Caveat Emptor: Enterprise Rent A Car
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS -- Thursday, June 24th,2010: I picked up a Ford Focus at 9:58 AM from Chicago Enterprise Leasing. Along with my 2 daughters, I drove south on Int. 65, bound for Columbus IN for a long weekend. Before long, I noticed a slight shimmy in the steering wheel, but considered that road conditions, or an out of balance wheel might be the cause; but I did not think there was any cause for alarm. While in Columbus, the car was not driven.
Sunday afternoon, June 27th: While returning northbound on Int.65, the shimmy worsened. Just outside Lafayette IN, the left front tire exploded, sending the car careening onto the shoulder. We were nearly rammed by a semi. Upon inspection, I saw that both front tires had been stripped, right down to the belting--I have photos to prove it. Our circumstances were this: the temperature was about 90 degrees; we were on a narrow shoulder which was tightly fenced in; and as far as could be seen in either direction, there was no escape should a drunk or reckless driver veer off the highway; and traffic was heavy and fast moving. In the ensuing 2 1/2 hours we remained there, over 3 hours were spent on 2 cell phones. In all that time, all but about 20 minutes were spent while on hold. The first call went in to "roadside assistance" at about 12:40. After about 15 minutes of recorded music, an operator came on to ask what she could do. I described to her what had happened, and the danger of our situation. She then asked for our location. I told her that we were at milepost 181, northbound on int. 65, Lafayette IN. She said that she needed the name of the nearest exit; and that I needed to go find a map, or she could not help me. I was then put on hold for 20-30 minutes. She came back on, having lost interest in the map, and said that the wait for help would be "60 minutes or less." This sounded a bit rote, so I asked her to please confirm this. After another 20-30 minutes on hold, she came back on the line to inform that the wait would be 1 1/2 hours from that point, and asked if there was anything else she could do for me. I demanded to speak to a supervisor, and was then put on hold for another 20-30 minutes, after which time a rather aggressive sounding lady asked what she could do for me. I informed her that we had been in a place for over 2 hours, during which time we were in extreme danger, and would she do something to get us out of there. She apologized for the "inconvenience," and said that it would be at least another 1 hour and 45 minutes before a tow truck would be on the scene to retrieve the car, but not us. Once the car had been towed away, an attempt would be made to find a cab to pick us up. While talking to this supervisor, one of my daughters placed a second call for help, only to be told by an apologetic young fellow that, as of that moment, there was no record of a call for "roadside assistance" having been made in that area. I then told the supervisor that I intended to get all of us out of there asap, and she could have the car picked up anytime she wanted. In a raised voice, she twice told me that I was not going to leave that car. At about that time, a local tow truck operator stopped and told me that he could get us and the car to a motel immediately. I asked the supervisor that, if I hired this fellow, would Enterprise compensate me for the tow and the motel. Assurances were given to both me and the driver that compensation was guaranteed, and that all pertinent information was being put into this system right then. All I had to do Monday morning was call "roadside assistance," and everything would be taken care of immediately. On the way to the motel, the tow truck driver volunteered that the tires on my rental car represented the worst case of mis-aligned wheels that he had ever seen.
Monday June 28th, 8AM: I called "roadside assistance," and was told that there was no mention of me, or calls made by me the previous day in their records, and that I would be put on hold while it was determined if there were even replacement vehicles available in my area. I was promptly disconnected. Two more calls put me in touch with a man who informed me that there was nobody to whom I could complain about anything, and that he represented all the authority I would ever speak to, and so what was the problem? I informed him of what had happened, the need for a replacement asap. I then asked him how the promised compensation would be handled. He responded by saying that, since I had chosen an alternate service, Enterprise owed me nothing. I reminded him that, since it was Sunday evening when all this happened, a replacement car was not going to be available until Monday at the earliest. Surely, he couldn't fault my daughters and me for getting a motel room. He then gave me a choice. I could either continue arguing with him, or he would help me get a new car. Which was it going to be? Properly chastened, I chose the latter. After several more petty annoyances, I was given (smaller) car, and we all 3 returned to Chicago without further incident. When, I reached the dealer's office, I was told that, technically, I was responsible for coming in a day late, but that I would not be charged for it. But a report from the garage in Lafayette mentioned damage to the front end, and just what did I know about that? "Nothing" was my reply; but given the condition of the tires, I was not surprised. Rather than give in to the impulse resulting from this hinted-at accusation, and possibly risking arrest, I remained affable. We parted, leaving the contract unsigned by me: this just in case the manager wanted to compensate me for my "inconvenience."
