How to Remedy Unfair Rental Car Charges and Other Rental Car Hassles

A recent story published by USA Today says that over 230 rental car customers were charged with theft after returning cars they say they legally rented from Hertz Car Rentals. Sounds like a nightmare, but it’s true, and now Hertz is facing a class action lawsuit for these claims.

Apparently, the point of contention circles around how Hertz reports “theft by conversion” for customers who attempted to extend their rental period, but for some reason were unable to process a new authorization to the card on file. This could happen without the customer knowing–like when a credit card is too close to its limit, or the bank flagged it as a duplicate charge.

According to Hertz, they only file a theft report if they’ve exhausted all other attempts to reach the customer. However, hundreds of customers claim they were pulled over, some were arrested, and some even spent time in jail for “stealing” cars they legitimately rented. One former Hertz customer says she found out through a background check–years after she’d rented, returned and paid for the car–that there was a warrant out for her arrest.

How to Avoid Rental Car Problems

It seems like everything nowadays is more expensive and requires research to get right. Rental cars are no exception. Since the pandemic, rental car prices have gone through the roof. Add to that these theft reports and it certainly makes a person think twice before confirming a rental reservation.

If you do have to rent a car, it’s wise to do a thorough inspection of the car alongside the rental representative so that you don’t wind up with unnecessary charges for damages. Always pay attention to the fuel level upon return, and if you must extend your rental, be sure you have plenty of room to authorize a new hold on your card.

How to Fight Bogus Rental Car Charges

If you have rented a car and you were charged excessively or experienced some other negative outcome at the fault of the rental car company, what are your rights?

In California, you have a right to bring a claim against the rental car company. However, most rental car contracts contain a clause that forces the consumer into arbitration. This means that any dispute must be settled outside of court by a third-party arbitrator, rather than a judge or jury. The problem with this is that it generally puts the consumer in an uneven playing field, where their claim is heard by corporate defense lawyers. Essentially, you’re submitting a claim to the person hired by the corporation to protect the corporation’s interests.

If the claim is small enough, it may be possible to avoid arbitration by choosing small claims court. Typically, as an individual consumer in California, you can go to small claims court for a claim less than $10,000. The burden will be on you to prove every dollar of damages you believe you are owed, but it will likely give you a better outcome than arbitration.