PhotoWhat's the real cost of renting a car these days? It probably isn't just the daily rate that rental companies advertise. Now, you almost have to figure on taking the company's expensive insurance coverage. Why? Because you could end up with a big repair bill if you don't.

“I rented a car from Alamo at Baltimore Washington International Airport in May,” Thomas told “I was directed to my car by the rental agent and drove off. I did not inspect the car beforehand. Upon arriving at my hotel, I did notice minor damage to the front passenger's side of the car. The damage was absolutely pre-existing and I had no responsibility for it. Upon returning the car, I received a receipt. The return agent made no mention of the damage. Shortly afterwards I began to receive a variety of letters and phone calls from something called the "Damage Recovery Unit" demanding approximately $1700.00 in damages.”

You would think that rental car companies would have insurance that covers incidental, “wear and tear” damage to fleet vehicles that are in almost constant use but in fact the companies self-insure, meaning that if they can't shift the repair burden to the customer, they must pay it themselves.

Keep in mind that many credit cards provide you with a limited damage waiver if you charge your rental to the card.  This can save a great deal of money and aggravation, but be sure you understand the terms before you rely on it.

Bubble, bubble toil and trouble...

Tammie, of Cotari, Calif., had new Pergo laminate flooring installed in her home back in March. She writes to say she is not happy with the results.

“Two weeks after installation flooring began to bubble or tent in multiple areas,” Tammie said. “The contractor was contacted, came back in May to make stress cuts which relieved some areas but not all. Since installation contractor came back a total of three times, but flooring continues to bubble in one large area.”

This sounds like it could be a common installation problem with laminate flooring and not the product itself. Laminate “floats” on the floor and is not nailed down. It's normal for the product to expand and contract with moisture in the air, so installation requires there to be a gap between the edge of the molding and the wall. If there isn't a gap, or if the gap is too small, the flooring will buckle. In short, the problem may be with the installer.

Too much for too little?

Food prices are going up. Apparently, even diet food prices.

"Slim-Fast has increased their prices by 33 percent,” Andrew, of Jamestown, N.Y., told “They originally came in 6 packs of 11 oz. cans for somewhere around $5.00-$5.50 per pack. They have now repackaged and have reduced the size from 11 oz. to 10 oz. and most importantly they now come in 4 packs at around $5.75 for the 4-pack.”

Businesses, of course, respond to consumer behavior. If Andrew finds the price hike too much, he should try some high-fiber, home-prepared meals as an alternative. If he prefers liquid nourishment, making smoothies at home can provide delicious, healthful treats.  Nearly anything you prepare at home from fresh ingredients will be more nutritious and healthful than packaged products -- and cheaper to boot.

Can't win

We've written extensively of the pitfalls of trying to negotiate a mortgage modification. But Robin, of Oconomowoc, Wis., was fortunate enough to negotiate her way through the modification maze, only to run into a new frustration.

“My Chase loan was modified in April 2010 due to being out of work for two years,” Robin said.”My first payment was due that month. As of today I keep getting foreclosure letters because they say I'm two months behind on my mortgage. I have copies of payments made every month since Oct 2010. I have called them and asked them several times to explain where/when I became late. After being put on hold several time, they seem dumbfounded, they came back to say I owed Aug/Sept 2011. I have proof of payment for the last year, and I told her that. She did not offer any assistance but told me I can make arrangements to pay or see if I qualify for another loan mod! My only question is when did it fall behind, and they cannot seem to answer that.”

It sounds like sloppy bookkeeping on Chase's part if they can't tell Robin, who says she has proof that she made every payment since the modification, where she fell behind. Robin should not treat this matter lightly. It may pay her to seek legal advice now before this escalates.

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