ELEVEN SIGNS TO FLEE BEFORE YOU SIGN
1. They are the low bid in the area every time by exactly a dollar--and you've never heard their name before. Everybody runs a special that's the low sometimes, but would you trust a mom-and-pop store that underbids Walmart every time? No. The big guys make money from economies of scale and repeat customers. Someone like this often relies on other methods for profit. Don't think you're more clever than someone who does this for a living and can grab the bait and run without getting caught.
2. You call their 24-hour helpline or the front desk of their only location and can't get a person. In fact, the robo maze hangs up on you or redirects to a voicemail box over half the time. Real companies provide customer service. Scams want to dodge complainers.
3. The company only has one location that only services the airport, not locals. This is also the only place you can drop off and wait patiently for a ride back to the airport. They have your credit card number, and you can't sue them in small-claims court unless you want to come back for it. Local users would keep the company accountable and make sure they were motivated to maintain a good name in the business. If you'll note this example even the sign is peeling, an indication that they don't spend resources to maintain their site or products. This is the very definition of a warning sign. The bottom half of the sign looks fine. Have they been forced to change their name recently?
4. They don't share a van with the other six companies on the same block that have a common transport. Other bus drivers refer to them as "the white-panel van with the magnetic sign on the side." They are an hour late for your scheduled pick up when the other companies show up every fifteen minutes. Other vans have twelve people while yours only has two. Sounds like the start of Rocky Horror Picture Show, not your Disney dream vacation. When you arrive in Florida, you're renting hours of good weather and daylight. Don't waste a moment.
5. The cars on their lot all have some kind of damage--scratches, dents, and paint on the interior ceiling. (Bridal shower party where they were painting their nails? It can't be Home Depot delivery when no local access is allowed.) So what? That means you save money. Right? Wrong. It means they collect exorbitant fees for that damage and then POCKET that money without maintaining their products. Next time someone gets a bill, it could include BOTH scratches. For some reason, you have to present proof of insurance and they need to talk to your agent on the phone to confirm. They also have to retype everything you already entered online, including a copy of your driver's license. Checking people out in these labor-intensive circumstances takes 40+ minutes a customer (plus another twenty or so for the van rides). When the rent is $9 a day and Florida minimum wage is $8.46 an hour, how are these companies making money? From the hidden charges. You want a second driver on the contract? $25.
6. Before you sign, they casually mention for your $36 four-day rental that they are blocking off $500 on your credit card for two weeks for "incidentals" in case they find anything. That's an oddly specific amount. I mean, if you drained the vehicle of fuel, oil, and antifreeze, it wouldn't be that much. Yet it's less than any reasonable collision repair amount. What are they expecting to go wrong in that price range? Is this a bizarre money-laundering scheme?
7. The site does not have any lighting outside, and it's dark. You have to inspect the car by iPhone flashlight and the worker beside you pretends this information about previous damage is new. He starts with a clean sheet of paper, not a form that already lists known problems. If you miss one rock chip in the dark, you just paid for it. Suspicious contracts usually have an independent section on page one that states you are responsible for any damage to the vehicle "whether it's your fault or not." Or they put on page-one how much they charge if they have to come out and tow you back to the one service location. Why would a legitimate company have to underscore that type of rare occurrence unless it's not rare?
8. Toll tags don't come with the vehicles like at other rental places. You can't leave MCO without paying $5 in fees or driving twice the amount of time on surface streets. Without a SunPass/e-pass sticker, you have to stop and pay tolls every couple miles by the airport. If it's late or remote, the stations will be unmanned and you can only pay in coins. Yet, the company charges $11 a day for a toll tag when the whole car is only $9 a day. How much for four days of tolls? "$48," they replied. Hmm.... where did that extra $4 come from? Fees multiply like rabbits in those dark boxes.
9. We reserved an economy car, and they don't have any on-site. They upgrade us to a land-yacht with multiple blind spots that we really don't want. Worse, when we turn on the vehicle, it shows a previous trip average of 11 miles per gallon. I kid you not. Are they hoping it will burn more fuel so they can charge $10 a gallon for refilling it? The performance didn't get any better as we drove. I didn't think that rate of burn was possible after the Obama legislation and buybacks of fuel hogs. How could these rental people possibly be doing due-diligence maintenance on this fleet? They can't. Any vehicle that out of tune could DIE ON YOU at any minute. They don't care. You'll pay for the towing plus diagnosing and "fixing" of any problem if you happen to lose this lottery because you agreed that any problem was your fault.
10. The last person left their contract in the glove box and there's an old piece of hard candy in the trunk. That seems trivial, but it means they don't really clean their rentals between users, despite their "comprehensive return checklist". When obvious litter is overlooked, what more significant details are they skimping on to get that car back on the road sooner?
