Car rental security deposit not returned in full

By Robert Havlen
This item appears on page 23 of the March 2015 issue.
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To begin 10 weeks of travel in sub-Saharan Africa, my wife, Carolyn, and I wanted a place to stay near Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport. After seeing a subscriber’s recommendation in ITN (Aug. ’13, pg. 15), we chose Sunrock Guest House (11 Park Street, Kempton Park, Johannesburg, South Africa; phone +27 11 394 3772, www.sunrock.co.za). I recommend the Sunrock. While the surroundings are not great, it’s a wonderful place.

Then, for our 12-day land trip to Kruger National Park, we searched on Google for car rental firms nearby and found Tony’s Car Hire (11 Besembos Ave., Kempton Park, 1619, South Africa; www.sacarhire.co.za)

Via email, our communication with Tony’s didn’t always flow smoothly, but we persevered, reserving a car about a month before our trip. After that, correspondence went OK. Generally, Tony’s offered only standard-shift cars; they subcontracted to get our automatic.

On June 5, 2014, the day after our arrival, an employee from Tony’s delivered the vehicle to our hotel, as we had arranged. However, when she was unsuccessful in transferring our payment from our credit card onto her mobile device, she took me to their office a couple kilometers away to process the transaction there.

Apparently, even though I had advised Visa I would be traveling, the transaction was rejected by Visa, and when the Tony’s employee tried to call Visa to allow me to verify that the charge and location were valid, the call would not connect.

At that point, the employee said she would not release the car unless I paid the rental price ($458) plus a $1,000 security deposit for insurance (which would normally only be a “hold” on the credit card). 

I had no other credit cards that could be used in South Africa, but I was able to use my Fidelity money management debit card, which I use at ATMs. I paid a total of ZAR16,338 (near $1,554 at the time) and was able to drive off with the car.

The next day, just to inquire, I easily contacted Visa with the help of the Sunrock Guest House (so we assumed that the Tony’s employee had incorrectly dialed Visa’s international number). Visa told me that they had, indeed, approved the charge the day before. By then, of course, we had the car and expected a refund for the deposit when we returned the car in good condition.

Upon returning the car two weeks later on June 17, we were told that the walk-around inspection, done by several employees and Tony, himself, had revealed only “normal wear and tear,” implying there would be no additional charges. We were reassured that they would promptly return the $1,000 deposit to our bank in the US.

Imagine our unhappy surprise when, seven weeks later on Aug. 8, after numerous requests from us, the amount of the deposit finally returned to us was only $750. When we asked why the entire deposit had not been returned, we were informed that they had had to repair damage to the car’s left-front fender and wheel.

We were doubly surprised because this damage had not been “discovered” until after we had relinquished possession of the vehicle. We communicated our dismay to Tony’s by email but received neither a reply nor the remainder of our deposit.

What mistakes did we make? Before relinquishing possession of the car, we should have asked for a document verifying that we had returned it in good condition. But our biggest mistake was using a debit card to pay the $1,000 security deposit. Had we used a credit card to pay our deposit, we could have used the document verifying the good condition of the returned car to contest any charges made for damage “discovered” after we left.

Under no circumstances should someone let impatience or clouded judgment due to jet lag cause them to leave a deposit in cash.

We would not rent another car from Tony’s Car Hire. 

ROBERT HAVLEN

Albuquerque, NM

ITN emailed a copy of Mr. Havlen’s letter to Tony’s Car Hire but received no reply.

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

To begin 10 weeks of travel in sub-Saharan Africa, my wife, Carolyn, and I wanted a place to stay near Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport. After seeing a subscriber’s recommendation in ITN (Aug. ’13, pg. 15), we chose Sunrock Guest House (11 Park Street, Kempton Park, Johannesburg, South Africa; phone +27 11 394 3772, www.sunrock.co.za). I recommend the Sunrock. While the surroundings are not great, it’s a wonderful place.

Then, for our 12-day land trip to Kruger National Park, we searched on Google for car rental firms nearby and found Tony’s Car Hire (11 Besembos Ave., Kempton Park, 1619, South Africa; www.sacarhire.co.za)

Via email, our communication with Tony’s didn’t always flow smoothly, but we persevered, reserving a car about a month before our trip. After that, correspondence went OK. Generally, Tony’s offered only standard-shift cars; they subcontracted to get our automatic.

On June 5, 2014, the day after our arrival, an employee from Tony’s delivered the vehicle to our hotel, as we had arranged. However, when she was unsuccessful in transferring our payment from our credit card onto her mobile device, she took me to their office a couple kilometers away to process the transaction there.

Apparently, even though I had advised Visa I would be traveling, the transaction was rejected by Visa, and when the Tony’s employee tried to call Visa to allow me to verify that the charge and location were valid, the call would not connect.

At that point, the employee said she would not release the car unless I paid the rental price ($458) plus a $1,000 security deposit for insurance (which would normally only be a “hold” on the credit card). 

I had no other credit cards that could be used in South Africa, but I was able to use my Fidelity money management debit card, which I use at ATMs. I paid a total of ZAR16,338 (near $1,554 at the time) and was able to drive off with the car.

The next day, just to inquire, I easily contacted Visa with the help of the Sunrock Guest House (so we assumed that the Tony’s employee had incorrectly dialed Visa’s international number). Visa told me that they had, indeed, approved the charge the day before. By then, of course, we had the car and expected a refund for the deposit when we returned the car in good condition.

Upon returning the car two weeks later on June 17, we were told that the walk-around inspection, done by several employees and Tony, himself, had revealed only “normal wear and tear,” implying there would be no additional charges. We were reassured that they would promptly return the $1,000 deposit to our bank in the US.

Imagine our unhappy surprise when, seven weeks later on Aug. 8, after numerous requests from us, the amount of the deposit finally returned to us was only $750. When we asked why the entire deposit had not been returned, we were informed that they had had to repair damage to the car’s left-front fender and wheel.

We were doubly surprised because this damage had not been “discovered” until after we had relinquished possession of the vehicle. We communicated our dismay to Tony’s by email but received neither a reply nor the remainder of our deposit.

What mistakes did we make? Before relinquishing possession of the car, we should have asked for a document verifying that we had returned it in good condition. But our biggest mistake was using a debit card to pay the $1,000 security deposit. Had we used a credit card to pay our deposit, we could have used the document verifying the good condition of the returned car to contest any charges made for damage “discovered” after we left.

Under no circumstances should someone let impatience or clouded judgment due to jet lag cause them to leave a deposit in cash.

We would not rent another car from Tony’s Car Hire. 

ROBERT HAVLEN

Albuquerque, NM

ITN emailed a copy of Mr. Havlen’s letter to Tony’s Car Hire but received no reply.