Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rental Car scams

I just got back from a trip to New Mexico where I rented a car from Alamo. One of the many questions is how to pay for gas. I chose to return the car empty and pay Alamo's $2.73/gallon rate to refill it on return. The other option is to return it full, or pay over $4.00/gallon to fill it on return. The latter is more attractive to Alamo, so check your paperwork carefully, in case the rental agent "forgets" to use the right option (they did forget in my case, but switched it when I complained on returning the car).

I had a Chevy Malibu, I'm guessing a 2010. Almost all cars in the past few years come with an on-board computer that tells fuel economy in various ways, and how many miles left in the tank. Strangely, the Chevy Malibu didn't. I checked Chevy's web site and the new 2011 model comes with this computer as a standard option. So, either one of two things has happened: Chevy made the computer standard between 2010 and 2011, or Alamo has enough buying clout to get Chevy to make a rental-car version of the Malibu without this trip computer. And since the trip computer would have made it very easy to return the car with an empty tank, it is to Alamo's advantage to not have it.

I returned the car empty. And they charged me for 16 gallons of gas (which is pretty accurate, 16.1 gallons according to the website). But they charged me $2.73 plus 7% sales tax (which is the rate for the city I was in) plus 5% "leased gross receipt" plus a 9.89 percent "concession fee".

The sign on the desk said "$2.73 per gallon" with no asterisk or any information about the additional charges. I was told by the rental agent both on rental and return that $2.73 was the going rate of gas in the city. It wasn't. There were stations charging that much, but most charged less, and I bought gas at $2.57 in the suburbs.

When I buy gas at a station, they never charge sales tax. New Mexico actually doesn't have a sales tax, they have a gross receipts tax. But my bill shows me paying both.

The sign on the desk said $2.73/gallon. It didn't say anything about the almost 10% surcharge for a concession fee. Nor about the 7% and 5% taxes.

The amount is not much. I don't think an attorney general or the BBB would talk to me over this amount. But it is dishonest and unethical. Buying special model cars to prevent consumers from knowing how much gas in the tank is dishonest and unethical.