Q: Budget charged me a $450 cleaning fee for a vehicle that had dog hair in the back seat. I only had the rental car for one day. I traveled from the airport to my meeting, then to the hotel and to the airport the next day. I have never had an animal in the vehicle at any time. Can you help ? — Russ DeVries, Midlothian, Virginia
A: If you didn’t bring a dog with you, you shouldn’t have to pay a cleaning fee. Car rental companies are cracking down on customers who trash their vehicles. I have reviewed the correspondence between you and Budget, and here is how it justified the charge.
“Cleaning costs for vehicles that are returned in such poor condition that the vehicle needs to be sent for detailing will be charged in proportion to the level of cleaning required,” he said in an email. “This includes, but is not limited to, vehicles returned with food stains on the seats, dog or animal hair that cannot be removed by a normal car vacuum, excessive odor, smell of smoke and cigarette burns We note that the location provided documentation of the condition of the vehicle upon return.”
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Budget said they would gladly waive the fee if you could show the condition of the car before renting it. It is a valid request. You should always take a picture of your car – inside and out – before you leave the parking lot. If someone forgot to clean the vehicle, or if it has dents or dents on the exterior, ask for another car.
Budget then told you about dog hair, which you vehemently denied. You were on a business trip and did not bring a dog with you.
In the end, it is difficult to prove that you did not have a dog. I see cases like this all the time. A favorite of rental car companies is charging non-smokers a cleaning fee for “smoking” in a rental vehicle. But the pet cleaning fee seems like a close second. And it’s not just limited to car rental companies. A few years ago, a vacation rental management company in Sedona tried to charge me for dog hair in my vacation rental. However, I don’t have a dog. When I pointed it out, the company lowered the fee.
I would have pressed Budget for more evidence. In your email correspondence, the company insisted that it had the evidence. But he couldn’t show you any evidence that you (or your nonexistent dog) messed up the backseat of your rental. I wonder why? If a rental car company wants to charge you an extra $450, they should at least have something to show for it.
Here’s another problem with your case: Budget didn’t notify you of the cleaning fee. Instead, he simply charged your credit card. You must have asked the rental car company for a mysterious $450 charge to your card. Go on. At least the company could have let you know they were charging you – and maybe asked for your side of the story.
A short, polite email to one of Budget’s executives might have yielded more evidence. Or it could have convinced the powers that be of your innocence. There was no dog and therefore no dog hair.
I contacted Budget on your behalf. He refunded the $450 he charged your card.