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Car rental agencies


In July 2013, via Eurocar I ordered and paid for a standard transmission car with room for 5 passengers and large trunk space from National Car Rental at Gatwick Airport in the UK, to be picked up on Sept 14. Before leaving Canada, I received a message from Eurocar encouraging me to submit relevant information on-line ahead of arriving, to make the process at the airport move quickly. I did so. When we arrived on Sept. 14, expecting a quick process, I provided the National/Eurocar desk agent with my voucher but the agent took some time processing the order. I began to wonder if the car we ordered was not available because the agent said she was going to get the keys and came back without them. After some shuffling around, she asked me if I wanted to upgrade to an automatic. I asked her if the upgrade involved additional charges, as I was sure it would, and she said it would be 10 pounds more a day. I said no, I don't want to pay for the upgrade and I re-iterated the specs of the car we had ordered: a standard transmission with room for five passengers with full insurance coverage. The agent nodded her head, went to a phone and I overheard her ask whether "the car" was there. I could not hear the whole conversation but she returned to the desk and started filling in the contract. She asked whether I wanted to return the car with a full tank or an empty tank and explained that the agency charged less per litre for gas than service centres. I agreed to the "tank empty" option, the charge for which would be added to my credit card. The agent asked me to initial beside the charge for the empty tank option and sign the contract, which I did.

The agent gave me a set of keys and pointed me to where the car was parked. We fitted our luggage into the trunk and back seat and my sister and brother-in-law went to the washroom while I got into the driver's seat to accustom myself to the controls. I realized then that the car was an automatic. Looking back now, it is regrettable that I did not return to the desk to ask why we had been given an automatic but at the time, I assumed that we had been given it because a standard was not available. I assumed this because I often have been given a car at an upgrade level when a car at the level I have ordered is not available. But most importantly, I had stated unequivocally to the agent that I did not want to pay for an automatic upgrade so it never occurred to me that she would deliberately over ride my instruction.

When we returned to Gatwick two weeks later, we left the car with an attendant and turned in the keys. Three weeks later, I received a credit card bill from Eurocar for more than the cost of an empty tank refill. I called my credit car company about it and they confirmed the charge. When I explained that the amount was over two hundred dollars more than it should be, they told me to get in touch with Eurocar to request a detailed invoice. I phoned the Eurocar office for North America and received clear and reassuring service. The agent said he would contact the National desk at Gatwick and ask for an invoice that specifies the charges. He said it would take up to four weeks to get a response. When almost six weeks had elapsed, I contacted Eurocar by email. Eurocar responded that they had just received the contract and that the 10 pounds a day upgrade was listed with my signature on it. They attached a scanned copy. I had not been able to locate my copy of the contract, which I had brought back home. The scanned copy had a list of charges in very small print. My initials were close to the "empty gas tank" charge. Obviously, I had not noticed the 10 pounds a day charge for the automatic upgrade when I initialized it but why would I have? I had said clearly to the agent that I did not want it. I explained this again to Eurocar. I told them that I had suspected at the time that the car I had ordered had not been available and that an automatic had been substituted for it. They said that the National agency insisted that since the contract contained my signature, they would not reimburse the funds. National also insisted that the car I had ordered had been available. I protested to Eurocar that I had clearly told the agent that I did not want to pay for an upgrade, that I had not initialized that item on the contract, and that the agent had not specifically identified it as an additional charge even though she did identify the empty gas tank charge. Eurocar responded that they could do nothing more about the issue, emphasizing that National had noted a distinct black line leading from my initials up toward the upgrade item listed on the contract.

The week I received that message, I found my copy of the contract. There was no black line pointing toward the upgrade item on my copy. I sent Eurocar a scanned copy of my contract, which obviously differed from the one National had provided, and reminded them of their previous comment about that black line supporting National's position. I emphasized that not only had National changed the face of the contract after the fact, but the National agent had engaged in a deception when she substituted the upgraded car in spite of the fact that I clearly told her that I did not want it. I said that I distinctly remembered that the agent mouthed back my "no" and shook her head when I refused the upgrade, so there was no mistaking my response. Eurocar responded with the same message: National will not refund the charge. But this time, Eurocar also said that they could no longer respond to my inquiries, and that I could contact my credit card company if I wanted to pursue this further. I contacted Eurocar again, saying that even if Eurocar could not force National to refund the charges, I wanted to know Eurocar's disposition toward the kind of tactics that National had employed, including that National had changed the face of the contract after the transaction. I suggested that Eurocar should drop the National agency at Gatwick from their roster AND that they should require their agencies to specify each change to the original contract when they asked customers to initial them. Eurocar stopped responding to my messages.

Eurocar is highly recommended on many travel sites: this is why I booked with them in the first place. But potential travellers should be aware that Eurocar does not and apparently will not require that the agencies they list follow ethical and honest business practices. As for the National desk at Gatwick, buyers beware of their bait and switch tactics. National insisted that the car I had ordered was available as though it validated their actions: in fact, it is even more reprehensible if the car I ordered was available, since they did not offer it to me and instead substituted a more expensive car and charged me for it.

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