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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Enterprise-Rent-A-Car ( ERAC ) Nightmare

My mom was in a terrible car accident some time ago. She was hit by a drunk driver, and although she was OK, the car ended up in the shop for a month and a half. Why the insurance company didn't total it, I'll never know.

So, when Mom asked me to recommend a rental car company to her, I recommended Enterprise-Rent-A-Car (ERAC).

I should have known better.

Mom asked me to find out about rates, so I called the local branch near to us, explained the situation, and asked the manager how cheap we could get. He told me he could get me a car for about $10 a day! I considered this to be a great kindness on his part, and thanked him greatly for it. I even went there with a witness the next day, and he reconfirmed the offer. Mom also called, spoke to the manager, and was told the same thing that we were told. So, naturally, Mom chose to give her business to ERAC.

Mom had the car for a month and a half. When she finally returned it, she was hit with a bill for $1,100!!! In a panic, she called me to sort it all out. I was sure there had been some mistake.

There wasn't.

The manager had Mom sign a contract full of numbers and small print. What Mom thought she was signing for was a car for $9.99 plus taxes, which would come out to roughly $15. Since her insurance company covered rentals up to $30 a day, she thought there would be no problem.

However, Mom had actually signed for a car for $36.99 a day! The additional charges were unnecessary insurance charges on top of that. And, apparently it's the additional charges that Mom believed to be the charges for the car itself.

Now, since the insurance company only covers up to $30 a day, Mom is responsible for a minimum of $7 a day, plus unnecessary insurance, for 30 days. But it gets even better! Mom's insurance company won't cover the rental after 30 days, so Mom is stuck with additional charges of $36.99 a day plus the unnecessary insurance! Although Mom had known they probably wouldn't extend the coverage, she never expected that she was paying more than $15 a day.

And this is how we reached the total bill of $1,100.

So, Mom asked me to step in.

I went back to the branch last Friday, and asked the manager to cut her some slack. Mom and Dad are not young any more, and they can't afford to drop that kind of money around. Mom was a victim already - why would they make her a victim twice? Besides, everyone knows that ERAC is flexible with their pricing. But the branch manager wouldn't budge. He even told me that I should know better than to believe that a car could be rented for only $9.99! I was insulted that he would imply that we were lying or being manipulative, and I told him so. But we were unable to continue our conversation: He was so swamped with customers that he begged to call me back.

He didn't call me back that Friday.

He didn't call me on Monday.

He didn't call me on Tuesday.

So, on Tuesday afternoon I went with a friend to that ERAC branch to get some answers. We were told that the manager was currently in interviews, so we asked for the name of his boss instead. We were given the name and told where his office was, so we drove to see him. He wasn't there. Where was he? Behind closed doors with the branch manager, interviewing employees.

So, we drove back to the original ERAC branch and insisted on meeting with The Boss. A girl went back to deliver our message and came out to tell us that he wasn't available at the moment but would be out in 30-45 minutes. As I own my own company, I couldn't sit around cooling my heels forever. So, I left my number and asked for him to call me.

He never did.

I also left a message for The Boss's Boss. He did call me. And, he gave me the usual run-around. He also made the same insulting insinuation: *I* should know better than to hold them to their word! After all, who would believe they could get a rental car for only $9.99 a day?!

Well, WE would believe that, obviously, since were were told that.

But The Boss's Boss continued to insist that they were going to hold Mom to the contract which she mistakenly signed. I pleaded for him to at least drop the rates to $30 (which I know they can do) so that most of the charges would go away or be lessened. He finally resignedly said he would call Mom in the next day or so and try to work something out with her. I had a witness to this phone call, incidentally: I had him on speaker phone the entire time.

An hour later, I got a call from the branch manager. I was honest, and told him whom I had spoken with. I emphasized it was nothing personal, but perhaps some good would come out of it, since The Boss's Boss had told me he was going to call Mom and try to work something out with her.

"Um, when did you speak to The Boss's Boss?" asked the Branch Manager.

"About half an hour ago," I replied.

"That's odd," said the Branch Manager, "he just wrote a note in here to proceed with the charges."

Was The Boss's Boss lying to me to merely placate me then? Apparently. Since he was intending to blatantly lie, he certainly should have brought the Branch Manager into the deception. Obviously his goal was to make the nuisance go away, and promise anything to get me off the phone.

This is a simple game of bait and switch, and I am greatly disappointed. It is now obvious that the customer comes dead last, and the branches will do anything to make a profit off a helpless customer who goes forward on what they are verbally promised.

