Why you should never return a rental car after hours

Renting a car locally usually isn’t part of a fun experience, like a vacation. Typically, local renters have been in a wreck, need repairs on their own car or need to rent a small truck for a move.

But what can make it even worse is when renters get hit for extra charges that you feel you don’t deserve.

Butch Hatcher is a clean-car fanatic, who loves shining his well-maintained 2003 BMW.

So imagine his surprise when a rental car company charged him hundreds of dollars in cleaning fees after returning a loaner car.

“They charged me $300 for a clean-up,” he said.

But the cleaning fee was only one surprise.

Rental office not aware he had dropped it off

Hatcher’s receipt from the Avis/Budget office shows a late fee of $140 a day for an extra week, even though he insisted he returned the car.

“They said I didn’t turn it in,” he said. “They said their records show the car wasn’t turned in until a week later.”

He claims he dropped the car off after hours, locking the keys inside.

“I called customer service and told them I dropped it out front and put the key under the passenger-side seat,” Hatcher said.

But apparently, the local office never got the message and didn’t realize he had returned the car on time. They did not see it for almost a week.

It’s an unexpected fee that can crop up for those who rent cars and moving trucks alike.

Unexpected fees hit many renters

The Better Business Bureau says there are some things renters can do to avoid being charged for unexpected late fees.

  • Don’t drop off a rental car after hours, unless parking it in a secure, fenced-in lot — and even that comes with risks. Renters could be billed for overnight damage, for instance, if another driver sideswipes the car.
  • Take cellphone photos (or a walk-around video) of the rental car at drop off, showing that it is safely back in their parking lot. Include a photo of the interior.
  • Take a photo of any scrapes or dents that were there before renting it, which hopefully were documented at rental time.

That way, the rental company can’t say you dented it or left it filthy.

When it comes to Hatcher’s case, a manager at the Avis/Budget rental office pointed to a sign at the desk that read “no after-hour returns.”

He said they had no idea Hatcher had returned the car.

A spokesperson for Avid/Budget rental said the company would look into reducing Hatcher’s fees due to what seems to be a misunderstanding.

In the meantime, Hatcher is left with hundreds of dollars in late fees.

“They ended up taking $1,600 total,” he said, including the cleaning charge for this man who says he keeps every car as clean as his vintage BMW.

John Matarese

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