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Car-rental company should pay ticket

  • Published Sunday, Jan. 23, 2011, at 12:05 a.m.

When we returned the car to Hertz, my husband handed the ticket to one of the agents and explained what happened. They wrote on the windshield with a wax pen "expired tags" and told us they would take care of it for us.

Fast-forward to about a month later, and we received a notice from the collection agency arm of Hertz ATS Processing Services. I called and tried talking with them and they said they would look into it, but couldn't really do anything and then recently sent us another bill, this time with a higher fee for being late. I tried calling Hertz and after being bounced around from person to person and explaining my situation, no one seemed able to help. I'm not really sure who I should talk to next. Can you help?— Meaghan Dellar, Cincinnati

A: Hertz should have ensured the tags on your rental were up to date. And it should have paid for your ticket, as agreed.

But there were a few things you could have done to prevent this, too. Although it isn't your responsibility, it's not a bad idea to check the tags on your car before you leave the lot. When you 're managing a fleet of hundreds of vehicles, it's easy to overlook an expired registration or two.

When you returned the car, I wouldn't have just taken the employee's word for it when you were told Hertz would "take care of it." Get it in writing. That may mean speaking with a supervisor, but it's well worth it. Even if the supervisor refuses to put something in writing, you'll still have a name and phone number, and can follow up with that person if there's a problem later on.

I also notice that most of your communication with Hertz happened by phone. In this kind of situation, an e-mail works far better. If the company refuses to help you through the Web form on its site, you can always appeal your case to someone higher up with a keystroke and the click of a mouse.

Lately, car rental companies have become more vigilant about collecting unpaid debts from their customers, sometimes going so far as to sue them. Taking such a hard-line approach isn't particularly good for the company's image. Nor is it a customer-friendly policy.

I asked Hertz to take another look at your case. A company spokeswoman said ATS had been directed not to bill customers for expired tags. "However, a few technical glitches caused a handful of customers to be billed," she added.

Hertz withdrew your bill.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. You ca n read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org, or e-mail him at celliott@ngs.org.

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