Here it is: the worst car rental experience so far this year!

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Beth Mowery just had the worst car rental experience of her life, and she wants you to know about it.

When you rent a car, you probably assume you’ll only pay for your own rental. But several days after Beth returned her last rental car, she received a nearly $1,000 upcharge. As it turns out, Hertz billed her for someone else’s rental. What followed was a series of careless mistakes that the car rental company refused to acknowledge or correct. And each mistake was more frustrating than the last.

Now Beth hopes our advocacy team can help fix these errors and retrieve her money. 

How a one-day, one-way car rental turned into an expensive mess.

Last April, Beth flew to Charlotte, N.C., to attend her uncle’s funeral. She had booked a confirmed rate of $189 for the one-day, one-way rental, planning to return the car later the same day in Asheville, N.C.

“I picked up the car at the airport in Charlotte without any problem,” Beth recalled. “After the funeral, I drove the rental to Asheville to return it.”

And that’s where all the problems began.

That location is a new franchise, and the manager said she couldn’t access their computer system to generate a receipt. I stood there for over a half-hour. Because of the computer problem, the manager said she had to record all of the rental information manually. Finally, she said I was free to go. I had the forethought to take a photo of the gas gauge and odometer. The process was arduous. It was a stressful and sad day. I was happy to get out of there.”

Beth

A few days later, as Beth reviewed her credit card account, she noticed the first of many errors from Hertz. Instead of the all-inclusive $189 guaranteed rate, the Asheville location had billed her $259 for the 4-hour rental.

Hertz: “A computer problem caused this mistake.”

Beth picked up the phone and called “Kristy,” the manager of the Hertz franchise.

Kristy apologized and explained that the same computer problem that had caused her to be unable to properly close out Beth’s rental must have also caused the billing error, too. She promised to correct the mistake right away.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. What did happen was that a new charge suddenly appeared on Beth’s credit card account. And this new bill was a doozy — an $893 fee on top of the $259 charge.

Now Hertz had billed Beth nearly $1,200 for a 4-hour car rental. Surely, Hertz could quickly correct this problem she thought.

She thought wrong.

Did Hertz bill this customer for a stranger’s car rental?

When Beth called Hertz and asked for a detailed receipt, she was in for another shock.

“The final bill for this rental was coming from a Hertz location in Jacksonville, Florida,” Beth explained. “Clearly, Hertz never closed my rental and let a stranger take the car and billed me for their rental, too.”

Hertz had billed Beth a late fee and a $200 service fee in addition to four extra rental days. This invoice did not include the cost of her actual rental, which the Asheville location had billed separately.

Soon Beth was back on the phone with Kristy, the manager of the Asheville location. She asked how Hertz had allowed someone else to rent a car with her name and credit card attached. Again, Kristy apologized. She blamed this mistake, too, on the errant computer system and promised to correct the problem.

And, you guessed it, again she did not.

“This is truly the worst car rental experience!”

Over the next six weeks, Beth tried every avenue she could think of to make Hertz fix its mistakes.

I spoke to Kristy repeatedly. Every time I spoke to her, she promised me that she would call corporate and correct my bill. She never did. Additionally, I called Hertz customer service, sent a Twitter DM to Hertz, and sent an email to the Hertz CEO and VP of customer service. All were non-responsive. I’m a seasoned traveler, and I’ve always been loyal to Hertz. But this has truly been the worst car rental experience of my life. I’ve now paid nearly $1,200 for a 4-hour rental, and no one at Hertz will fix this outrageous mistake. Can you please help me?

Beth’s email to our team

When Beth’s complaint hit my inbox, I wondered why Hertz had been unable to fix these billing mistakes quickly. But even more concerning than the massive overcharge was the fact that Hertz had allowed an anonymous person to drive away from one of its locations with another customer’s information attached. The liability possibilities are stunning.

It was time to ask Hertz what had gone wrong here and put a swift end to Beth’s frustrating struggle.

At least that’s what I thought would happen. But there were still more twists and turns coming Beth’s way.

Something has gone terribly wrong with this car rental

Beth had kept a detailed paper trail of her efforts to get the car rental company to fix this problem. What seemed clear is that Kristy, being the manager of a new franchise, didn’t seem to know how to correct her mistake. Eventually, she just gave up and referred Beth to the Hertz executive office.

Unfortunately, that path was a dead-end for Beth — likely because the mistake was at the franchise level.

I hoped our executive contact could sort this out.

Beth rented a car for just one day on April 12. She picked it up in Charlotte, North Carolina, and dropped it off later that same day in Asheville. The total cost was supposed to be about $189. Apparently, the computers weren’t working at the Asheville location, so it looks like no one ever scanned the car as returned. But then, somehow, that Hertz branch gave the vehicle to another renter who returned it in Florida a few days later. Beth was charged for that rental too!

