Travel Troubleshooter: Language barrier in car mix-up

Published: Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3H

My husband and I recently rented a car via AutoEurope for a trip to Germany and the Czech Republic. We received a prepaid voucher for a rental from Hertz.

When we landed in Munich, Germany, a Hertz representative told us our reservation had been canceled. After some delay, checking on his computer and his garage, he assured us that we could obtain another, smaller car. He said it would cost slightly less than our original rental amount, but that we would have to take up the refund of the original reservation with Auto Europe.

My husband signed a new charge slip (of course, all in German) and we were glad to finally be on our way. The Hertz agent gave us a credit card receipt, but no rental agreement.

While still in Europe, my husband sent an email to AutoEurope, letting it know about the cancellation. We returned the car without incident.

Now both Hertz and AutoEurope are charging us for the car. After several months of multiple emails and phone calls, AutoEurope advised us that its original charge indeed was for our reservation, which it states was not canceled, and that the Hertz charges were not for a new rental but for unrequested extra insurance, a car return relocation fee, entry to Czech Republic fee and a winterization fee.

I am angry and offended by the dishonesty of the Hertz agent in Munich and the collusion of AutoEurope.

Do we have any recourse?

– Pat Shopher, El Macero

AutoEurope's voucher should have worked. But instead of taking the next rental, you should have contacted AutoEurope immediately and asked it to fix the problem with Hertz. That way, this misunderstanding could have been avoided.

I've dealt with a few cases like this, in which reservations for inter- national rentals were canceled and then rebooked at a higher rate. Usually, customers end up with an extra fee or two, but I've never seen it rise to this level.

Some of the fees charged by the Hertz location in Germany seem suspicious. If you never asked for insurance, why should you pay for it? A winterization fee? (That would be for winter tires, which should come standard with any car driving in winter conditions.) Why did you sign a contract you couldn't understand? You have the right to ask for a contract in a language you understand, or at least for a translation.

Instead, it looks as if you assumed the terms of your rental were the same as for the AutoEurope rental, and they weren't.

The vouchers issued by a company like AutoEurope should include all mandatory charges, and if Hertz had accepted it, you probably wouldn't have had any surprises on your credit card bill. You made a valiant attempt to dispute this with each company, short of taking this matter up with your credit card.

Fortunately, that wasn't necessary. I contacted Hertz on your behalf.

It refunded 251 euros, the full amount of Hertz's optional services.

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Read more articles by Christopher Elliott



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