car through Budget at Sea-Tac (Seattle-Tacoma International Airport). Here’s part of my exchange with the Budget counter clerk regarding insurance coverage for the car.

Budget: Would you like full coverage or just on the car?
Me: What about no coverage?
Budget: So you’re declining coverage?
Me: Yes. You didn’t give that as an option, did you?
B: You’re declining coverage?
Me: Yes, but I’m asking, did you offer me that option?
B: It’s not part of my dialogue.
Me: What do you mean?
B: It’s not part of the dialogue we’re told to use.
Me: That seems wrong to not give people the option because some people would think they have to buy insurance coverage through Budget, which of course they don’t.
B: It’s not part of the dialogue.

The following week, once I was home, I followed up with Budget about this “dialogue.” Here’s the answer I received via email from corporate spokeswoman Alice Pereira:

“Budget customers always have the option to accept or decline additional coverages at the time of rental. If you were not given the option to do so, it is contrary to our company policy. We will look into the matter and take necessary steps to ensure that employees adhere to the policy.”

So, the company line is that Budget tells customers their options. Yet my clerk said he was following “the dialogue we’re told to use.” Someone somewhere is not being honest. What I fear most is that my guy (who can be tracked by my paperwork) will be reprimanded for doing what he likely was being told to do by his boss, and nothing else will happen.

I figured I’d also check with the Washington Attorney General’s office to see if Budget’s failure to give me an option of declining insurance violated any consumer laws. For that I turned to Kristin Alexander, media relations manager in the office of Attorney General Rob McKenna. Here’s what she said:

“All businesses are obligated to inform consumers about their products in a fair and non-misleading manner. If a product or service is optional, it should be represented as such. If Budget (or any similar company, for that matter) has a pattern and practice of misleading consumers to believe that they cannot decline the option of additional insurance, its practices may violate the Washington Consumer Protection Act.

“Assumptive sales techniques are common in car sales, insurance, telecommunications – situations where the seller assumes you want the additional product or service. Consumers should be alert and be willing to pose questions of salespeople who offer additional products or services in conjunction with a sale.”

So, dear readers, stay alert and please complain to the company and the authorities if you feel your rights are being violated. Let me know too!