Because there are so many witnesses to the Branch Manager’s promise of $10 a day, I am amazed that anyone persists in insisting that my mom pays the full amount that he has chosen to charge her.

I stumbled across a website called Failing Enterprise. There you can read of similar scams and atrocities which ERAC perpetrates on their unsuspecting customers. Their employees don't fare any better. And to make matters even worse, ERAC just purchased Alamo and National. So, our ability to find quality customer service in a rental car environment is lessening.

Avis, anyone?

18 comments:

The Lazy Iguana said...

Gently inform the manager that taking advantage of the elderly is a crime in Florida, and he should speak with corporate legal before you find a lawyer that would gladly take your case on contingency (costing you nothing because the lawyer would take a cut of any jury award - and jurys are more likely to side with the little old lady than the big evil company), write letters to the local paper, file a complaint with the State, and generally become a massive pain in their ass.

Corporate legal will probably just drop the extra charges, as that is a lot cheaper than the other route.

Saur♥Kraut said...

Lazy, I devoutly hope you are right.

Since I went up three levels and got nothing but disrespect, I have chosen to fire off a letter to the General V.P. and have left a message on the President's personal voicemail.

At first, I was told repeatedly by customer service that they merely refer complaints back to the regional branch. But, I pointed out that if the corruption is throughout the regional branch, isn't it time to take it higher? She finally gave in and gave me the information I needed. HOWEVER, I had to do some research on my own to get the President's name and phone number.

Yeesh, do they try hard to keep you from going up the chain with any complaints. Years ago, they didn't even have a phone number listed on their site and the Customer Service department wouldn't take calls! Two years ago they finally gave in and now they provide a number (with somewhat useless service) online.

Ange, Thanks for the email. I may take you up on that. :D

Debbie said...

Saur so sorry to read this. Hubby and I have used Enterprise twice a year for the past 6 years and never had a problem with them. We have always found their rates to be as we were told and never paid for insurance as we used our own. We have always gotten the type of car we wanted and when we needed it.

I will make sure hubby and I both pay close attention to what we sign as this might be what is on our horizon!

Three Score and Ten or more said...

A couple of things: 1. Personal contacts in a situation like this never have as much influence as a letter from a lawyer. (He?she usually doesn't even have to threaten, the letterhead usually works.)
2. i have found that getting a rental car in a situation like this is frequently more successful if it is done through a third party, the insurance company, travelocity, or any travel agency. (One reason I still own a timeshare is that RCI-the national timeshare exchange company -that often messes up a lot of stuff- always has the best auto rental rates in the country. Sometimes through Avis which is owned by the company that owns RCI, but often though other rental companies.)

The Lazy Iguana said...

Start using the company President's phone number on a whole bunch of "get free stuff" websites :)

Ed Abbey said...

When on my own dime, I normally rent vehicles through the local car dealership. They are usually more expensive than the "advertised" prices of the others but for $37/day, they are very competitive.

When faced with a delimma like yours, I contact the Better Business Bureau of the state I'm dealing with. I've done that three times in my life and all three times have settled the problem to my satisfaction.

QUASAR9 said...

lol Saurkraut, I do sympathise
but if mom 'signed' the contract, then by law they've got you by the short and curlies ...

after all they didn't put a gun to her head and force her to sign, the fact that you in good will misinformed her that they were only going to charge her $10.00 a day, should not have prevented her READING the contract.

If she is elderly and her eyesight is not so good, she should have someone accompany her and READ the contract and the price per day, especially since it was going to be for 30 (or more days).

Gosh, you know someone had thirty days to notice - I think you may be flogging a dead horse on this one.

Ironically, it seems that without the insurance costs, you could have hired the car for $9.99 plus tax, so they did not LIE to you. Just that you are highly unlikely to be able to hire a car from them without the additional insurance and charges.

In the UK you might be able to get a the cheapest flight from RYAN AIR, maybe as low as £1.00

but you'll still be liable for airport tax (£5.00 both ways) and a luggage charfe of £10,00 per item
It's the way the cookie crumbles

Saur♥Kraut said...

Quasar, actually, the newest development is that they ARE negotiating with Mom to bring the price to a more reasonable one (as you pointed out, a contract is a contract). BUT... word of mouth promise is very binding when witnessed (as it was by a couple of people) so THEY are also in a bit of trouble (let alone the PR problems associated with this).

