April 01, 2000
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio April 2000 Current Issue
April 2000 On TravelPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

On Travel

By Paul Grimes


How major car-rental firms measure up in an emergency

Although most car rentals are trouble-free, occasional sideswipes on the interstate or major mechanical breakdowns do occur. When emergencies arise and a driver is in distress, rental companies can and do come to the rescue.

How much help they provide and how quickly depends on the company’s policies and on where the renter is stranded. Some companies dispatch rapid assistance almost anywhere in the United States, and renters probably pay for that service through higher rates. With others, efficiency varies.

Two points to remember: First, review the contract’s fine print. All the rental companies listed here forbid renters from driving vehicles (including those with four-wheel drive) on unpaved roads. If you tool down a rural road, you are fully responsible if something goes wrong.

Second, when renting from a local company or a locally controlled franchise of a bigger company, ask about geographic limits on breakdown service. Some companies do not allow renters to drive across state lines or will not provide emergency service beyond a certain radius.

Following are policies of eight major rental companies.

  • Hertz. Roadside assistance is available any time by calling (800) 654-5060. Help is sent for anything from a major accident to a dead battery. For accidents, renters should call the police first and fill out a police report. After contacting Hertz, an accident report should be completed at the nearest rental location, regardless of fault. The company will issue a replacement car, if necessary. Many Hertz vehicles are equipped (for an extra $6 a day) with NeverLost navigation units, which pinpoint the car’s exact location for the driver.
  • Avis. Renters have a toll-free number (800-354-2847) for emergency assistance anytime, which is sent either from the nearest Avis location or arranged through the reservations center. Avis gradually is installing OnStar, a General Motors satellite navigation system that sends signals for help to a center in Troy, Mich. The system automatically notifies the center if the vehicle’s airbags deploy. It also can track a stolen vehicle and, if a driver locks the keys in the car, can send a remote signal to unlock the door.
  • National. A toll-free number (800-367-6767) should be called for all emergencies. National uses several channels to send help: the nearest National office, the car manufacturer’s emergency program (if there is one), dealer networks, other rental companies and the services of the Cross Country Motor Club.
  • Alamo. The company has a 24-hour toll-free number (800-803-4444) for roadside assistance and accident reporting. The call is routed automatically to the nearest open Alamo office, which arranges help.
  • Thrifty. Drivers in trouble should first call the Thrifty location where they rented, but they always can call the toll-free number (800-847-4389) to arrange assistance. Sometimes customers are advised to call the Automobile Association of America, but not without consulting Thrifty first.
  • Budget. Twenty-four-hour roadside assistance is provided by the United States Auto Club, a subsidiary of the Irving, Texas-based Associates First Capital Corp. The auto club has more than 10,000 vendors and 50,000 tow trucks. Customers call (800) 858-5377.
  • Dollar. Renters call a 24-hour toll-free number (800-235-9393) and are transferred to the location where they rented the car to arrange appropriate assistance.
  • Enterprise. The procedure is similar to Dollar’s. If the rental location is closed, the emergency is referred to the Cross Country Motor Club. The 24-hour assistance number is (800) 307-6666.
  • Paul Grimes is a contributing editor to Frequent Flyer, a sister publication of M&C. This article was adapted from FF.

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