Each New Year, many of us resolve to lose weight, stop smoking, get organized, and a multitude of other admirable goals meant to improve our life.
Like personal resolutions, rental car companies need to get in the act, too. I constantly get complaints from customers who are mystified and angered by the rental car experience: paying for hidden fees or extras that wind up greater than the price of the car itself, or enduring their bait-and-switch-like practices.
If rental car companies are serious about improving their customers' experience, there are a number of things that they should commit themselves to. Here are seven New Year's resolutions for 2012:
1. Rate Transparency
As most people know, the base rental rate is only part of the cost of the rental. Various taxes and fees can more than double the cost of your rental in some cases. Some comparison websites show the total cost up front, but most car rental company websites do not, making it tough figure out the actual rate until you get to the final checkout screeen. The total price should be shown up front for true transparency.
2. Eliminate Extra Driver Fees
If you need to add a second driver to your rental contract, it will cost you $10-$13 in many cases. It's possible to get around these fees with some of the companies, but difficult if not impossible with others. Does having a second authorized driver on your rental contract really add risk to the rental company? If anything, sharing the driving on a long trip probably reduces the risk that an accident will occur. The fee is illogical and should be done away with.
3. Stop Automatic Addition of Optional Services
Over the past year, I've seen numerous instances from more than one company where so-called optional services are added onto a rental contract automatically as a matter of policy by specific rental locations. This is most often seen with a service call Roadside Service (a.k.a. TripSaver, Roadsafe, RSP), which for an extra fee of $3-$5 per day offers towing, lockout service, flat-tire service, etc. If you aren't already a AAA member, then this can be a handy service, but customers are supposed to be able to decide whether they actual want to add this service to their rental contract. When a location has a policy what takes the assumptive close in order to jack up their profits, that's pretty despicable. Optional services should be just that--optional. Any automatic addition of a non-mandatory fee should as a matter of policy should be discontinued immediately.
4. Eliminate Underage Fees
If you’re under 25, a car rental company may add a surcharge of $15-25 a day or more to your bill. If you’re under 21, it might be impossible to rent a car. The rental companies contend that the fees are necessary because younger drivers are more likely to damage a car. Isn't that what insurance is supposed to cover? Making the LDW coverage higher for under 25 drivers would make sense, but the base rental rate should not change. Underage fees should be abolished.
5. Accurate Vehicle Classifications
Some of the discount rental companies play games with their car classifications. It's generally accepted in the industry that a Ford Explorer is a Standard Size SUV. That doesn't stop one company from classifying an Explorer as a Full Size SUV. Their Standard SUV is a Dodge Journey or similar vehicle, which would be an Intermediate SUV with most other companies. Likewise a Dodge Charger is considered a Premium car while the majors consider it a Full Size car. This practice is akin to bait-and-switch. Unless a renter is paying careful attention, they may end up paying more for a smaller vehicle. Customers should be able to make an apples-to-apples comparison.
6. Eliminate Refueling Fees
Many locations have adopted a policy of imposing a refueling charge if your rental is driven less than 75 miles. The worry is supposedly that the gas gauge will still appear full even if you haven’t filled the tank. Unless you can show a receipt, then you’re often stuck paying the fee. This is a pretty shady practice, especially if the customer is not warned ahead of time that they need to bring a gas receipt. Rental companies either need to practice full disclosure here or eliminate the fee entirely. If the gas gauge shows a full tank, the customer should be given the benefit of the doubt.
7. Stop Gouging on Gas
The rental companies would prefer to sell you a full tank of gas up-front. This often works in their favor since most people don’t bring the car back with an empty tank, and it can be convenient since you won’t have to budget time to fill it up yourself. If however you don’t take this option, and bring back the car with less than a full tank, you could be in for a rude awakening. Some companies have been known to charge up to $10 per gallon of gas to fill the tank! While I don’t have any issue with the rental companies adding a modest convenience fee to refill the tank, charge double or triple the going rate is just highway robbery. There should be no more than a 25 percent premium over the going rate to refill the tank.
Jonathan Weinberg is the founder and CEO of AutoSlash.com, a website that automatically applies discounts, and re-books your rental if rates drop.