Please note: car rental costs for smokers are increasing. If you rent a vehicle this summer, you could be next whether you smoke or not.
Ask Kimberly Brodesser. Hertz billed her $ 400 when she recently rented a car in Roanoke, Virginia. Or DeShante McMullen. Thrifty charged him $ 400 for allegedly lighting his car in San Bernardino, California. Or Christine Benedetti, also lined with a $ 400 Hertz cleaning bill.
Sean Dungan had one too.
“Hertz charged me a $ 400 mistaken smoker’s cleaning fee on my last car rental,” he says. “They refuse to cancel the charge. I don’t smoke, I was the only person in the car until I returned it and made the car clean.
In fact, it’s a common thread in these car rental stories. None of the drivers smoke. None of their passengers smoke. The cleaning fees are a total surprise.
So why do people get paid by these car smoker charges? What is the latest news on these troubling cases? And how can you avoid these questionable fees? These questions come at a delicate time for the rental car industry, as they address what could be the biggest rental car shortage in the industry’s history.
Who Adds the Smoker Car Rental Fee – and Why?
There is a pattern. The majority of our cases are from Hertz, which also owns Dollar and Thrifty. We have a few outliers from anonymous rental companies, but these are mostly Hertz, and always a late $ 400 cleaning fee added to a customer’s credit card bill. I’ll have more on late fees in a minute.
The increase in cleaning fees coincides with Hertz filing for bankruptcy in May 2020. We had a handful of cases last year, but they really started to pick up in 2021 as more and more people started. to rent cars.
It’s easy to imagine a Hertz vice president tasked with taking income from a bankrupt car rental company, saying, “Let’s get more cleaning fees!” But those probably weren’t the exact words. Hertz is more likely to have asked its managers to adopt a zero tolerance policy on cars that have been rendered in less than perfect condition. The $ 400 fee more than covers the cost of cleaning, which could help the business generate much-needed profits.
Smoking fees are nothing new to this car rental company
The cost of smoking Hertz cars has always been a problem. Here’s a case from 2013. At the time, Hertz only charged $ 300 to smoke their vehicles. Interestingly, Hertz eliminated its cleaning fees in 2015, when times were better. At the time, the standard cleaning fee ranged from $ 50 to $ 100, which seemed quite reasonable.
I reached out to Hertz and asked about the spate of smoking charge cases. I asked if he had changed his internal policies on cleaning fees. In response, he sent a statement with his policy:
All Hertz, Dollar and Thrifty vehicles are non-smoking.
A cleaning fee of $ 400 will be assessed to cover the cost of cleaning the vehicle when evidence of smoking is present. Smoke extraction requires a vehicle to be taken out of service for up to 24 hours so that it can be thoroughly cleaned with a natural deodorant and an oxidation process.
When receiving a vehicle, we advise customers to inspect it before leaving the rental location to ensure it is smoke free. If evidence of smoking is found at the time of rental, customers should notify an employee.
What will happen to these complaints?
Without getting into a discussion of smoking – no, really, let’s not go there – let me say this: smoking in a rental car is wrong. If you do, you should assume and pay for a cleanup. Car rental companies should charge an honest cleaning fee when this happens, not the one that covers the cost and then some.
So what will happen to Benedetti, Brodesser, Dungan and McMullen? Will they have to pay $ 400 even if they don’t smoke and haven’t smoked in their car?
All of their cases are still ongoing. Our forum advocates are working with them to prove to Hertz that they don’t smoke in cars and shouldn’t be held responsible.
How to Avoid Smoking Fees After Your Next Car Rental
In a sense, these customers could not have done much to avoid the smoking fees. Take a look at Hertz’s frequently asked questions about smoking and you’ll see why.
How is it determined that a vehicle has been smoked?
A Hertz employee must either:
Witness the customer smoking in a vehicle,
Find evidence of smoking, such as ash, cigarette butts, or burns, or
Smell of smoke inside the vehicle.
The employee also determines whether to charge a cleaning fee of $ 400. So the dollar bar for these smoking charges is low. All an employee needs to do is catch a puff of tobacco smoke. And that person has no obligation to tell you at that time; your card will be automatically debited.
But there are ways to make sure you don’t have to pay smoking fees.
- If you smell cigarette smoke when you pick up your rental, don’t accept it.
In most of these cases, it looks like someone smoked in the car before the renter received it. Telltale signs include the smell of stale cigarettes. In addition, the steering wheel will be sticky to the touch. Do not accept the vehicle. The car rental company might hold you responsible for the smoke if you take the car.
- If you smell cigarette smoke later, report it immediately.
Sometimes a car rental company will disinfect the vehicle with strong cleaners. The smell will dominate all other smells. But these smells will eventually emerge after driving the car for a while. If this happens, immediately call the car rental company and tell them that 1) you don’t smoke and 2) it looks like someone smoked in the car before you.
- Ask for approval when you return the car.
Car rental employees are usually in a rush to collect your car and accompany you to the airport or wherever you go. To slow down. Have the employee take a look at your vehicle. You might even want to ask for a sniff test, which can be annoying, but it’s definitely better than a $ 400 bill.
- Watch your credit card.
Car rental companies have been known to add late fees to your bill even after you’ve received a final bill. If you see anything suspicious, report it immediately to your credit card issuer.
How to avoid late charges on your credit card?
Late fees are a term used in the industry to charge something to your credit card after the transaction. For example, hotels may charge late fees for damage to furniture. A vacation rental platform may charge your credit card even after you leave to cover an unforeseen expense like fees to cover damage.
I don’t think late fees are always wrong. But there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. In almost all cases, late fees can be avoided by having the company verify that the room or car is in good condition. With your rental car, you can, for example, ask an employee to have the vehicle serviced.
But if something is missed, there is a wrong way to charge late fees. And it’s pretty obvious. If a business simply charges you without notification and with no ability to dispute it, that’s wrong.
Traders often do it because they can. It also makes sense from a business perspective. Once customers see questionable charges, they are often past 60 days. This is the amount of time you have from the time you receive your credit card bill to dispute a debit from a card issuer.
The best solution to late fees is to use a burner card. Try Privacy.com, which allows you to generate a unique credit card number for each transaction. Certain restrictions may apply for car rentals. There’s a reason none of the so-called travel experts recommend Privacy.com: you can’t earn points or miles with a burner. But you can turn off the card to avoid late fees, avoiding a $ 400 fee for smoking a car or other unwanted charges.
Keep in mind that you cannot use this strategy if you are a member of a car rental or hotel loyalty program. The company will find you and send you an invoice. If you don’t pay, you risk losing all of your points or being blacklisted from renting with the company or staying at one of their hotels. But denying a company the opportunity to charge you a $ 400 fee for smoking a car is worth it.
* Looking for more Hertz shenanigans? Here is another scandalous car rental story.