Upseller's Hall of Fame: Dollar Rent-a-Car Lies, Promising Cars That Don't Exist

A couple weeks ago, I reserved a compact with Dollar Rent-a-Car in San Antonio. At the counter, the agent flat-out lied to me about what kind of car I was scheduled to get, in an attempt to upsell me to a higher class of vehicle.

The conversation went something like this:

Agent: I see you’ve reserved a compact. We’ve got a 2-door Suzuki Forenza.
me: That’s fine, thanks.
Agent: The Forenza doesn’t have power windows, power locks, or power steering. For only $45 more for the duration of the rental, we can put you into a nice new Nissan Sentra, that’s a midsize.
me: (incredulously) The Forenza doesn’t have power steering?!!?
Agent: No, it doesn’t. We buy them with no options for $8000, that’s how we can rent them out so cheap.
me: (skeptically) But no power steering?? I’ll still take the compact, thanks.
Agent: You’re sure? It’s not much more for the Sentra!
me: I’m sure.

Excuse me, ma’am, your pants appear to be on fire.

The car they described (a 2-door Suzuki Forenza with no power steering) doesn’t even exist. There is no 2-door Forenza. And all Forenzas come with power steering. They made this stuff up to make me question my choice of a compact car.

Luckily, I didn’t budge: Because they must have been out of smaller cars, they upgraded me to the car they were trying to upsell me anyway, for free.

Getting the upgrade was nice enough. Being lied to? Not so much. MARK ASHLEY

Rental car agent blows smoke up my backside, redux [Upgrade: Travel Better]
(Photo: powerbooktrance)

Comments

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  1. matsayz says:

    what has the world come to when a Sentra is a Mid-Size car… and for $45 a day thats highway robbery!

  2. karmaghost says:

    Have you ever driven a car with no power steering? It’s a pain-in-the ass. I’m sure they’ve stopped leaving power steering out of all but the teeny-tiniest cars these days.

  3. Musician78 says:

    Do they even make cars without power steering anymore?

  4. raybury says:

    I’ve had a rental agency try to upsell me a size they were out of, so now I NEVER take the upsell, even despite myself, because (a) I may get it at no extra charge anyway and (b) I select the size I need and am likely to drive a lot, so I don’t want to pay for gas to move car tonnage I don’t need.

    That said, my last rental was with Dollar and I ended up paying about 20% less than I was quoted. Not sure why, the paperwork is not very helpful, but I’m not gonna complain about it.

  5. MostNutsEver says:

    I used to work for a rental car company, and they will absolutely try to upsell you into the bigger car if they don’t have the smaller one available, and then once you tell them you don’t want to pay for a larger vehicle, they just “happen” to notice that they don’t have the smaller car you reserved on the lot. Basically, never take the upsell unless you really want a bigger car, even then I would negotiate the price down. Their main goal to keep as many cars on rent at a time as possible, and to get you to pay more for it…so keep that in mind when renting a car.

  6. nweaver says:

    On the upsel:

    Enterprise is one that the upsel is well structured, as its AT THE LOT, where you can see the cars, and since they can bargan, you can get a good deal.

    (EG, the $20 upsel from the $15 cavalier to a Miata…)

  7. TheBigLewinski says:

    This is why I ‘F’ these companies whenever I can… They lie, cheat and steal, may as well give it back to them.

  8. acambras says:

    @raybury:

    Exactly! More often than not, I get a free upgrade because they’re out of the smallest car class (which is what I almost always reserve because it’s just me).

    It’s funny — more than once I’ve been in the rental office and had someone try to upsell me by pointing out, “You’re going to need more space for your family and their luggage” – and then they point to a family in the waiting room that’s not even my family.

  9. Mark Ashley says:

    @matsayz: The offer was $45 for the duration of the rental, in this case one week. It was not per day.

  10. formergr says:

    @karmaghost:
    My first car that I drove for 2 years had no power steering– at the time I was a skinny little girl, 5’8″ and 115 pounds, no arm muscles. And I still managed to drive it just fine.

  11. mfergel says:

    As Sienfeld once said…..”you know how to take the rental, but do you know how to keep the rental?”

  12. Hawkins says:

    Hahaha! At least half the time, the high-pressure up-sell is because they don’t have the compact car that you reserved, and are trying, as others have pointed out above, to get you to pay for a bigger car.

    There’s no need to haggle, or even be clever, to take advantage of the rental car company’s inability to stock the car that you reserved. Just keep saying, “No, thank you” to the up-sell pitches, and soon you’ll drive off in a nicer car than the one you reserved, without paying anything extra.

    I’ve heard all sorts of outrageous silliness when they didn’t have the stinky little economy car that I’d reserved.

    “We’re having a sale on full-sized cars today.”

    “Oh, you flew in on United? Well, just for United customers, we have a special today on minivans.” Surprise! All they had was a minivan.

    Just keep smiling and saying, “No, thanks, I’ll just take the car I reserved.” I got a week in a very nice Lexus once, for the cost of a Neon.

    Can’t blame ‘em for trying, I guess.

  13. bmcgann says:

    I had a similar experience about a year ago that was posted here on Consumerist. Tried to upsell me to a bigger car, I said no, they said they didn’t have any of the smaller cars anyway so I’d be getting the bigger car at no charge. I couldn’t believe the nerve they had to basically tell me they were trying to rip me off. Obviously, do not ever ever ever pay for an upgrade when renting a car.