Beth has been trying to resolve this problem independently for over a month now with various Hertz employees. But the charges remain on her credit card. There also hasn’t been any written confirmation from Hertz that she didn’t take that car to Florida. Could you see if your team might be able to figure out what happened and fix this for her? Thank you! 😊

Michelle to the Hertz executive team

Within a few days, I heard what I thought was good news.

Hi Michelle,

Our Executive Customer Care team confirmed they have issued a refund for the additional charges.”

But when I spoke to Beth, she had news for me, too.

“I’m sorry to say that all [Hertz] did was refund the overcharge on the original rental,” Beth reported. “I got a refund of $69. Hertz still owes me $893 for someone else’s rental that they charged me for.

Hertz executive team

So I turned back to Hertz.

Hertz charged this customer for someone else’s rental, as well

Hi *****,

I spoke to your customer Beth again today, and she confirms that only $69.80 was refunded. She was charged for someone else’s rental, as well. The one that caused the car to end up in Florida. That’s the bulk of the problem here. That rental was $893.47. That isn’t her rental — it’s someone else’s. She returned the car in Asheville. Could you see if your team can have another look at this one? Thanks!

Michelle to the Hertz executive

Once again, after a few days, I received a message from Hertz that I thought was announcing good news. The executive team confirmed that it had processed a refund for the car rental to Florida.

But not quite…

OMG, Michelle

I wish I were writing to say you are finally done with me. Unfortunately, this isn’t yet over. Though Hertz processed a refund, it was only a partial refund. (Really big sigh). Instead of issuing a full refund for the rental that wasn’t mine, they deducted the amount of the rental contract for the vehicle I actually rented.

Beth to Michelle

Now this customer has been billed twice for the same rental

At the same time that I received Beth’s latest plea, I received an email from Hertz’s senior leadership team.

Hi Ms. Couch-Friedman, I apologize for any misunderstanding regarding the charges billed for Ms. Beth’s rental. I show that a billing error was made at the time of rental return, which resulted in Ms. Beth being billed a total of $893.47 rather than the originally agreed-upon $189.63. When this error was realized, the billing was corrected on the final invoice and a refund of the additional charges was processed in the amount of $703.84. I have reviewed our billing systems and do not show where any additional charges were incurred on Ms. Beth’s charge card ending in XXXX.

Hertz senior customer service

Ok, now, I was beginning to feel the same level of frustration that I knew Beth had been experiencing for the past six weeks. This was certainly the worst car rental experience I had read about in some time. After all, she had already provided copies of her credit card bills that showed that both the Asheville location and the Jacksonville location had charged her credit card bill for a grand total of $1,162.

Is the 4th time a charm? Again asking Hertz to correct this billing error

For the fourth time, I reached out to the Hertz executive team in an attempt to get all parts of the case resolved. Once again, I provided a copy of both bills that showed that Hertz still owed its customer nearly $200. I hoped that the car rental company would see the awful experience its customer was having try to fix its agent’s mistakes.

Hi ****,

You’re not going to believe this, but the Hertz team in charge of correcting this problem made another error. When they processed the refund for the $893, they deducted $189.63 (the cost of the original contract). BUT Beth already paid for that rental. This $893 was an entirely separate and unrelated rental that she was charged for. She is owed a full refund for that rental.

I just checked in with Beth, and she’s really very frustrated. It is quite surprising how many mistakes have occurred with this one car rental, and it’s now nearly eight weeks since the fiasco began for her. I had hoped we could finally end her suffering today. It seems like such a simple step to fix this last part of the equation. Can you ask your team to look again, please?

Michelle to the Hertz executive team

Finally, an end to this car rental fiasco! (or is it?)

And finally, something clicked at Hertz. Later that day, our executive contact confirmed that their team would correct that last billing error ASAP. Additionally, as a goodwill offering for its customer’s awful experience, Hertz would comp the original car rental as well. Hertz zeroed out Beth’s bill.

In the end, Beth hasn’t said whether she’s looking for a new favorite car rental company. But she feels betrayed.

“I’m still in shock at the utter lack of customer service and responsiveness from Hertz,” she lamented.  I’ve always been a loyal and frequent customer. They just didn’t care.”

How to avoid your own worst car rental experience

Beth’s experience with this car rental was undoubtedly one of the worst I’ve seen in a long time. But in general, we saw a surge in car rental complaints during the pandemic. This may be due to a reduction in staff combined with a concerted effort by car rental companies to increase revenue in other ways. Whatever the cause, you’ll want to protect yourself so you can avoid your own fiasco.

Here are some tips to keep in mind before, during, and after your next rental.

