Now that I have everything taken care of, I’m going to tell you a little story that has a very important lesson at the end of it.
As many of you know, I lived with my grandfather in American Fork, Utah before I moved to the stifling humidity of Georgia. In January, he passed away. KLynne and I flew to Utah for the funeral. I made sure not to post much about it because my blog is too full of depressing crap as it is, but there was one particular incident from that trip that came back to haunt me.
I rented a car from Alamo. I got the usual spiel about supplemental insurance and opted to turn it down, because I figured “Hey, my car insurance covers whatever vehicle I’m driving. I’m fiiiiine.” and was given the keys to an ’09 Chevy Cobalt. The little car served well. KLynne and I were on our way to Provo to meet up with some friends of mine (Kaeldragor and Your_Dryad) and stopped at the light at the intersection of State Street and the street that has American Fork hospital on it– it borders American Fork and Pleasant Grove. You know the one, Utah people. Then I saw an SUV (a white ’98 Ford Explorer) coming toward us… and not stopping. We were hit at between 35-45 MPH… hard enough that both KLynne’s and my seat unlatched and reclined all the way back.
We navigated our beaten car to the side of the road and met the driver of the other vehicle– a 17-year old girl and her little brother who were on their way back home from Wendy’s after a Frosty run. She didn’t have her license or proof of insurance, but was able to call her mother and get both of those pieces of information. We also the police (my first 911 call, since it was a Sunday and no one was answering the normal number for the AFPD). She immediately agreed that the accident was her fault and was cited. We traded insurance information (I didn’t have my card on me but the officer allowed me to grab my insurance number from the web) and I limped to Macey’s where I was told by Alamo to drag the wounded car back to Salt Lake to trade it out.
We made it to the airport and traded cars, where I was told that there waas nothing to worry about. (I also left our key to the house we were staying in on the keyring which meant a trip BACK to the airport the next day, but that’s irrelevant.) We got our new Cobalt and the rest of the trip went on without a hitch.
Now let’s look forward to April 16th. I got a letter from PurCo Fleet Services, a company that handles claims and collections for rental car places. This letter said that they had already contacted me once (a lie, and PurCo couldn’t prove that), that my insurance (blank) had been contacted, and that I still owed them $3,987.70 in loss of use, administrative fees, and “diminution of value” and that the rental terms clearly stated that “regardless of fault” I would pay PurCo this amount.
Finding out that you owe nearly $4000 dollars that you don’t have and really shouldn’t have to pay (IMO) is going to ruin your day, and to make matters worse thinking of the accident made me think of Grandpa’s passing and funeral. Having both things hanging over my head was like being in my own special emotional hell, and I will admit to semi-frequently switching moods between soul-crushing depression (with bonus crying jags) and the burning rage of a thousand angry Spartans. I decided I wasn’t going to take this lying down.
I called PurCo the next day and the person assigned to my case agreed to send me some documentation regarding the claim and accident. They said that the driver’s insurance had paid out on the claim but definitely did NOT cover the diminution of value and told me that the terms of rental said that I owe everything. I was e-mailed documentation including the rental terms, an estimate sheet showing the diminution of value ($3500-ish of the total amount), the repair bill (totalling $4200-ish), the police report, and copies of the documents I signed when I rented the car.
Diminution of value, I found out, is the loss of value from a vehicle after an accident due to intangibles like possible structural damage. It’s a bullshit made-up number that rental car agencies (and some people) can attempt to claim from you… and they don’t have to prove a thing to you to claim it if you’re a rental agency. If you’re a consumer, it takes an act of Congress for you to attempt to claim it against someone else’s insurance. The estimate sheet was a complete farce– the base value of the vehicle (which had 400-ish miles on it) was listed at $17,600 when the NADA and Blue Book on a new ’09 Cobalt with the exact same options is more along the $15000-$16000 range. I was told that I needed to contact Alamo to find out how they calculate DoV (as I’m calling it from here on out) . I was also refused a fleet utilization log saying whether or not there was any loss of use and told that “even if the vehicle isn’t used there are things that aren’t logged such as possible marketing done with the vehicle, employee perks, and other things of that nature”. Again, total bullshit but they have me by the cojones because I signed off on the rental form. Without that, though, my credit card rental protection wouldn’t protect me. (I later found that Visa DOES cover without a utilization log. Too bad my Visa was full and it had to go on MasterCard).
