There was a very famous ad campaign in the 80’s and 90’s run by Avis, to combat their number 2 status in the car hire marketplace behind then time number 1, Hertz. “We try harder” they proclaimed. Let me tell you my experience with Avis over this past week in Scotland. You can decide for yourselves, and it’s a pretty simple decision, who really tries harder. Before I begin to recant my experience, how many of you out there have every rented a car? Probably all of you? How many of you have ever inspected that car before leaving the rental lot? Probably none of you, unless you were escorted to that car by a representative of the car hire company you were renting from? Would you say that this was a pretty good assumption? In my lifetime, I have rented vehicles over 3000 times in the past 35 years, and even though I am a Hertz Gold member, I have really no preference to which company I give my business. I normally go with the cheapest, or the most convenient, depending on the circumstance of that particular destination and my needs for that trip. They are all pretty much the same, although price can always differ due to offers and time of year and of course which one would really like to tempt you into becoming a regular renter. In general though, none of them are any more outstanding than the others. I have received good and bad service from all of them and when an issue occurred in the past, all of the companies I have had dealings with, seem to sort out the situation both amicably and quickly, in order to keep me, the customer happy. The case that follows is an exception to that rule. Read on…
Glasgow airport, Scotland, on Monday November 19 2012. Weather conditions, shite! In other words, it was blowing 50 to 60 MPH and the rain was horizontal. Another typical ‘nice’ Scottish day, and one to suit only ducks. We approached the airport on a British Airways 737 for our landing. The plane was being buffeted left and right by these gale force winds and at one point the left-wing was dipping so far in a downwards position that I honestly thought we would trip the grass of the fields that surround the runway. It wasn’t pretty, but, as those of us who hail from that part of the planet know, this is just another pleasant day in the “River” city. After landing, brushing the sweat from my brow, finding my ‘land’ legs and walking into the terminal, I made my way to the Avis desk, where I was due to pick up my car for the week. I was greeted by a nice guy called Graham, who turned out to be the manager of this particular branch of Avis. He told me that my car wasn’t ready yet, but that for 20 pounds, for the whole week, he could put me in an Audi 3, which he described as a truly economical car, and then proceeded to tell me that I would get my money back in fuel savings alone. The Audi 3 being a diesel car, and as gas in the UK is about $11 per gallon, it’s 40 plus MPG on diesel instead of the normal 25 MPG the other car would have given me, seemed to make it an easy decision. Graham prepared all the paper work, after asking me what coverage I required, and then passed everything over to me to sign. He then told me the following, as I, with pen in hand, was scribbling my monogram all over his pristine red and white forms.
“This form here” he related, as he pointed to different parts of the paper, “states that the car has two minor dents, one front, one back, and this”, and again he pointed to another part of the form, “states that everything else on the car is just normal wear and tear.” I looked at him and acknowledged his last statement, and then he suggested “you might just want to have a wee look round the car when you get out there, just to double-check that these details are correct”
Well, let me set the scene for you. I, with paper work in hand, suitcase trailing and back pack over my shoulders, made a B line for the great outdoors, which, by now, was like a scene from a Jungle Cruise. The streets were like rivers, it was raining like God had a bladder infection up in heaven and the wind was so strong that if I’d even tried to fall down deliberately, I couldn’t have done it! I would have had a 50MPH buffer to keep me standing up! I struggled like crazy to get to the pedestrian crossing, get the oncoming traffic to stop long enough for me to run to the opposite side of the road to where the car park was and eventually to make my way through the car park to space number 10 on the Avis row, where, by now, I was completely drenched, wind-blown and out of breath as I reached into my jacket pocket, pulled out the key for the car, flipped the lid for the trunk and threw all my, now soaked belongings, into the car. After clamoring round the drivers door, attempting to open it into the wind, avoiding the two deep puddles that surrounded the entrance to that door, I sort of jumped in the drivers seat, plopped myself down and took a deep breath, satisfied that I, an intrepid explorer, had defeated the elements and made it to my destination with legs in tact, ego in tact and without a single scratch on my torso from the dreaded enemy, Glasgow weather. Keys were put into the ignition, seat and mirrors adjusted, gas gauge checked to ensure the tank was indeed full, gear lever into first gear, and off I went, into the not so blue yonder!