They DID lie to us... since the branch mgr did say it would only be $9.99 a day. He altered it later by saying that he MEANT it would only cost MOM that $9.99 a day. But originally we were given to believe that it was the TOTAL rate. And I don't think we ALL would be suffering under mass delusion. I am apallingly sane.

Ed, an excellent suggestion! I think I'll do that, too.

Emma Sometimes said...

Oh, ouch. That is horrible. I hope it works out. Keep going until you get what you want..also known as "Dear Editor".

The Today Show might enjoy hearing about this? You never know...

Meow (aka Connie) said...

OMG, that is just plain wrong. Taking advantage of people like that. What a bunch of creeps.
Is there a current affairs program you can take this to ??
Good luck
Take care, Meow

United We Lay said...

We used Enterprise once and it worked out well, but I've heard a lot of stories. As far as business is concerned, I don't trus anyone unless the're vouched for perfectly.

Jamie Dawn said...

We've rented many cars over the years and have had some bad experiences too. Your mom really got screwed! It's getting to where we need to wear hidden recording devices everywhere we go so we can prove what people said.
I'm so sorry your parents and you were not treated well.

Anonymous said...

As a branch manager for the company I can safely say I see this happen too often. The branch manager in this story was telling her SHE was responsible for $10/day; not total bill. We use a customer pay stamp to solidify the customer's portion of the bill in which they sign off on. I do not believe Enterprise intentionally lies, misleads, or otherwise dupes their customers. We have a way of traching our customer service and are highly graded on that by a third party company. We cannot even be promoted unless the branch's score is at a minimum expectation. Enterprise is truly a wonderful company that I am proud to be a part of.

Ju said...

Great post. But I would like to say I have been really disappointed with Enterprise lately. While I applaud their green efforts, I will not use their abuse of taxpayer money by playing victim for bailouts. The Wall Street Journal did a expose. You can read about it here:

http://digg.com/d1l2xh 

You have to pay to get the full Wall Street Journal article.

James said...

I feel your pain!! I just had a horrid experience this evening.

I had a car emergency this evening and in a frantic search for rental cars I had the misfortune to contact the local enterprise location in Columbia, MO

I called the location on Providence and was told they were sold out. I then called the location on Texas avenue and they were sold out as well. I then called the airport location and was told there was one SUV remaining. What I wasn't told was that all calls to the airport are actually answered at the Providence location. I was not told this and certainly did not assume it since it is a horrible business model and I had just been told the Providence location had no cars.

I took a cab to the airport and was greeted with the information that I had no car waiting. I was then told of this silly practice of forwarding airport calls to the Providence location and not bothering to tell the customer. I told the gentleman I was angry because I had called and he got smart and said, "Well, you called downtown." I did not call downtown I was forwarded there.

I then caught another cab back to Columbia and while en route called your Providence location to ask if I could pick my car up that evening. The person on the other end said, "Nope, we leave at six."

I work nights and having to scramble to find coverage is stressful and embarrassing. It truly angers me that all of this is because of Enterprises horrid business decision to blindly forward calls as well as the general incompetence of the staff. The rude gentlemen at the airport was not welcome either.

I can't fathom what makes them think forwarding calls is a good idea. If you choose to do this then why not ask where I want to pick up the car. If I call the airport number I assume I am talking to the airport location.

Rest assured I will never use enterprise for any reason again.

Jeannee Waseck said...

Ok, now I know 'it's not me' ...

For years, whenever I needed a rental car, I went w/ Enterprise: they deliver to your door, the prices were reasonable, like so...

So last September, when my doggy died and I just needed to get away - I just wanted a road trip home - I went to the local Enterprise rental car ... and after nearly needing oxygen with the rates, I investigated other rental car agencies (not that I had too many choices in this area) and found a new, disturbing trend: the prices are now all geared for BUSINESS - no more 'personal' rentals or deals. I was priced out of the market ... people still ask me why I didn't go home when CoCo died ...??? Unless they've tried to rent a car, they don't really get it ...

I'm afraid that I may have a back-home emergency, tho, and with my usual everyday vehicle not really equipped for that type of drive --?!!!

LOVE YOUR BLOG!!!

Gregg said...

They most certainly could have adjusted the bill. I wouldn't expect them to eat the whole bill, but they were already getting 30/day from the insurance company.

If there was no insurance claim to process, then the damage waiver was 100 percent pure profit.

Like you, I have some experience with that company and know that what they should have done is done every day there.

Saur♥Kraut said...

Gregg, you're absolutely right.