Last week’s post explained how Hertz left me in the lurch in Seattle without a car at all for two and a half hours despite having made the reservation three months prior, and a crazed Gold counter agent taunted me to boot (see here).  Having purged my soul of Hertz’ evil mischief through my writing, I thought I was done with the pain and suffering they’d caused me.

I was wrong.  The same day I posted the story I received a letter in the mail from an insurance claims specialist informing me that Hertz in Montana was charging my American Express card for damages to a different rental car I had rented at the Billings airport the week following my horrible experience with Hertz at the Seattle airport.

At this point a little background is in order.  Why would I rent from Hertz again the very next week after what happened in Seattle?  Had I not learned my lesson about Hertz?

Explanations are rarely simple.  I had reserved both rental cars from Hertz at the same time, one for a week in Seattle and another for the following week in Billings.  My wife and I were taking our kids to Washington to celebrate our 20th anniversary and then to spend a week with her parents in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness area near Nye, Montana.  We’ve spent a week with them every summer for 22 years, and since Nye is 90 miles from Billings, every year I’ve rented a car from Hertz at the modest Billings Airport.

I’ve had 22 years of hassle-free experience with the nice folks who staff the Hertz counter at Billings airport, but just the same, the prospect of another experience with Hertz caused me to look into renting from a different agency.  However, rental cars sell out at Billings in July, and when I checked two other companies, nothing was available. So I did what I had to do and let my reservation with Hertz at BIL stand.

Most summers in Montana I rent a minivan so that we can accommodate my wife’s parents and our family of four in one vehicle as we take in the gorgeous vistas of the Stillwater Valley in and around Nye, Dean, Fishtail, and Absarokee, Montana.  Hertz at the Billings airport had a brand new Toyota Sienna ready for me upon arrival, exactly what I had reserved.  Vehicle inspection at BIL is done by the renter, as usual, and we looked over the van parked in the small Hertz lot before driving off.  Not a scratch or a dent was evident.

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We were impressed with the comfort and handling of the new Toyota Sienna.  It was quiet and a joy to drive, both peppy and responsive, with excellent visibility, and it met our needs to haul around six family members for our week in the mountains.

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The following Saturday we drove the 90 miles back to Billings and returned the car.  We walked around the vehicle and inspected it from every angle before leaving it in the small Hertz parking area.  My family and I could see not a ding, dent, or scratch on the car.  Other than a layer of dust, the Sienna was in the same fine condition as when we picked it up.  I took the keys and the contract to the Hertz counter in the small Billings airport and closed out my contract.  We headed for the TSA line.

In hindsight, I realize that I should have taken lots of pictures when we picked it up and when we returned it.  Next time I rent a car, I will.  The letter I received claimed that Hertz had found “scratches” on the car caused by me, though they could not tell me where on the van, and no photos were attached.  I phoned the claims representative, a very nice woman in Utah near Provo, and I explained that this was an error.  We had inspected the car and found no damage.  I asked for evidence of damage, and I told her how it was Hertz’ word against ours, since no one was in the parking lot to inspect the car when we left it.  If damage was done after we left, I said, that is on Hertz, not me.  I politely but firmly stated that I would be opening a dispute for any charges with American Express and ask that the charges not be paid.

The claims agent was professional and calm, and she said she would obtain descriptions of the alleged damages and pictures, after which she’d get back to me.  She phoned me a couple of days ago to say that the folks at Hertz in Billings could not locate photos or specific damage descriptions, and that they had decided to close the claim against me.  Naturally I breathed a sigh of relief to avoid expending a lot of non value-adding energy to resist a false charge.  What a waste of time having to address the bogus claim.  At least, I thought, that was behind me.

No such luck.  The next day I received an email from the claims agent saying that Hertz had changed their minds again and would be proceeding with the charge.  I contacted her again at once to protest and to ask what the heck was going on, after which yet another email arrived with a letter attached affirming for the second time that the claim has been closed:

Re: Damage Incident With: Overland West, Hertz System Licensee, Billings, Montana
Our Claim Number: 48xxxx

Dear William Allen:
This letter is to inform you that the above-referenced claim has been closed. No further action is required from you.
Sincerely,

Though naturally relieved once again, I now have no more faith in the Hertz people in Billings than I do in the Hertz staff in Seattle.  No more Hertz.  I just booked several cars with Avis for trips coming up in the next few months.

What, I wonder, is to become of Hertz?  Is this the new car rental industry paradigm?  Will Avis and National and others follow Hertz on its march to the bottom? Car rental rates continue to surge (especially the onerous taxes), and we need competition to provide price-sensitive renters with choices. It’s a tired model anyway, even if familiar. Why do we have to deal with Hertz and its ilk at all?  Wouldn’t it be great if a novel business paradigm sprang up to challenge the car rental firms, like Uber has done for taxi services and Airbnb has done for the accommodation trade?

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