Q: I rented a car recently from Avis and dropped it off at Tweed New Haven Airport after driving up from Washington, D.C.
The Avis counter was closed, so I called them and did the rental handoff over the phone. A representative asked me for the number on the key. I asked if he needed anything else from me, and he said no.
I did not hear anything back from Avis for a few days, so I followed up again. Once again, a representative assured me that Avis had closed my reservation.
After that, I followed up multiple times. I later learned that Avis closed my rental more than a month after I returned my car. Now Avis has charged me $4,228 because it claims I kept the car for 34 days.
But that’s impossible. I moved to Germany two weeks after renting the car. Also, the odometer from the rental closure invoice reads as if the vehicle has been sitting in the New Haven airport rental car lot this entire time.
I have submitted gas receipts showing I filled the tank in New Haven before returning the car. But the evidence doesn’t seem to be enough for Avis. Can you help me?
— Claudia Lockwood, Berlin
A: Avis should have closed your rental as promised and not charged you an extra $4,228. But you returned your vehicle after hours, and unfortunately, that’s asking for trouble. I’ve had many cases where cars go missing or are mysteriously damaged after hours. And in almost every one of those cases, the car rental company assumes their customers are at fault, and charges them for it.
Your problem was no different. It looks like you did everything you could to return your vehicle on time. You made multiple calls to Avis. You checked on the return. And still, it charged you for another month.
Here’s something I don’t understand: If you’re living overseas — and can prove it — then how can Avis continue to insist you were driving one of its cars? Where’s the logic in that?
The only surefire way of keeping this from happening again is to return your car during normal hours. Then you’ll get a receipt, which is written proof that the company closed your rental. If you have to return the car after hours, ask a representative to email you the relevant documents. And if you can’t do that, then record the phone conversation (where legal) and note the name and extension of the representative.
Once it’s gotten to this level, you have to escalate your case to someone higher up. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of the customer service managers at Avis on my nonprofit consumer advocacy site at www.elliott.org/company-contacts/avis-budget/. I reached out to Avis on your behalf. It investigated your claim and found that you did not park the car in the Avis lot when you returned it. Avis eventually found the vehicle and closed the contract. You received a full refund.
Christopher Elliott is the chief advocacy officer of Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps consumers resolve their problems. Elliott’s latest book is “How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic). Contact him at elliott.org/help or email@example.com.