DennisBeaverOctober 28, 2006 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver

Hanford reader Garry Pierce is a very good customer of National Car Rental, with close to 100 rental days yearly. He has earned the highest tier in their Elite Isle Emerald Club, and his customer profile lists vehicle preferences, declining the rental company’s expensive and often unnecessary insurance coverage. “Not only do they provide excellent customer service, but all he has to do is to walk to the Elite Isle, find his car, drive to the check-out hut, show them his license, credit card and Emerald Club card, and that’s it,” Laura Pierce wrote in an e-mail at one in the morning, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2006.

It was a plea for help, from a reader who had tried everything possible to solve a potentially embarrassing and costly problem resulting from a serious mistake made by a National Car Rental employee in Las Vegas. I read it at 8 that morning.

You’ve got insurance!

Weeks earlier, using the National on-line reservation Web site, Laura reserved two vehicles to be picked up at the Las Vegas airport, one for her and her husband and the other for their daughter. “We were using Garry’s free car credits for one of the rentals, and with taxes, the entire bill should have come to under $100 but somehow, the gal at National’s counter, despite all the information in Garry’s preferences declining insurance, added every insurance possible! In the past, all he would do was to initial the contract, and as the preferences were initialed where instructed, he did not closely read the fine print in which this unnecessary and unwanted insurance was added. He just assumed it would be as it always was in the past,” Laura explained.

When the cars were returned to National, Laura and her husband were handed a bill that was over $400. “His employer permitted employees to use these points for discounted or free rentals, but this kind of a bill – which we would probably have to pay – would be an embarrassment,” she explained when we spoke later that morning.

Laura faxed me everything concerning these rentals, and indeed, it was clear that the National employee in Las Vegas had somehow failed to read the reservations or Garry’s preferences.

You signed, tough luck!

Prior to her e-mail, Laura phoned National’s Customer Service Center and spoke with “the most uncaring managers you could imagine. Their attitude was arrogant and completely unhelpful, repeating, “Your husband didn’t read the contract – pay the bill!”

In my opinion, this was not the way a loyal National customer should be treated, even if Garry didn’t closely read the rental agreement. After all, he assumed – based on prior experiences – that any contract form presented would be correct, and was always that way in the past. Legally, they had established a “course of dealing” and an oversight by a sloppy clerk should change nothing.

National needed to remove most of those charges, and I felt confident that once I reached the right person, that would indeed be the result.

Arriving at my office at about 9 that morning, I phoned National, which is based in Tulsa, Okla., and is part of the giant Vanguard Car Rental Group. With Alamo and National as their main brands, they rank third behind Avis and Hertz among U.S. car rental companies. In my experience, when you reach the right person, things happen – quickly.

Voice mail that worked

I was referred to Charles Pulley, director of corporate communications and was connected with his voicemail. “Hi there, my name is Dennis Beaver and I really need your help in resolving a reader’s problem,” I said. Leaving the rental contract numbers, I explained what had happened and asked him to look into it and call me back.

I next phoned Laura and told her that we were in contact, and I expected a call back, but when I could not say. No sooner had I hung up from her, when Mr. Pulley called. “We are researching this right now and someone will be back with you today,” he assured me.

Pass the Kleenex

At 11:45 that morning, Laura called me. “Mr. Beaver, National just phoned! They apologized and are removing all the incorrect charges. I was so worried and didn’t want my husband to be in a bad situation at work.” And then she began to cry.

“No one would listen to me at National. It just seemed so unfair, and I blamed myself in part,” she said, softly. “Nothing at all happened until you called!” she whispered, but I could hear her still crying.

“Laura, it’s OK now, and please don’t cry, because if you keep it up, I’m going to start to cry myself!” I said. It made her laugh.

And then, my other phone line rang. It was National. “Mr. Beaver, we found the mistake and have reversed all the improper charges,” a professional sounding voice said. “Please accept our apologies for the inconvenience to your reader.”

Apology accepted.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.