Budget Viking Collection sent me a letter saying I owed nearly $300 for “damage” to a car. Now I have to say I rent a lot of cars traveling for my work on CoolToys and seeking donors for Warriors on Track. Like any underfunded business, we look at every car rental company and check all of the “discount” sites.
Most of the time it comes down to Budget and Hertz. When all things are equal, being able to walk straight out to the car with Budget Fastbreak or Hertz Gold sells it. The rest of the companies might save a dollar a day, but the time spent in line waiting isn’t worth it.
Once in a blue moon both of these companies give me a great deal, but recently Budget along with Budget Viking Collection looked like they were trying to stick one to me. This trip wasn’t business, it was pure pleasure. I had a few days off so I could take my wife to Orlando. She wanted to do a photo shoot on the “Savor the Savannah” tour at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom. If you haven’t done any of the optional tours at the Animal Kingdom, I highly recommend them, but I digress, this is about car rentals and paying for damage to the cars.
At the last second I had to change flights from a 3 pm flight to a 6 am flight to return home to the beach on the west coast. I returned the car to budget with 107 miles used and they billed me $82 for a half tank of gas. Almost a dollar a mile. Since I didn’t want to miss my flight I grabbed the receipt and ran off.
The next day I called Budget customer service line and they were very nice. I agreed I did not fill the tank, and I agreed that I was told in advance if I didn’t it would be $9.99 per gallon. The Ford I rented gets 34 MPG city, so they agreed to look at it. I expected to pay $40 for the gas, but $80 was a bit much. A week later they met me in the middle and I received the final bill for $60. Fair enough.
In the interim I rented twice at Hertz and got double upgrades at no charge, then on week three going direct with Budget.com and paying in advance for a car at the DFW airport was half of Hertz or anyone else. I rented a Kia Sportage. It was a nice little SUV and three days into the rental it got a flat. This is where Budget started to really shine. They said if I can use the tire auto repair kit in the back and return it to DFW they would swap cars at no charge.
I did that and they swapped the Kia for a fully loaded Jeep Renegade. That was a great little suv, I liked it so much I wrote an article about it. You can read my Jeep Renegade article here. I returned the Kia not full, because I was worried about the tire not making it back. They only charged me for 2 gallons of gas which was great considering Budget Auto Rental also gave me the Jeep Renegade.
When I got home from that trip, I was pretty happy with Budget. Then the Budget Viking Letter was waiting for me at home. The letter from Budget Viking said that I owed $279 for “damage” to the car I rented. The letter was very vague, and at first I thought it was for the flat on the Kia in Dallas. Ready to come unglued I started calling.
The numbers on the Budget Viking Collection letter went to crazy surveys or said the office was closed. Eventually I reached someone at Budget Customer Service who said they could not tell me what was happening but they gave me a number that actually reached a human at the Budget Viking collection company. Ed Brandine was the person I reached at Budget Viking collection. He researched the account and told me it was not the DFW rental but the Orlando rental almost 8 weeks earlier.
Ed Brandine at Viking Collection told me it was about a small dent at the back left corner. As soon as he told me, I remembered seeing the dent and the Budget rep saying “anything smaller than a dollar you don’t have to worry about”. I asked her to mark it on the form anyway, so lesson learned, get them to mark everything.
Mr. Brandine, was very straight forward and said “ok, I’ll take your word for it, this is a very small dent, so I’ll take care of it, thank you for your call”. I would love to say that it is a little chicken on Budget’s part that they farm out the damage collection to a third party and try and collect after you turn in a car with no one saying anything, but a little online research shows that Hertz and others use the same system.
While there are a lot of websites and forums talking about how Budget Viking Collection are ripping customers off by billing for “non-existent” damage. My experience isn’t quite that. Yes the damage was there, but is was there when I rented the car. Was it fair for the Budget office in Orlando to try and bill me for it? No. When I called Viking on it were they reasonable and fair, Yes.
I rent in Orlando at least once each year if not twice if I get a speaking engagement at a show in Orlando. I was a little disappointed in the Orlando Budget for being a little aggressive trying to get me to pay for gas I didn’t use and a dent that was there when I rented it, but at the end of the day, everything worked out fairly. A couple of hours of time was probably wasted, but given how well Budget Auto Rental in DFW handled the flat tire, I have to say Budget is still up there.
At the end of the day my advice is simple, spend a couple of minutes to walk around the car, take pictures of any damage no matter how small and have it written on the check out form. Second, fill up the gas before you get back or just pre-pay for the gas. Do those two things and I doubt you’ll ever have any real issues with Viking collections and you will enjoy your Budget rental car.
Just in case I also called American Express who said they would take care of it if I was in fact responsible. I had charged a dozen car rentals on my Amex this year already. I am happy to say that Budget Viking collections were reasonable about the case and we didn’t have to go through the extra time and paperwork to make a claim with American Express.