Monday, March 08, 2010

Something works out in my favor (no poker content)

I just got a phone call that removed a worry that has been hanging over my head for two months.

When I drove to Utah in early January for a belated holiday visit to my family, I rented a Toyota Corolla. As usual, I declined the insurance they tried to pressure me into buying. I've never had a problem with either a breakdown of or damage to a rental car, and there was no reason to think that such would happen on this trip.

I rented the car the evening before I was going to be leaving, and parked it on the street overnight. The next morning I was sick to discover that something had happened to the car during the night. I still can't figure out exactly what. You can see the damage in the photos above. Clearly not a conventional collision, but also not really looking like deliberate vandalism. It sort of looks like somebody threw a white brick at the car--four times. Or maybe some sort of very high vehicle backed into/over it, and just scraped the hood and fender. I dunno--it still baffles me.

Anyway, I knew that my own auto insurance wouldn't cover this, so I was worried that this was going to be a big out-of-pocket expense. But I remembered having heard that Visa and Mastercard provide automatic damage insurance when you rent a car using them. I had used my Visa card. I checked the Visa web site, and it certainly seemed to confirm that they would cover any damage costs.

But I remained skeptical. I couldn't shake the feeling that it was too good to be true, that there was a catch I was missing, and they would cite some sort of fine-print exclusion that would leave me holding the bag. (This particular bag, by the way, was nearly $1800 of body-work repairs and associated costs and fees.) I followed all the directions, filled out all the paperwork, and sent it in with fingers crossed.

The call I got today was Visa's service division telling me that they have all the documentation they require, and they are authorizing payment in full, and the net cost to me will be exactly zero--just as their web site had promised.

It shouldn't be so, but it seems very rare that things actually work as advertised in the world of commerce. It's a pleasant surprise and a great relief to hear, in effect, "Don't worry about it. We've taken care of it for you."

Life lesson: When you rent a car using your credit card (and there isn't any other way that I know of), skip the rental company's insurance--you're covered at no additional cost anyway. (In fact, if you buy the rental company's insurance, Visa won't cover you.)

A final note: Payless Car Rental was the company involved. They were complete dicks about this whole thing every step of the way. It started at the rental counter when I picked up the car, with the agent making me feel like I was (1) a criminal that they couldn't entrust with one of their precious vehicles, and (2) an idiot for declining their insurance and roadside assistance options. It continued with my interactions with the guy checking the damage when I returned the car, and all subsequent contacts about the company's claim for payment for repairs. At every possible point of contact, this company's people went out of their way to be rude, offensive, demeaning, unprofessional, and accusatory. Even the written stuff they sent conveyed the same kind of insulting, demanding, bullying tone. No matter how much their rates undercut the competition in the future, I will not be renting from them again. I suggest you similarly avoid this nasty company.


Memphis MOJO said...

I declined the insurance they tried to pressure me into buying.

The fact that they are pushing you to get it tells you something -- it's a good deal for them and the customer service person likely gets a small cut as his incentive.

While being repaired, the car is out of service and can't be rented, obviously. Some rental car places try to charge you for the missed days. Did they do that and VISA paid it?

Rakewell said...

Yes, but it was only one day, so amounted to only about $25, as I recall. That was among the assorted fees I mentioned, all covered.

Anonymous said...

Nice catch with the Visa thing. I have been using Dollar Rentacar for several years, and if you sign up to be a Dollar Express member (free) you never will be asked if you want insurance again as your preferences are saved in their system. Also their rates are very good and as a Dollar Express member you don't have to wait in the regular line. Very short wait times, and sometimes free upgrades.