If insurance on my Dollar rental is optional, then what’s this bill?

dollar rental

Silvia Restelli picks up a car from Dollar rental in Frankfurt. But when she arrives in Germany, her $213 bill becomes $723, thanks to two mandatory insurance charges. Are those legit, or can she ask for a refund?

Q: I rented a Dollar car at Frankfurt airport through Auto Europe. When I made the reservation, Auto Europe immediately charged us $213, and I received a voucher for the six-day rental. On the first page of the voucher, highlighted in blue were the words: “INSURANCE OPTIONAL.”

After a 14-hour flight from California to Germany, I arrived at the Dollar counter in Frankfurt, which was closed. A sign directed me to the Hertz counter next to it. I presented my voucher, but a Hertz employee told that I could not rent the car without purchasing a collision-damage waiver (CDW) and theft insurance from Hertz.

Initially, I refused because the Chase Sapphire Visa card I use to pay for rental covers CDW and theft worldwide. But they would not rent me the car. I told them I had rented cars all over the world, from South Africa to Costa Rica, without problems but they did not budge, and I was forced to accept their insurance. I could not walk away because I had already prepaid for the rental.

The extra insurance cost 246 euros and the theft protection cost 106 euros. After taxes, that came to $510 on top of the initial rental charge. I’ve asked Hertz and Auto Europe for a refund, but they won’t budge. Can you help? — Silvia Restelli, San Jose

A: Hertz and Auto Europe should be falling all over themselves to help you with a refund. If your Auto Europe confirmation said “INSURANCE OPTIONAL,” then the insurance should have been optional. Instead, they hit you with a charge for CDW and “theft protection.” (What is that and why is it mandatory? Who knows?) Worse, the car rental company had you over a barrel, since you’d prepaid for your car.

I think car rental companies and their agents need a reality check. How the heck can you charge someone $213 for a rental and then $510 in “mandatory” insurance?

The paper trail of correspondence between you, the car rental company and Auto Europe, your agent, is even more frustrating. At one point, it appears you’re in an online chat with Auto Europe. In one memorable exchange with Hertz, a representative declares, “Silvia, we are showing that the CDW and TP are mandatory in Germany unless you have a letter from your insurance company stating that rental cars in Germany are covered. Did you have this letter? All reservations with Dollar/Thrifty in Germany have this requirement.”

You ask why the requirement wasn’t disclosed. Then Hertz says, “the charges are valid.” Your reaction is priceless: “Am I talking to a bot?”

It wouldn’t surprise me if you were.

If Dollar, which is owned by Hertz, requires insurance and theft protection for its vehicles — and it’s well within its rights to do so — then it must say so. Upfront. Quoting $213 but charging $723 is wrong.

How to contact Dollar rental and Auto Europe

I publish the names, numbers and email addresses for the Hertz and Dollar customer service executives on my consumer advocacy site. I also have executive contacts for Auto Europe.
I contacted Auto Europe about your case. The company agreed to refund your insurance charges.

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Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can’t. He’s the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, and the Washington Post. If you have a consumer problem you can’t solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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