Alamo Car Rental Complaint - Alamo Repair Fraud
KAILUA/KONA, HAWAII -- Although I don't expect much can be done about this fraud, I do think attention needs to be paid to the exorbitant methods Alamo uses. On May 8, 2010 I picked up a rental car from Alamo at the Kailua/Kona airport in Hawaii which I had reserved through Priceline.com some weeks earlier. The Priceline rate was quite good for an intermediate car. Our flight was delayed for three hours so when we arrived at 11:30 pm everyone rushed to the rental car lots. The Alamo people were quite insistent, even though the lines were long that I should pay an addition $19.00 per day for insurance. I said my American Express Gold card covered any damage and declined the coverage, as Åmerican Express has recommended I do. Even though people were waiting the agent persisted at some length that I was taking a serious financial risk in not buying their coverage. I again politely declined the coverage. There were no intermediate cars available so they provided me with a full size Chevrolet Malibu at the same rate. The agent who gave me the keys insisted that I inspect the car carefully for any damage before I drove out of the lot. Apparently that was my major mistake. The lot was very poorly lit at that midnight hour and I walked around the car twice examining fenders and front and back for any scratches or dings. I found none that I could see. I was then required to sign that the car was free of any damage or blemish before I could drive out of the lot.
I used the car on only one of the five days I was in Hawaii. The rest of the time I spent in the pool or with my brother in law who had rented his own car. I know no damage was caused to the car during the time it was parked in the condominium lot because the lot was nearly empty. When I returned the car on May 13, the Alamo agent again examined the car carefully. She found what appeared to be a small one inch by three quarters of an inch blemish on the top of the bumper immediately underneath the trunk key hole. It could have been caused by a liquid spill which discolored the paint, or perhaps a suitcase which was being removed from the trunk scraped the paint. The agent claimed it was a dent or crack in the bumper. That was an exaggeration.
However that was only the first such overstatement. The manager of the Alamo lot at Kailua/Kona claimed that since I had not purchased their insurance I would be responsible for paying for the repairs and that Alamo would contact me at home about what I owed.
Within five days of my return I received a letter from Alamo indicating I would be receiving a bill. I then contacted American Express and started a rental car damage claim with them. In a phone call I asked the Alamo agent to forward the bill to American Express and gave them American Express claim # which I received when I called American Express about this matter.
I should state that American Express was extraordinarily helpful in resolving this matter and I have no complaint about their practice. I am concerned about Alamo's fraud however. Three weeks after this conversation with Alamo I received a bill with an estimate of repair costs from an auto body shop in Kailua. The total bill was $719.77! This included $569.37 for "collision repair" and 144.37 for "administrative fees and loss of use." The auto body estimate is clearly outlandish. An auto detailer could have removed the blemish for less than $100. Within two weeks American Express informed me that they had paid the $569.37. I told the American Express agent that I thought this was fraud on Alamo's part and that there was no damage which would require the payment they had made. The agent thanked me and said they were following their own procedures for resolving a claim.
On July 9 I received another call from Alamo stating that although American Express had paid part of the claim, they still required payment of the remaining $144,83 for "administrative fees and loss of use." When I called American Express about this they indicated that Alamo had not provided the documentation required for such a payment. They needed some justification that the "administrative fee" required some documentation which demonstrated that it was additional work beyond their normal business activity. American Express also indicated that "loss of use" would need to be demonstrated by a rental log which indicated that demand for the car was such that it required reimbursement for this loss. Alamo would not provide this documentation to American Express.
I emailed the Alamo claims department and said that if they expected my payment for these charges I would like similar documentation. The Alamo agent called me and said "we are not obligated by law to provide you such proof." The agent further stated that if I didn't immediately send payment - within ten days- they would send this bill to collection. However the agent did say, if I was agreeable and sent them one -half of the amount they would consider the matter settled.
I was extremely upset at the time but finally realized that nothing was to be gained by continuing this conflict. I sent them a credit card reimbursement for $75.20 which (with the taxes they had included) was half of the cost of the administrative fee and loss of use charge. I don't expect to get this money back but I am outraged that Alamo can get away with this fraud. Clearly they are insisting on exorbitant rates for their own damage insurance. When renters decline this coverage they engage in fraudulent exaggeration of damages and fraudulent auto repair estimates. Unfortunately American Express seems to be enabling this fraud by agreeing to pay for these damages. I do think government officials need to investigate this matter because it is an instance of consumer fraud. Although American Express acted in a most helpful way in settling my claim, they should inform their Gold Card customers that some portions of a rental car company's repair charges may not be paid if required documentation is not supplied.
Thank you for anything you can do to alert the public to this consumer fraud. I will never patronize Alamo again and will inform everyone I know of their fraudulent practices.
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