I looked at the documents that I was mailed and particularly at the terms of rental. I saw that the agreement stated that “I agree to pay for all damage to or loss of the vehicle, including loss of use and administrative fees.” Notice something missing? DoV. They claimed that DoV was covered by the “damage to” in the rental agreement but I didn’t agree, since it isn’t damage (it’s potential loss from damage) and isn’t listed explicitly. Alamo also refused to tell me how they determined DoV. KLynne and I did unimaginable amounts of research and found that this is standard operating procedure for almost all rental agencies, but that DoV is generally “20-30% of the repair cost”, and found the section of Utah Code that says that the party at fault is responsible for all charges. I contacted two lawyers to see if I had a case because I wanted to fight this to the bitter end.
Then KLynne noticed that the agreement also stated that “I waive my right to a trial by jury” and that if there was a lawsuit that I would pay for “all resonable legal fees” of theirs and all court costs. The sneaky fuckers put that in there because they KNOW that a jury wouldn’t side with them to save their filthy lives. To further remove the possibility of a lawsuit, both lawyers I contacted said that I really didn’t have a case against Alamo and that the costs would almost definitely outweigh any monetary gain from a verdict in my favor (although they could give me a full consulation). Both did suggest, however, that I might have a case against the driver and her mother.
Beaten and bitter, I called PurCo again and talked with them seeking more information about the DoV. The person assigned to my case told me that they would be willing to work with me on the DoV and asked what I thought was fair. I said that I’d be willing to pay $2000 in DoV (at this point, I just wanted things over because the emotional crap I was going through was draining and my actions were taking their toll on KLynne, too) and they said they could do that for me. They said that I had to pay by the end of the month, otherwise I’d be on the hook for the entire amount (which they could take payments on). Glad to see some resolution (even if it isn’t the one I wanted) gave me some hope.
That was quickly gone when loans that I would’ve had no trouble getting a few months ago were being denied because of my unsecured debt ratio (thanks to me needing new tires and the cheapest set running me $600) and that I needed “a strong co-signer.” I tried getting a smaller loan through Citi Financial but was turned down and insulted because I had the GALL to apply for a loan without having my car paid off and have the title to it. Assholes. I was panicking as all of my possible monetary sources were dry, and I didn’t have time to liquefy what meager assets I have (my TV and PC being the big ones) to try to get the scratch. I was able to get things taken care of by talking to my credit union again, trying for $500 less than I owed (since I was able to talk to someone who was able to loan me that much), and taking the loan at a shorter term (one year instead of two). Now I’ve got another $200 a month that I get to pay. Glee. I also found the original documentation about the accident and found a different rental agreement that I had signed to (NOT the one that PurCo sent me) that clearly states that I AM liable for DoV.
I’m glad that this whole nightmare is over. I still feel as though a) charges for diminution of value and loss of use without proof of financial impact are bullshit and Alamo now ranks third on my list of the lowest scum of the earth, b) even with all of this I’m still bitter that I have to pay the amount when I wasn’t at fault, c) that as bitter as I am at PurCo they are technically the messenger and aren’t the ones who wrote the Rental Agreement that I signed, plus I’m glad that they were willing to work with me on the DoV, and d) that I’m not going to be continually reminded of the fact that Grandpa is gone or have to scramble to find the money. I didn’t have any idea that contracts are strong enough to circumvent the law. I hate to be “That Guy”, but I’m going to go through anything that I’m asked to sign with a fine-toothed comb if need be.
So the moral of the story? NEVER RENT A CAR UNLESS YOU ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO. IF SOMETHING BAD HAPPENS, YOU’LL GET SCREWED… unless you get the supplemental insurance, and even then that might not cover you all the way. I think that I’m gonna make sure that wherever I go that I don’t drive to has a good public transportation system (or that I’ve got a friend there willing to let me drive one of their cars)… and if I’m forced to rent something, I’m signing the supplemental insurance.