Today we’re going to take a look at a concept known in the rental car industry as âloss of useâ.
Vinton resident Lindsey Williams had never heard the term until last year. But she’s gotten to grips with it since late summer, when Avis Budget Group started relaunching it by mail and phone for $ 500 from a one-day car rental in June.
That month, Williams, 30, took a one-way flight on a friend’s private plane to Raleigh, North Carolina, where she spent a weekend with another friend. For her ride home, she leased a silver Toyota Corolla from Avis Budget for $ 38. She paid for the rental with a credit card.
That night around 9:30 p.m., a deer jumped in front of the car.
“I was less than two minutes from home,” Williams told me Tuesday. The deer ran away and Williams drove to his house. The driver’s side headlight and the left front fender were damaged, she told me. She reported it to Avis and her auto insurance company, State Farm.
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By the time she got the car back, Williams had declined Avis’ offer to sell her collision insurance. These are optional daily charges that car renters can pay and that relieves them of any liability for damage to a vehicle, provided they have followed the terms of their rental contracts. It’s generally $ 10 to $ 30 per day for standard vehicles.
Some consumer advocates advise car rental companies to deny collision insurance if they already have an auto insurance policy on their personal vehicle. Most insurers will cover damage caused by collisions, if the driver’s personal policy also covers collisions. And often, the customer’s credit card issuer will cover the deductible in the event of an accident.
Williams was happy when a State Farm representative informed her that her policy’s deductible was zero. The insurer would cover all repair costs for the Corolla.
She returned the car to Avis Budget at the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport the next day. Avis and State Farm took care of the rest. Williams said State Farm paid $ 2,276.19 to repair the Corolla, for which she spent six days in a body shop. And she believed the little hiccups were over.
Then, towards the end of the summer, Williams received a letter from Avis Budget. Although the car was repaired at that time, the letter asked Williams to pay charges of $ 500 for “reduced value” and “loss of use”. The letter did not detail the costs for either charge.
âDecreased valueâ is how much the value of a late model car declines simply because it was involved in an accident, even though it was repaired. This can be important when talking about an exotic car, like a Ferrari.
But a Corolla is the cheapest car Toyota sells in the United States. On top of that, Williams said, “the fact that it’s a rental car has already diminished its value.”
âLoss of useâ refers to the potential income that a car rental company cannot earn during the time they spend in the shop for repairs.
Williams, who works at the airport, was skeptical. Avis Budget could have rented the car if it hadn’t been damaged, as the COVID-19 pandemic has also had a huge impact on the car rental industry.
âMy husband said, ‘We don’t send them money!’ Williams told me. So they didn’t. The phone calls started a few weeks later.
Starting in late September or early October, Avis started calling Williams asking for $ 500.
âIt was like one call a week,â Williams told me. These lasted until December, she said. At that point, she had discussed it informally with a lawyer she knew.
âHe said, ‘Just tell them to sue you – and they won’t,’â she told me. This is likely because it would cost the car rental company more to hire a lawyer than it could possibly get in compensation from Williams. She hasn’t heard from Avis since.
On Wednesday morning, I contacted Avis Budget to discuss this matter, but it was not easy.
The company’s website says its PR department can be reached at this email address: [email protected] – but that’s not true. Two emails I sent to this address each bounced with this message: âThe following organization has rejected your message: avisbudgetgroup.com. “
After digging a little deeper into her website, I resubmitted the message to [email protected] This was received, but gave no information.
âHi Dan, thanks for contacting,â replied Abby Campbell, spokesperson for Avis Budget. âAs this is a legal matter, Avis Budget Group cannot comment. (One of my requests was for someone to discuss “loss of use” in general terms, if they couldn’t discuss the specific Williams case.)
And then, I also explored the question a little.
Kiplinger’s, a respected consumer magazine, covered the topic in a 2012 article. It notes that only a handful of states require insurers to cover “loss of use” on standard auto policies. Some insurers only cover it if you take out an annual rider on your policy. And some credit cards, but not all, also cover âloss of useâ.
So the next time you plan to rent a car, check with your insurer and credit card company ahead of time. You may find that you have all the coverage you need, including âloss of useâ coverage.
And if you don’t, you might want to think about purchasing that collision damage waiver. Especially with an ultra short term rental.
It would have cost Lindsey Williams around $ 20 for that day. And it might have been worth avoiding all the hassle down the road, she said.
Contact metro columnist Dan Casey at 981-3423 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter:.