Budget Rent-a-Car: Show Me the Law

Devvy Kidd
December 22, 2002

As someone who won't fly on commercial airliners, I rent a lot of cars and I use all the different rental companies. This past July, I had the need to go to Reno, NV and then on to Phoenix, AZ for business. During this long road trip, a truck kicked up a rock that smacked the windshield of my rental car. By the time I got back to Sacramento International Airport to return the car, the nick had spidered clear across the windshield.

When I turned in the rental car, a report was made which included the name of my insurance company. As I expected, a letter was sent to me by Budget in September asking for cost of windshield replacement ($194.21), a $50.00 'administrative fee' and something called 'loss of use' in the amount of $131.98. My insurance company paid the $194.21 for replacement of the windshield.

Budget's letter indicated this claim for the 'loss of use' was based on "..the guidelines set forth by the State of California Assembly Bill." Huh? I promptly responded to them explaining that a bill in either the California State Senate or Assembly does not mean it is a law. A bill only becomes law after it is passed by the legislative body and sent to the Governor for signing.

I also informed them that before I would pay this demand, I required them to provide me with the law they were basing their demands upon. Pretty reasonable and straight forward, wouldn't you think? Apparently not. It seems these days, when you ask, "show me the law," one continually runs up against brick walls.

In late October, I again received another demand for payment. Once again, I sent Budget a letter asking them to show me the law.

In late November, I received another letter from Budget [click here to view letter] again making a demand for payment with the most cockamamie "legal" language I have ever read. Now mind you, this letter is dated November 13, 2002. My trip was in late July.

After reading Budget's letter, I did a Net search for Civil Code Section 1936 to see what the California State Legislature had written, which eventually got signed into law. The first thing that popped up was Auto Rental News and what did their headline say?

California Regulations Change in 2002

    "Effective January 1, 2002, California Civil Code Section 1936 - the statute that regulates motor vehicle rental activity - was renewed and amended. Guess what was amended effective January 1, 2002? You got it:

    Loss of use is no longer an element of damage for which rental customers will be liable. In the former Section 1936,  Loss of Use was specifically collectible."

I was shocked, quite frankly. However, I couldn't get much more clarification on the Net and fortunately for me, I only live five miles from downtown Sacramento where the big law library is located, so off I went. Auto Rental News was correct in their reporting: Effective January 1, 2002, rental car companies could no longer charge for loss of use.

On December 5, 2002, I fired off another letter to Budget with the proof that they were and had been attempting to demand payment from me under a law that had been amended seven months before I entered into the rental agreement with them. Two weeks later I called the author of all the correspondence from Budget, a pleasant lady named Lisette Tolliver.

I inquired if Ms. Tolliver had received my letter?. She acknowledged with a yes and had 'written off' the charge. What? That immediately prompted me to inform her that a 'write off' or 'charge off' generally means uncollectable. I had not refused to pay the request for money, I simply proved that Budget was trying to get money out of me under a law that had been amended and I did not want a charge off or write off in their files.

Ms. Tolliver responded that "they had just got notification of the new law" and refused to basically say anything else. That concluded our conversation, but it does raise a very valid question:

How many people like me rented cars in the State of California in the year 2002, who had a damaged windshield and then paid Budget for these damages they were not responsible for under an amended law?

California has dozens of rental car agencies like Budget, Hertz, Alamo, Dollar, Enterprise and so on.

How many tourists and business folks from out of state used a rental car in California in 2002 that may have had windshield damage and were forced to pay under a law that was amended? In the corporate world, these kinds of 'minor' expenses are all just part of doing business and get paid without question.

I questioned the law. It took Budget months to come up with some convoluted nonsense to try and convince me their position was valid. Seeing is believing for me and after reading the exact changes to the law, I found out Budget was engaging in out and out fraud.

The fact that Ms. Tolliver is in Florida and was ignorant of the law is no excuse. I doubt Budget is lacking for corporate attorneys who should be the ones staying on top of changes in the laws throughout the Union. It's just part of doing business in more than one state.

Before you pay any company, organization, corporation or individual for a demand made upon you, ask them to show you the law. This is a reasonable request and in my case, as you can see, had I not asked to see the law, I would have been out $181.98 for charges I did not owe.