  14. TheName says:

    Similar experience at the Hertz at O’Hare Chicago. Tried to upsell me a car with the “vacation package” or something; power windows, A/C, and a GPS. I refused. Tried to get me into one with just the GPS. Refused again. Went out to the requested car to find all three. Popped back in to make sure they hadn’t screwed me to be told that they didn’t actually have any without those options but they were supposed to try to charge me for them.

    Isn’t it typical economic theory that you have to extract every penny they’re willing to pay? The old adage: Guy walks out of a store thinking “they’re not very good; I’ve still got money in my pockets.”

  15. facted says:

    My favorite was the “we don’t rent midsize sedans to people under 25, we can only give you a 2 passanger pickup truck”!!! Hahaha. After I put up quite a show, we got our car (had to be driven to another location) and then the sales agent begged us to say good things about her to the “consumer affair” people who call customers after their experiences to check on how things are going so that she could “get a raise”. Umm…needless to say, I don’t think she got that raise ;)

  16. synergy says:

    @Mark Ashley: Which Dollar was it? I’m in SA and would like to avoid those scammers.

  17. Mark Ashley says:

    @synergy: San Antonio Airport. Terminal 1 desk.

  18. RandomHookup says:

    Last time I rented a car, they didn’t have my requested auto, so they upgraded me to a frigging minivan. Great, I get to drive the 2 of us around all week like a den mother AND pay more for gas!!! Bonus!

  19. buck09 says:

    This is SOP in the car rental business.

  20. pestie says:

    All this talk of car rentals reminds me – why is the “extra insurance” always a scam? I’ve paid dearly for it on occasion and don’t really understand why it’s such a bad idea. Anyone who can explain it will earn my undying gratitude.

  21. mfergel says:

    I’ll add that I did rent once from the Minneapolis airport. Think it was Enterprise but don’t remember for sure. Aside from the long line, they simply told us to go out and pick any midsize car (we reserved a midsize) that we wanted and there was actually a really good selection. Chose a Chevy Malibu simply because I wanted to see what it was like. I’d be willing to rent from them again.

  22. PDQ says:

    Enterprise is fine at the airport, but Lord help you if you’re doing a service rental while your car is in the shop. It takes forever for the “recent college graduate” to come pick you up, then they want to talk with you and get to know you on the drive back to the rental office, then you wait in line to do your paperwork for 45 minutes while all the other recent college grad employees behind the counter converse about their drunken exploits the night before.

    Enterprise employees seem to have no sense of urgency. We customers all have jobs to do and places we have to go. They just sort of “hang out” like they were in a coffee house or at the student union and they get annoyed when you bitch about their lack of motivation.

  23. Little Mintz Sunshine says:

    Reminds me of a trip to Hawaii…where the rental company (National? Enterprise?) ran out of cars for all 20-30 people in line. Of course, you didn’t find out until you got to the head of the line and they whispered to you not say anything to the people behind you in the line. I promptly turned to my boyfriend and told him to run for the Hertz counter. Then, I turned and told everyone in line and yelled “THEY RAN OUT OF CARS!” I have never seen people scatter so fast. My question to this day is: how do you run out of so many cars on an island? As we drove for the hotel, we laughed and said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if the hotel didn’t have our reservation either”…

  24. Dr. Eirik says:

    Same happened to me at the Hertz office near LAX. Rented a small car, and they tried to upsell me to a couple different models (I think a large size or PT Cruiser). When I refused, he tossed me the keys for a brand new Cruiser. Turned out to be a lucky break, we ended up needing the larger car, but I was glad not to have to pay for it.

    I had a slightly different experience at Santa Barbera’s Hertz. I’ve learned that the car they tell you you’re going to get isn’t always close to what you get in the same class. I reserved, I thought, a Mazda 6. I got a crappy Pontiac Grand Am with busted window switches (as in falling off) and that smelled vaugly of old, spilled soda.

  25. CustomersRevenge says:

    I had one pretend they had no car except an SUV. Do the clerks get commission or something? Why do they care so much about lying to the customer to upsell them. I remember I worked at McDonald’s, but I never told a customer we were out of small fry bags to get them to buy a large.

  26. TechnoDestructo says:

    @karmaghost:

    Yeah, I drove a car with no power steering, and I LOVED it. Loved three of them (out of five), at least.

    In a a well-balanced sports car (my 280Z), or a lightweight economy car (one 1984 w/o power steering, one with it broken), you can get a better feel for the road and what the car is doing without power assistance deadening that input.

    In a truck, it’s a goddamn pain in the ass. (those were the other two)

  27. acambras says:

    @TechnoDestructo:

    My ’91 Corolla had “power assisted” steering (hard to steer unless you’re giving it gas). It was fine on the road, but parallel parking was a bitch.

  28. iamjames says:

    you have to wonder, do they even have the tiny cars you chose online?

    Perfect bait and switch: customers buy the $20 car online, you get there and all they have is the $45 car. Genius! … wait, isn’t that illegal? Why haven’t they been stopped yet?

  29. Imogineration says:

    The lies reported in the initial post just happened to me at the Wichita airport on 9/6/2009. The 4-door Suzuki Forenza had automatic windows, cruise control, a key fob with a remote to open the doors, power steering. It’s unbelievable that Dollar continues these lies for 6 months although they have been busted on the web.