Hertz may have emerged from bankruptcy protection earlier this year, but for customers of the rental car company, warning lights are still flashing.
The troubled brand that Vanity Fair called a "pandemic zombie" in 2020 can't seem to stop attacking customers who thought their car rentals were safely laid to rest.
The press has been full of alarming instances of renters who say they did no wrong but were nonetheless slammed with fraudulent charges weeks or months later.
There have been cases in which nonsmokers reported being hit with $400 smoking fees after returning their cars. There was also the family whose child allegedly found a used condom in the backseat and, when they returned that filthy car, they got saddled with a steep fee to clean up pet hair from a dog they didn't have.
Far more horrifically, there has been a series of reports by customers who were arrested and locked up for stealing Hertz cars that they insist were lawfully rented.
And the disturbing reports about Hertz rentals keep coming.
This week, David Lazarus, a business columnist with the Los Angeles Times, chronicled a Hertz car rental gone wrong in Hawaii.
Lazarus tells the tale of Mark Stanley, who dropped his car off at the airport in time to make a flight, but later discovered Hertz had helped itself to a late fee of $201.05. The rental car company claimed Stanley returned the vehicle at a time when he was actually in the air on his flight.
Stanley told Hertz he returned the car on time and could prove it since he was a documented passenger on an airborne plane at the very moment the company claimed the rental was being turned over.
Hertz ignored him.
So Stanley disputed the charge with American Express, which removed the fee from his bill.
You'd think that would have ended it. But Hertz reinstated the fee and sent Stanley a letter demanding $201.05 all over again.
It took journalist Lazarus himself, writing on behalf of the L.A. Times after Stanley contacted the paper in desperation, to finally raise a proper response from Hertz. The company dropped its demands for the fee and told Lazarus it had contacted Stanley and “apologized for this inconvenience.”
In all, Stanley says he spent three months trying to prove he was innocent of the charges. Despite indisputable evidence that he couldn't have returned the vehicle when Hertz claimed he had, the company persisted in trying to collect.
Ironically, Stanley's profession is teaching businesses how to deliver better customer service. He even wrote a book about it. Perhaps Hertz could trade its demands for some hospitality pointers?
Normally, this would be the point in a post when Frommer's gives you some practical advice about how to avoid similar mistakes in your own life. But how can you prevent a giant company from recording a false return time, refusing to listen to your proof, trying to circumvent your credit card issuer's decision, and only paying attention when potential media embarrassment comes calling?
When it comes to the case of Lazarus raising signs of life from the "pandemic zombie," we only have two pieces of advice.
The first is to comb your credit card statement for unexpected and unwarranted amounts from a Hertz rental (or any rental). The common denominator in a lot of these horror stories is the disputed charges tend to show up days or weeks after customers thought the vehicle had been returned without a problem.
The second bit of advice about renting with Hertz: Until these disputes stop cropping up regularly in the press, you might want to shop around.