DennisBeaverNovember 13, 2010 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver

Today’s story will be of interest to anyone who rents a car.

Who is responsible for the expenses to an auto rental company resulting from a flat tire? The rental company itself? The credit card issuer if their card was used to pay for the rental? The renter’s own auto insurance? Or is the renter personally liable?

“It will cover both tire changing and replacement”

On July 15, Dr. Lee Fausett rented a Chevrolet Impala from Alamo Rent-A-Car at the Salt Lake City airport. The Hanford veterinarian was informed by the clerk that, in addition to other benefits, by taking the $5 a day Roadside Plus option, “For a flat tire, we cover repair and replacement charges.”

“I knew my own Triple A would change a tire, but nothing more. It was the tire repair/replacement aspect of Roadside Plus which was the selling point, and so I purchased it.”

The new Chevrolet Impala he was given had only been driven 400 miles, as You and the Law would learn.

“After about 6 to 8 miles, I noticed a very slight vibration, immediately pulled over, got out of the car, and saw that right rear tire was very low on air, but was not completely flat. We did not strike anything, felt no bumps, nothing at all abnormal. The distance from first feeling the vibration to pulling over was about one-half a mile. No one else even noticed the vibration.”

“We phoned Alamo Roadside Assistance, waited on hold, but as we were on a tight schedule, finally changed the tire ourselves. Examining it carefully, we found no penetrating objects, no bubbles or bulges present, no cracks in the tread or sidewall, no separation. There was no way to evaluate the stem area. In short, we could not find evidence for the cause of the tire losing air. It could very well have been in that condition when we first pulled out of the Alamo lot.”

They drove back to the airport, were given a different car and returned it July 18.

“Hello – you owe us for a new tire and a lot more”

A completely unexpected reminder of that flat tire incident came in the mail one month later. It was a demand letter from Amy Davis of PurCo Fleet Services in Spanish Fork, Utah.

PurCo is a collection agency for car rental companies, “eliminating uncollectible damages on everything from a rock chip on a windshield to a totaled vehicle,” as their website states. The Better Business Bureau gives it a C- rating, which is not good, and a Google search is extremely interesting. Not only do their tactics rub a lot of people the wrong way, but they have been sued by state agencies for violating consumer protection laws. Their collector wanted my Hanford reader to pay:

$135 for a new tire

$25 a day’s loss of use of the rental while the tire was being changed

A $50 administrative fee

Nonsense answers from a collector

Upon receiving Dr. Fausett’s letter, I first phoned the CEO of Alamo/Enterprise, leaving a voicemail message. Then I called PurCo and spoke with collector Sandy Pike, who had threatened in writing to both sue and damage my reader’s credit.

“What about the Roadside Plus he purchased?” I asked her.

“Oh, the contract form we gave him is an old one – we dropped that coverage last November,” she replied.

“Oh, really, how nice of you; there’s nothing like changing the contract afterwards,” I thought.

“Look, this was a new car with only 400 miles on the tire. Tires have guarantees, and also, the fact that he didn’t hit anything sure seems as if the tire was going bad when he picked up the car. Did anyone submit a warranty claim on the tire?” I asked.

“We don’t have to,” she said. “The flat happened while he was driving the car. He is responsible.”

“How do you explain a day out of service? It only takes a few minutes to change a tire,” I replied.

“We just do!” she retorted.

If I had asked her, “How can you prove any down time at all? You have to show this was the last car on the lot and could not be rented,” I would have gotten some nonsense response, so I didn’t waste the time. The fact is that she probably cannot prove any lost rental time or profit.

While on the phone with PurCo, attorney Mark Litow of Alamo/Enterprise was on our other line. I immediately took his call, and now was speaking with a person who sounded extremely sincere. By the tone of his voice – and sense of humor – I was certain we would have a fair resolution – and quick.

Next time: the outcome and how to protect yourself when renting a car.

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