  1. Take car rental employee names
    If something goes out of the ordinary during your next car rental experience, it’s critical to take the names of the employees involved. We often receive requests for help from consumers who have no idea who gave them the information on which they are basing their complaints. When an employee provides you with important and/or unusual information, make sure you note their name and title.
  2. Make sure you understand your contract
    Of course, it’s critical to read your confirmation and contract and make sure that you are following your part of the agreement. If you don’t understand your entire contract, don’t sign it. As Andrew Dupuy found out earlier this year when he was charged nearly $1,000 for returning his rental car to the wrong location and as Rose Hidalgo discovered when she returned her rental car to the wrong agency entirely, it’s imperative that you understand the terms of your car rental contract. If you deviate from that agreement in any way, you could be in for a nasty surprise later.
  3. Keep all paperwork
    Until you have your final bill and proof that your car rental is closed out, keep all your paperwork. This includes your contract, your gas receipts, any cash tolls you paid during the rental, and your final receipt
  4. Ask for a handwritten signed receipt
    We’ve seen time again that rental car employees will tell customers that they don’t need a receipt. In fact, you most certainly need a receipt. That is unless, of course, you don’t mind becoming embroiled in a billing fiasco later. So if a car rental employee tells you the computers are down, making a receipt impossible, insist on a signed handwritten receipt.
  5. Take photos and videos
    You should always take before and after photos and videos of your rental car. This protects you against frivolous damage claims. Additionally, the digital metadata embedded in the photo can prove exactly when and where you returned the vehicle.
  6. File a complaint with the attorney general’s office
    If you believe that any company is violating its policies — and the law, filing a complaint with your state’s attorney general can often provide the nudge the company needs to do the right thing. Use this link to find your AG’s office and file your complaint.
  7. Ask the Consumer Rescue team for help
    It’s true that our team can reach people within the company that you likely can’t access. If you’ve followed all the advice above and still hit an insurmountable wall of resistance trying to resolve your car rental predicament, remember the Consumer Rescue team is always here to help 365 days a year and always free of charge. 😊

Update: This car rental experience just got worse

After we originally published this article, Beth contacted me to advise that despite the gesture of goodwill refund that Hertz offered, its team did not send it.

So I sent another follow-up to our executive contact at Hertz who reached out to her team once more. The next day I received the following message:

Hi Michelle,

The team confirmed that no charges remain. They refunded all charges and zeroed out the invoice on 6/3. I’ve asked them to reach out to Beth today to explain.

Hertz executive team

Since I knew that team was led by the same person who had made many of the errors in Beth’s struggle, I wasn’t confident that this was true.

It turns out it wasn’t.

Soon Beth confirmed that no goodwill gesture had been processed for the original car rental.

Hi Michelle – They are 100% wrong. I would love for them to school me on how they’re right.

I don’t get physical statements, so again, here are the transactions from my Chase account for this rental since April 12th. I’ve also included a spreadsheet, showing that math. My out of pocket for this rental remains at $189.68 (which is the amount I was contracted to pay). They did NOT zero out the invoice. There have been a total of five transactions hitting my account from Hertz for this rental.

Beth about her ongoing battle to fix the billing error

To make matters worse, the same agent who holds the title of “Senior Leader” called Beth to explain why Beth was incorrect.

She wasn’t.

I gathered all of Beth’s bank statements and created yet another chart to attempt to explain to our executive contact at Hertz why this Senior Leader was the one who was incorrect.

Hi ****,

Just Fyi — [The senior leader] called Beth. There is definitely a disconnect with [This senior leader]. She doesn’t seem to be able to see all the charges billed to Beth. Maybe someone else should review the case? Michelle

Michelle to Hertz executive team

And finally, after many, many emails, charts, explanations, phone calls and an article explaining all the ridiculous details of Beth’s struggle with this car rental and its aftermath, someone else did review the case.

I just listened to a voicemail from Josh a manager at the Hertz executive desk. He stated they are processing a refund for the $189.xx today. Additionally he stated they are sending me a voucher in the US mail for $100 towards my next rental.

Beth to Michelle

And a few days later, Beth finally saw the goodwill gesture credit in her bank account, and she was more than ready to put her worst car rental experience ever in the past.

(Michelle Couch-Friedman, Consumer Rescue)

A lifesaver to represent Consumer Rescue helping consumers.

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle Couch-Friedman is the founder and CEO of Consumer Rescue. She is an investigative consumer reporter and advocate, author, and licensed psychotherapist. Michelle is a public speaker and her expert guidance has been cited in Consumer Reports, Travel & Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Popular Science, CNN, CNBC, Travel Weekly, Reader's Digest and more. You might even catch Michelle on tv helping fix a situation. :) Michelle is also an Ombudsman Columnist for The Points Guy and the former executive director of the nonprofit Elliott Advocacy. During her six years in that position, she resolved thousands of cases for troubled travelers and other consumers. You can read hundreds of 5-star reviews Michelle earned during her service to the nonprofit since 2016 here on Great Nonprofits. Today, she continues to spend as much time as possible fiercely defending consumers and exploring the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Couch-Friedman or on Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook.