My Car Rental Horror Story Overseas

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Jan 21, 2019
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I am writing to share my experience with a car rental scam in Australia while I was studying there. I have been advised by the Help Desk to post this to the forum. I rented a car from an Australian company called East Coast Car Rentals. My rental vehicle was in poor condition and suffered a serious mechanical failure as I was driving it when the axle (more specifically the cv joint, which connects the wheel to the axle) failed, causing the wheel to separate from the vehicle and causing me to lose control of the car and almost crash. This could have caused a serious and potentially fatal crash at a higher speed.

The company then charged me $5,500 (AUD) for the damage, saying their rental agreement made me liable for any damage to the vehicle, regardless of fault or cause. At the time I was shaken from the incident and assumed the insurance I had purchased as part of the rental package from Auto Europe (through Driveaway Holidays) would cover it. But when I tried to file a claim, Driveaway Holidays directed me to a fine print clause buried in the back of their voucher agreement, which I was not made aware of at the time I purchased the insurance and read through the main terms and conditions, that the “comprehensive” insurance would not cover damage to the undercarriage, roof, or other major parts of the vehicle.

I tried disputing the charge with Barclaycard (I filed a dispute shortly after I returned from the rental office since I firmly felt I should not have to pay anything, even if I could get reimbursed). I contacted the rental company contesting the charge, and after a month of being stonewalled, warned I would be taking legal action if the money was not returned. In response, the company told me they had just had somebody inspect the vehicle (one month later) and claimed to have determined I hit something and was at fault. I was emailed a number of docked photographs and a sloppy, incoherent paragraph, which I have included as an attachment.

Barclaycard told me that since the company was claiming I was at fault, Mastercard’s dispute resolution process required me to offer proof there was a problem with the vehicle in order to remove the charge. I filed complaints with a number of consumer protection agencies in Australia, but my only option for a resolution was to go through the legal system, which proved to be the second part of my horror story. After a lengthy, drawn out legal battle, full of many irregularities (I have full audio recordings of both hearings and can provide clips so you can see what I mean) I was told that it was my responsibility to find a way to prove I was not at fault for the incident or the rental company could hold me liable no matter what, without having to offer any proof that I was at fault in any way.

This decision is not in line with Australia’s Consumer Protection laws (which I researched extensively over the course of my legal battle) and completely disregards them. It is illegal for rental companies to hold consumers liable for damage when the customer is not at fault or when the company cannot prove that it is their fault. But these laws do not seem to mean very much.

I am not seeking a resolution to this since at this point, I know there is not much you could do to resolve this. I am seeking assistance in publicizing this and getting it in the press. It is something I hope to have carried by some major news outlets and was hoping you could assist me in doing this. My experience touches on and relates to a number of issues of concern to international travelers that need to be publicized.

First, I want to publicize what this rental company has been doing. It has a long track record of unscrupulous business practices and there is quite the paper trail online about it (though many review sites seem to be flooded with suspicious looking positive reviews). Here is one forum with 7 years’ worth of complaints about them, many of which are similar to mine and highlight charging for no-fault damage and unsafe rental vehicles: https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g255069-i482-k4593002-East_Coast_Car_Rental-Cairns_Cairns_Region_Queensland.html

Second, I want to publicize the dangers awaiting travelers renting cars in Australia. This company is not alone, and such scams appear to be alarmingly prevalent there. I am aware of many other companies similar to this one. Some of my housemates rented a campervan that broke down because the oil hadn’t been changed. The car rental industry is normally full of scams to watch out for, and I’ve read articles on your site that highlight some of them. But Australia really does seem to stand out. Unsafe rental vehicles, rental contracts that hold consumers liable for damage regardless of fault or cause and insurance packages riddled with loopholes that render them worthless are widespread. There have even been incidents where international travelers have been killed by defective rental vehicles.

Australian authorities have done little to address this, as my experience with the legal system clearly demonstrates. I am hoping that spreading my story through the press and drawing attention to this problem will pressure the Australian government to take this problem seriously, as they have failed to do so.

Below I have attached the statement I was emailed in response to my threat to pursue legal action, which was one of the pieces of "evidence" the company used to accuse me of fault and presented during the hearing. I have many other documents and audio recordings I can provide, including discrepancies in the company's photographs that clearly show how they rearranged the damage to try to make it look like an at fault accident (yes I am serious).
 

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Jan 21, 2019
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I just wanted to bump this up since I haven't gotten any response. If anyone has any questions or is interested in taking a closer look at this and/or helping me publicize it, please let me know. This type of story is not that uncommon and is part of a bigger problem that should be of great concern for international travelers.
 
Sep 19, 2015
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Hi Mlesso what an awful and expensive experience. I do not rent from smaller firms — I have done so in the past but there are too many bad experiences recounted here.

The issue with car rentals is that the renter is held responsible for any accident or damage no matter the circumstances— even if an extreme weather event.

Your circumstances were different— was it poor maintenance or another driver did the initial damage, or defect.

I have no idea how the legal system works in Australia in terms of these situations. In the US these are complicated legal issues were one has to hire experts that give their opinions as to the fault — and one usually has to sue the manufacturer etc. The proof is the hard and expensive part in the US as the experts are hired.

I do not know enough about car mechanical issues to even guess what happened, such as bad maintenance bad previous driver etc. One common problem seen on the forum is a clutch giving out and that can be caused by the previous renter.

We cannot advise on legal issues or publicizing an event. You can post your experience on various travel forums.

I now only take full coverage that is truly full coverage and not with all the exclusions that you had. I have learned a lot from the bad experiences of others and no longer just book on price alone but also what is covered.
 

Neil Maley

Moderator
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Advocate
Dec 27, 2014
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#4
Unfortunately, we aren’t here to publicize an issue. And once you threaten legal action, the company will not respond to you any further. Once you threaten legal action- you have to go through with it because it ends the company communication.

We also cannot provide any assistance with legal issues, (it’s one of the things we state in our FAQ we don’t handle. )
From our FAQ:
Are there any cases you don’t mediate?

Yes. Here’s a partial list:

  • Airfares that go up after selecting a flight option (caching).
  • Airline seat comfort issues, including in-flight entertainment systems that don’t work.
  • Any case involving legal action against a company or customer.
  • Asking a company to honor an obvious price error.
  • Car rental damage cases.
  • Cases submitted on behalf of a third party.
  • Compensation for delays that resulted in lost vacation or work days.
  • Getting a refund for a nonrefundable airline ticket or hotel room.
  • Missing or expired loyalty points.
  • Recently lost or misplaced luggage.
  • Visa/passport problems that led to denied boarding.

Because of this, I’m going to close this thread.
 
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