Scrutinise a contract’s fine details and you may find ways to avoid paying for the unnecessary

2015-10-14 09:00
Lyse Comins

Lyse Comins (File)

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Pietermaritzburg - A savvy consumer will always scrutinise the fine details of quotes and invoices, which can translate into savings when errors are picked up.

But when Cameron Brisbane recently took issue with Avis Car Rental about a R316,68 “miscellaneous” charge on a car-hire invoice, his complaint also highlighted what he viewed as an unfair practice.

Brisbane, who runs an NGO, said he had used his credit card to book a car for a job applicant who was flying to the province for an interview. He made the booking at Avis at Pietermaritzburg airport. But when he went to collect the tax invoice he noticed a mystery “miscellaneous” R316,68 charge.

“The supervisor at the airport office couldn’t explain what the charges were for and sent an e-mail query. I never received a response,” he said.

Brisbane said he wrote to the company via its e-mail address for queries listed on its website and got a reply saying the fee was an “additional driver” charge.

However, Brisbane complained to me that the small print in the rental agreement defined “additional driver” as “the person who, in addition to the driver, is reflected on the rental agreement as being duly authorised to drive the vehicle”. Brisbane was not listed as a driver as he had not driven the vehicle.

“Had I been sharing the driving, I would have had to present myself at Durban airport with my licence when ‘we’ collected the car,” Brisbane said.

“There is nothing in the rental agreement that says Avis is entitled to charge an additional driver fee simply because it accepted payment by a third party. This is unfair practice and astonishing that not even their own supervisory staff at the booking office know about it,” he said.

I took up the issue with Avis and asked a few competitors whether they levy a similar fee in similar cases.

Avis general manager of marketing Santa Smith said Avis had contracted with Brisbane and the interviewee in a “pro-forma rental”, with the former guaranteeing payment and the latter taking responsibility for the vehicle.

“Due to us contracting with both parties, normal procedure would be that the credit-card holder will be listed as the main driver as he will be held liable to settle the final rental charges,” said Smith.

“The additional driver fee will be charged for the person who will be driving the vehicle. On collection of the vehicle, customers will be made aware of all charges when they sign the rental agreement,” she said.

However, she said Avis strives to exceed customers’ expectations and would refund Brisbane the additional driver fee, adding that research showed all car rental companies charge the fee.

Brisbane was not impressed. He said it was invalid to call the additional fee “normal procedure” as the small print defined an “additional driver” as a person “in addition to the driver” while the renter was defined as “all of the persons whose names appear on the Rental Agreement as Renter, Driver, or Additional Driver and who have produced a valid unendorsed driver’s licence”.

“By their own definition the renter and driver may not necessarily be the same person. I was not asked to show my driving licence because their PMB office understood explicitly that I was hiring the car for an interview candidate,” he said.

Brisbane alleged that when the interviewee collected the car the staff did not explain the charges and the rental agreement reflected a single fee of R3 070. He said it was only when he asked for a tax invoice that he was supplied with a detailed invoice.

I asked Hertz Rent a Car, Tempest Care Hire and Europcar what they do in similar cases and it turned out that they all levy similar charges of R275, R220 and R334 respectively, even if the renter is not driving. But contracts may vary so it’s important to read the small print.

Hertz Rent a Car general manager, business development, Sherl Camera, said that in the company’s contracts, the person paying for the car is also responsible for the vehicle whether or not he or she is driving and would be liable for damages.

“If an unlisted driver is involved in an accident or theft of the vehicle occurs, the renter will be liable for the full damage and/or replacement costs,” she said.

She added that there is a significant increase in administration and vehicle retrieval costs when additional drivers are involved, which was why there is an additional fee. So, if you want to avoid this fee when sharing car-hire costs with family or friends, bear in mind that the person who pays with their card should be the nominated driver

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  consumer

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