Automatics are best for European car rentals

  • Fri Jun 15th, 2012 6:03pm
  • Life

By Christopher Elliott

Question: My wife and daughter recently rented a car through Hertz in London. They purchased the Super Coverage insurance so there would be no hassle with any potential damages.

They did not get more than 10 miles from the airport when the clutch in the car malfunctioned, leaving them stranded in the middle of the road. She was pushed off the highway and, in doing so, damaged the front tire and wheel going up onto the curb.

She immediately called the emergency number for Hertz, but no one could help her. She finally called the hotel and they sent a car to take her to the airport to get a new car.

We assumed an inoperable car due to a defective clutch was not our liability. We had no indication of any problem until we received an invoice for 1,233 pounds (about $1,900) for clutch replacement.

They have supplied detailed information about how the clutch was inoperable, but nothing that states my wife abused the car resulting in this problem. Hertz says the Super Coverage does not cover this type of damage.

I’ve spent hours on the phone, via fax, via email and letter trying to get Hertz to explain to me why they feel I am liable for the replacement of a clutch.

My wife drives a standard transmission all the time and there is no way she caused this damage. I successfully disputed the charge on my credit card, but now Hertz is sending me notices from a collection agency.

David Banta, Dallas

Answer: True, the insurance your wife bought covers the damaged wheel. But the policy doesn’t apply to what the car rental company calls “gross negligence.”

“Unfortunately, a damaged clutch is considered gross negligence and Mrs. Banta was billed for the clutch replacement,” a Hertz spokeswoman said.

This is a common problem for car rental customers in Europe. Hertz’s position is that any damage to the clutch is gross negligence. It assumes any damaged clutch is the renter’s fault.

Making matters worse, Hertz didn’t come to your wife’s rescue, and it didn’t respond to your follow-up requests for information.

Hertz then referred the case to a collections agency, which will eventually threaten to ding your credit score.

Your wife is a brave woman to drive in England. I’m not sure if I would be able to handle a manual-transmission car on the wrong side of the road.

How could you have avoided this? Skip the rental car or get one with an automatic transmission. Hertz shares my concern that no one responding to the call for help or your subsequent questions. “This is not the level of service that Hertz strives to deliver and we sincerely apologize for their trouble,” a spokeswoman said.

As a “gesture of goodwill,” Hertz dropped its claim against you.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler and author of “Scammed.” Read his blog, or email him at

&Copy; 2012 Christopher Elliott/Tribune Media Services, Inc.