Reviews of Hertz, Avis and other rental car companies show declining customer satisfaction

Based on recent consumer reviews, renting a car these days can be a frustrating experience - Photo by Engin Akyurt on UnSplash

The customer experience seems to have declined since 2020

Judging by the reviews posted on ConsumerAffairs and on social media, renting a car these days can be a frustrating experience. Things can often go wrong when traveling, and when things go awry at the car rental counter a trip can be ruined.

An analysis of ConsumerAffairs’ reviews of car rental agencies turned up some real horror stories. We’re not suggesting they are common to any particular company but they are things travelers should be aware of and try to avoid.

Andy, of Fairport, N.Y., said he had a “horrendous” experience when he rented a car from Hertz.

“I was sent to a location for drop-off on their site that didn’t actually exist,” Andy wrote in a ConsumerAffairs review.

Andy said he could get no help from customer service, suspecting that it was a third-party company and not even part of Hertz. 

Drew, of Lakeville, Minn., said he rented a car from Alamo at the Sarasota, Fla., airport. After driving off the lot, he said a dashboard warning advised that there was 0% of life left in the engine oil, suggesting the vehicle had not been serviced recently.

“After speaking to roadside assistance they told me I was unable to drive the vehicle and they were sending someone to tow the vehicle and setting up an Uber to bring me to another branch to exchange the vehicle,” Drew wrote.

But Drew said the new location had no cars. He was told to drive the oil-deprived vehicle to his lodging and that a manager would call with a new plan. But Drew said no call came, prompting repeated calls back to Alamo.

“After speaking to a manager she informed us we needed to call the airport rental location and gave us what she referred to as someone’s direct line at the branch,” Drew said. “We called the number provided and were greeted with a recorded message telling us we had won a Walmart gift card.”

Toll rules can take a toll

Several reviewers have complained about extra charges regarding tolls. Cheryl, of Auburn, Mass., rented a car from Dollar at San Francisco’s airport and was asked if she would cross any toll bridges.

Cheryl said she didn’t know but was charged an extra $134.91 for pre-paid tolls, just in case. She said she was told she would be credited that amount if she encountered no tolls.

“When I returned the car I told the attendant that I did not use any toll roads and wanted that charge removed,” Cheryl told us. “He told me I would have to speak with someone in the office. I contacted them when I returned home and was told that since I signed the rental agreement with the charge, that I was responsible for the charges.”

Surprise, you rented an EV

Rick, of Galax, Va., said he rented a car from Thrifty in Boston and was well into his trip to Vermont when he realized the car he was driving was an electric vehicle (EV). When he called customer service to protest, he said he was told to drive back to the Manchester airport.

“I drove the 30 miles back to Manchester to be told by a very rude manager there that they didn’t have any gas models available,” Rick wrote in his review

So Rick was stuck with an EV he didn’t want and had trouble charging. “The only quick charge station in the area had no working chargers, had to go to another spot with a low voltage one which was going to take seven hours to charge,” he said.

Rick said it ruined his entire vacation, and there was a nasty surprise when he returned to Virginia. 

“Now four months later I get a call from a collection company saying I owe $89.94 for a toll that wasn’t paid. This is the first I have heard of this,” he said.

Our final tale of woe comes from Daniel, of Saugatuck, Mich., who told us he rented a car from National in Oklahoma City and was headed for Tulsa on the Oklahoma Turnpike when a rear tire blew out. Calling National Roadside Assistance for help, he said he was told they couldn’t help because he was on the turnpike. They told him to call the Turnpike Authority.

“When I refused to accept this they simply hung up on me SEVERAL TIMES!” Daniel wrote. “I had to call 911 and get a state trooper to help me get a tow to a tire shop and then pay $187 out of my own pocket to put the donut on so I could drive to the Tulsa airport to exchange the vehicle.”

How the big companies stack up

How representative are these rental car customers’ experiences? Are they rare, isolated cases or are they becoming more common? When we looked at how ConsumerAffairs reviewers rated the major rental car companies, it wasn’t a pretty picture.

In the last year, here’s the average ratings on a 5-Star basis:

National 2.3-Stars
Enterprise  1.6-Stars

It may be worth noting that all eight of these brands are owned by just three companies. Hertz owns Dollar and Thrifty; Avis owns Budget and Enterprise owns both National and Alamo. 

Those last three companies are the three highest-rated brands by ConsumerAffairs reviewers.

If overall rental car customer experience has declined, it may be a recent development. An October 2020 J.D. Power Customer Satisfaction Survey found rental car companies, despite the pandemic, were doing a good job serving their customers, ranking Hertz, Enterprise, Alamo and National highest. 

But a year later, J.D. Power reported customer satisfaction had dropped sharply, largely because of higher prices and fewer available cars -- issues that may persist today.

You can read a lot more verified ConsumerAffairs rental car reviews here.

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