Tuesday, 29th: Not trusting assurances I was to be called that day by someone from the complaint hot-line (I actually had found one, and had even been given an "incident number"), I decided to call myself. I was told by a young lady on the other end that she had no idea of what I was talking about, but that I would be put through to a regional sales manager--which I actually was, and was soon speaking to one. He apologized for my "inconveniences," and went on to say that he could not blame me for what I did out on the highway. After all my family's safety came first. BUT, it was clearly stated in my contract that, should a breakdown occur, I was willing to accept an up to 4 hour wait for assistance. For that matter, he claimed, most customers are pleased that help is less time than that in coming. I told this manager, that I was holding this contract in my hand, and would he indicate where this clause was. He replied by saying that Enterprise bares no responsibility for what happens after a call is placed to "roadside assistance," because requests for help are relayed to AAA, and they take charge of everything from there. He was absolutely certain, however, that if anything humanly possible could have been done for us, AAA would have done it. Now to a settlement: I would not have to pay one penny of the $274 due on the rental! And I would be given a coupon towards 2 days for a future rental! (I later faxed the approval for the coupons back to him with a written note on the bottom which probably should not be repeated here.) But, of course, I was to pay for the tow, the motel, and the junk food. So, for a net gain of about $90 I was to be satisfied. I later informed this manager that I considered his "settlement" little more than an insult, and that I was going to be lodging complaints. He then asked, rather testily, just what it was that I wanted from him. To this I replied: "exactly what I have come to expect from Enterprise--absolutely nothing."
Wednesday July 7th: While out of town, a letter from "Enterprise Damage Recovery Unit" arrived at my home. In it I was directed to call and discuss the responsibility for the "Front end damage/blowout." When I asked an adjuster what the nature of the damage, he declined to discuss it, but did say that since I had chosen not to take out Enterprise [$10,000--12,000 per Annam] insurance, and since I had chosen not to inspect the tires and the undercarriage of the car when I rented it, I was to be held responsible for all repair costs. I was to be contacted soon, and told how much I owed Enterprise. I then informed this adjuster that there was small chance that I would pay to repair a car which could have gotten both me and my daughters killed. He replied that he was terminating the call because he did not like speaking to "angry people."
Thursday, July 29th. Today, I received a letter from the Damage Recovery Unit, stating that I owed Enterprise $1,388.64 for the damage I inflicted upon their vehicle, and that payment is expected now. Among all the required repairs, according to the analysis, is significant damage to the front bumper. I took photographs of the front of the car before it was picked up, so I can prove that no such damage exists.
August 1: Almost the same day Enterprise wrote their letter damanding payment, they were notified of my complaint with the Better Business Bureau. They immedietely responded that, even though I damaged their car, I would be forgiven the charges. And, oh yes, of course Enterprise would cover the cost of the tow and the motel. To this I implied that I was pretty much fed up with Enterprise's apologies for the "inconvenience" caused by their deliberate endangerment of the lives of my daughters and me. And I clearly stated that being called a liar by a corporate weasel really got on my bad side. I then stated that fair compensation for their criminal neglect and slander should be $20,000. Furthermore, a complaint with the Illinois Attorney General's would stay in place, with the hope that criminal charges might be made against Enterprise. I will keep the reader posted.
August 17th: Case Closed. Seems that Better Business Bureau will handle only so much disagreement before shutting down. No doubt, Enterprise is aware of this. There last testimony claimed that they had forgiven me for damaging their car, and had re-imbursed me for all of my out of pocket expenses, and that was all they were willing to do. A real whopper that one! I was re-imbursed nothing.
August 27th: I had a conversation with someone from the Illinois Attorney General's office. It was pointed out to me that, probably, there would be no response to my complaint against Enterprise, because that no law required them to pay any attention to complaints. So much for consumer protection. But I did have an interesting conversation with a lawyer a few days later during a dinner get-together with friends. He said that, if you read the contracts issued by every car rental in existence and place them all in descending order based upon their value to the consumer, Enterprise ranks dead last. By all means, he advised, stay away from them.
Conclusions: Apologies to the reader for the length of this narrative, but I felt the details were necessary to draw a complete picture. And since it is drawn from the recollections of 3 individuals who remain angry, an arbitrator may well take exception to some particulars. But I stand by what has been written, and if Enterprise wants to dispute anything, let them make public unedited phone conversations pertaining to the events described. Repeated assurances were made that all calls are recorded.
The lives of my daughters and me were twice jeopardized by Enterprise. In the first instance, the risk was caused by negligence in their maintenance department--to have a vehicle put on the road with wheels so far out of alignment is inexcusable. But in the second instance, the risk was caused by a callousness crossed over into criminality. So, buyer beware: if one of their vehicles break down, they will be certain to rescue it, but may well leave you to the wind. And do be skeptical next time you see an ad extolling their miracle-service.