11. The company boasts a TripAdvisor rating under 1.5 with 89% of them one-stars, leading with the headline "Complete Scam." The economy rental website we used was at the top of the print-out, not the name Routes. We booked over a month in advance, not thinking to check their reputation again on the day of our arrival. You'd think with a rating like that, it's time to change the business's name again. No. They're advertising a $7-a-day special for Black Friday.
There's another rental agency just next door. Run! Pay the extra dollar a day for peace of mind.
SIGNS YOU SHOULD FILE AN FTC COMPLAINT OR HIRE A LAWYER AFTER YOU SIGN
What happens if they catch you with their scam? These are signs that it's not you and that others are in danger too. Call your credit-card company and contest as soon as you can. Post on social media. Give as many one-star ratings as you can. File an online report with the Federal Trade Commission.
1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) or www.ftc.gov/complaint.
Help save others from this fate.
1. When a problem occurs a mile out, they "don't have the manpower to address it." One of our tires registered 3 pounds low on the dashboard as soon as the gauges displayed at the gas station a mile away where we had to stop at to pick up $10 in quarters. By the time we reached our hotel a 30-minute drive away, the indicator warned us we needed to reinflate immediately. When we phoned, the person at the desk wasn't alarmed. "Put air in it or bring it back." For $10 in tolls and an hour more driving plus another hour of paperwork, they offered nothing for the inconvenience. Our hotel concierge was shocked. In her experience, real rental agencies dropped off a replacement and apologized. Some rental agencies I've used had brand-new cars with stickers on the window advertising 24-hour free road service from the manufacturer. The agency closed by the time we had eaten and decided to take the vehicle back. The next morning, we weren't sure if we'd be able to make it the 3 miles to Disney the next morning. We couldn't park in the Magic Kingdom lot for 15 hours and come out to a flat tire. By the time Disney closed and we picked up the family, it was too late to return the vehicle again.
2. When we did take the defective vehicle back (after waiting in line to refill the air twice), the agency started with the assumption that we would pay to replace the entire tire after they took it to the shop for an estimate Wednesday (after we were gone for two days). But wait, the last guy said you folks do all your maintenance on-site. When we take him outside to explain, he points out a nail and has an explanation in under a second. "Oh you must have taken it to highway X. They have a lot of construction there." No. The 6-lane road to Disney World is the cleanest highway I've ever been on. Blaming the victim automatically is a sign that this fraud happens often.
3. When my wife replies, "That's a rock in the tread, not a nail. Are you sure it's not just the pressure sensor?" he finds the real nail head in the same relative position in a few more seconds That makes me suspect he knew where the puncture was all along. We know for certain it left the site with the damage, and their negligence could have killed me and my family if that tire blew in traffic. They didn't care about our safety, only their profit.
4. There is no manager on site during normal daylight working hours. The clerk "doesn't know how to reach" a manager who can override this mandatory charge even if there is a hurricane. When you ask for the number for a local lawyer on your cell phone, the clerk suddenly has his manager on the cell phone, asking for advice.
5. They didn't replace the broken vehicle with a new one until we argued for an hour. Even with other workers testifying to the accuracy of our statements, they didn't hand us keys to a replacement vehicle until the next vanload of suckers comes in from the airport and we started telling them how the place works. What worries me is they made a BIG deal of saying the key and contract would stay on the manager's desk until this was resolved. How do we know this next vanload of folks didn't get stuck with it for another bonus payment?
6. When I put fuel into the replacement, the tank overflowed onto the tire INSIDE the car frame before the pump shuts off. It had clearly been in an accident and improperly repaired. Instead of going to NASA for the day, we had to walk around in a random town for an hour waiting for the fumes to subside enough for us to start the car safely. This thing was a death trap. I would never risk my family to this company again, and neither should anyone else.
7. After promising we would only be charged for a simple tire patch and to give them a few weeks to resolve it, a mysterious $266.25 bill showed up on the same day as the initial pickup--almost as if they knew how much they were going to charge at the moment they pre-authorized. The whole tire wouldn't cost that much! A tire plug only costs me about $10-15 in Minnesota with a higher hourly wage. They're clearly hoping we wouldn't notice or the amount won't be enough for us to fight. When we called back from home, nobody at the agency could explain the amount. Somehow, the only person we could to talk to wasn't in, and the invoice and key were no longer on his desk. Who could see that coming?
After three weeks of phone calls, we did get our money refunded, but not everyone is that fortunate. Although the wasted hours and sleep missed will never be replaced.