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Rental car breakdown angers customer

I am strongly objecting to a rental car practice that places customers in danger.

My wife and I rented a car from Ace Auto Rental in April. We received 1,000 free miles and, since we were renting for a week, got a discount on the $24-per-day charge. I gave them a $194 check plus a $100 cash deposit.

I noticed that the business card had no 800 emergency number and asked where a customer could call about emergency after-hours problems. The clerk then wrote a local number on the card with the word "emergency" in front of it.

At 9:35 p.m. April 29 the rental car died and would not restart. We were at the junction of State Road 50 and Cortez Boulevard and Jefferson Street just outside the Brooksville city limits.

Several motorists stopped to aid us. They said we must move the car off the road because three people had been killed earlier that day in a crash on that exact spot.

After being pushed to the shoulder of the road, we walked 50 yards to a convenience store where I had my wife wait while I found a pay phone to call the Ace Car Rental emergency number. The number got me a recording. I explained that we were stranded in a high crime area and left instructions to call back within 10 minutes.

At 10:16 p.m. I called the Hernando Sheriff's Office and asked for assistance in locating someone from Ace Auto Rental. A deputy arrived 10 minutes later. He suggested we might be safer waiting inside the store.

The deputy had someone patch me through by phone to Ace Auto. A lady said that someone would bring us a replacement car in about 45 minutes from New Port Richey. She said not to leave my rental car unattended.

At 11:30 p.m. a deputy stopped to check on us. By this time we had locked ourselves in the car. He said to call dispatch at midnight if no help had arrived.

I did call at 12:05 a.m. Dispatch called Ace, which said help would be there in a few minutes.

At 12:40 a.m. two teenagers arrived. They were the sons of the Ace Auto owner. They said they were sorry it had taken so long, but they were laughing all the while and I did not appreciate their attitude.

A screaming match ensued. They ran in the store yelling for help. I loaded the replacement car and was ready to leave when the deputy walked over with the Ace people and asked what the problem was. I explained my anger over the 3{ hour wait. He told us we could leave and we did.

The next day I returned the replacement car. My $100 cash deposit was returned plus $52 of my $194. I insisted I should get more but they said I had run over my mileage limit and would have to pay $24 a day. I argued that I had not gone over 1,000 miles and was not to blame for turning the car in early, but they refused to refund any more money.

Later, I was shocked to learn that Ace Auto had filed a police report. The report says I threatened the two boys with bodily harm. But the report also states that the deputy asked them if they were in fear of their lives. The boys said they were not. They also said they did not want to file a police report but later did so at the request of their father, according to the report.

I believe that a person renting a car in Florida should have the reasonable expectation that if something goes wrong, the rental car company will be immediately available to send prompt assistance or authorize the renter to call a tow truck, rent a motel or do whatever it takes to get to safety and protect himself and his family as well as the car.

Anything you can do to resolve this would be greatly appreciated.

Gerald White

Response: E. Peter Spatz, owner of Ace Auto Rental, says that when you first called him on his cellular car phone he was not in the car. He later tried to call you back but could not do so because you had used a pay phone and some pay phones will not take incoming calls.

When the sheriff's office called, he immediately dispatched his two sons with an auto transporter and an exchange vehicle. Upon their arrival you became abusive and violent.

As for the rental contract, you were charged only for time and mileage used. The terms of the agreement do not entitle you to any other compensation and anyway, because of your aggressive outburst, he would not consider any, Spatz said.

Sorry we couldn't help. Your point about the need for a 24-hour emergency number for car rental agencies seems to be a valid one.

Action answers questions, opens government doors and fights consumer battles for residents of and visitors to the Suncoast. Given sufficient information, we process or refer every serious inquiry, but we cannot guarantee response. Requests will be accepted only by mail. We cannot be responsible for returning personal documents, so please send only photocopies. If the complaint concerns a mail order, we will need copies of both sides of your canceled check. Address your letter to Action, Times, P.O. Box 879, Port Richey, FL 34288-0879.

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