4 days later, with rain once again teaming from those dark grey skies, I returned the car to the airport, 2 hours before my flight back to London. I arrived in the Avis lot, parked the car and made my way into their little office where I handed over the paper work to a man called Gary. He asked me how everything was, and then quietly disappeared outside into the rain, where he inspected my car before returning into the office. Conversation then flowed like this.
Gary “Well Sir, there is a rip on the tire at the front of the car, which is your responsibility so we will need to charge you for that”
Alan “Excuse me?”
Gary ” The tire is ripped, would you like to look at it?”
Alan “Why would this be my responsibility? I have been renting cars for over 30 years and no one ver asked me to inspect or indeed pay for a tire”
Gary “Well you had possession of the car, therefore you have to pay for the damage”
Alan “Damage? There is NO damage and I had Avis insurance”
Gary “The tire is damaged, you need to pay for it and your insurance has a 100 pound deductible”
Alan “Let me see”
It was time to get soaked once again. Off we went out into the elements. It was pissing down, harder than it had been when I parked the car some five minutes earlier. Gary bent down towards the passenger side front wheel, and pointed to a slight gash in the tire wall. I nodded and we both ran back inside.
Alan “How do we know this was me?”
Gary “You had the car Sir. It’s your issue”
Alan “I have never heard such nonsense, please get me the manager”
Gary “It’s not nonsense, you need to pay.”
Alan ‘I don’t think you’re listening, please get me the manager. How do I know that this happened when I drove the car and not before I collected it?”
Gary “It’s up to you to check the car before you drive it”
Alan “Remember Monday? It was pouring rain and gale force winds, why would I even consider doing that?”
Gary “Well you have 24 hours to let us know if these is an issue and you should have had the common sense to check the vehicle within the 24 hours”
Alan “COMMON SENSE?????” I was no irate. “Please get the manager NOW, and don’t be so condescending”
Gary “I am not being condescending, you had the car it was your responsibility to check it and make sure there was no damage and you need to pay for the tire.”
Alan “It’s just as well you are behind that desk”
Gary “Are you threatening me?”
Alan “Take it any way you want GARY”
Gary “I need to ask you to leave the building SIR and go over to the other office”
I obliged, and my parting shot to him was “Customer service must be something they only teach children and not adults”
I left, crossed back over into the terminal, checked in for my flight and then went to the Avis desk inside the terminal, the desk where my rental had commenced some three days earlier. The lady behind the counter, Pamela, was really nice and told me that the manager was on a conference call until 12 30 but that he knew I was waiting for him, it was just after noon, and he would be over shortly. Just as well I wasn’t in a rush!
12 30 on the dot! Graham, my buddy from day one arrived. HE was the manager! I explained to Graham that in 35 years no one had ever asked me to pay for a tire, no one had ever been as rude or condescending as Gary had been and I reminded him, gently of course, of our conversation when I had collected the car. “You told me there was a dent in the front and back and the rest of the car showed normal wear and tear” He agreed. “At no time did you tell me to check the tires, the windshield wipers or indeed any other part of the vehicle” He agreed. We discussed the matter for ten minutes and came to an agreement that I would pay only a portion of the bill he was now faced with for the tire. I agreed to do this because Graham was apologetic and non confrontational regarding what had happened and insisted that each vehicle was double checked before leaving their garage to be put on the road with each new renter. I had no reason to disbelieve him but I made a point of letting him know that no one ever checks a tire and that no one ever expects to be treated the way that Gary had treated me. He agreed once again. I have since written to Avis asking them to refund the portion I was forced to pay.
My point with this story is to let everyone know that if you ever have the pleasure of visiting Glasgow, please take an umbrella, wind breaker, Wellington boots and a tire repair kit, oh, and a course in how to deflect insults from a miserable Scottish moron wouldn’t go amis either! “We try harder?” I think not!