7 On Your Side

Early car rental return fee frustrates woman

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

When you rent a car, it stands to reason you might be charged more for returning it late. So, what happens if you bring it back early?

Margaret Salimi wanted to rent a car for a weekend trip to Los Angeles, so she got a package deal from Budget Rent A Car at the Oakland airport that consisted of four days, all fees included, for $107.

"I was supposed to return it at 7:30 p.m.," she said.

After the trip, Margaret arrived early to drop off the car, just to make sure to avoid additional charges. That's why she was so surprised when she received an extra charge of $11.80.

"There was a charge and she couldn't explain she said maybe something additional that I had requested so I had to go inside the office," she said.

It was a small sum, but Margaret stood in line anyway to find out why Budget tacked on that fee and she was even more surprised at the explanation.

"The bill that I was handed, $11 and some cents, was the result of me returning the vehicle a few minutes earlier than I was supposed to," she said.

Margaret had returned the car at 7:20 p.m. instead of 7:30 p.m. -- 10 minutes early. The clerk told her the agency was now charging extra for early returns, and yes, she would also be charged extra if she returned the car late.

"What time did you want me to return this vehicle not to get charged?" Margaret asked. "How can I possibly be sure my return is precisely at the time the contract said?"

"I said, 'what are the chances you can drop the car exactly at the time you're supposed to?'" Margaret's husband Jose Alvarez asked. "As we were driving home, she said [Margaret] 'should I call 7 On Your Side?' I said yeah you should, it's not right."

So Margaret called us, and we checked it out. In the contract, it does say if you return the car prior to the "due in" time you may be charged a higher rate. So, we asked Budget about that, and after weeks of investigation, the company told us, the extra charge on Margaret's bill had nothing to do with the time she returned the car. It said the charge actually was a $10 concessionaire's fee plus taxes. However, those fees should have been included in her package deal, so Budget removed the $11 charge.

Margaret says she's glad she noticed it.

"I wanted 7 On Your Side to let and alert other consumers to pay attention to the little itsy bitsy little charge that might appear on their bill," she said.

Budget and other rental agencies warn in their literature that early returns may cause your rate to go up. It's because longer rentals can result in lower fees per day. However, Budget says returning a few minutes early won't cost you a dime, and package deals should be all-inclusive.

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auto industry, 7 on your side, michael finney
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