By Christopher Elliott Travel columnist
Tribune Media Services
updated 1/19/2011 9:39:55 AM ET 2011-01-19T14:39:55
travel troubleshooter

Q: While we were visiting Philadelphia a few months ago we parked our Hertz rental car downtown. Almost immediately after walking away, I saw an officer stop by the car and start writing a ticket. I ran over and asked him if I had parked in the wrong place or something like that and he informed me that it was simply an issue of my tags being expired. I told him it was a rental and he suggested I just give the ticket to Hertz and inform them that if they took care of the tags, the ticket would be canceled.

When we returned the car to Hertz, my husband handed the ticket to one of the agents and explained what happened. They wrote on the windshield with a wax pen "expired tags" and told us they would take care of it for us.

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Fast forward to about a month later, and we received a notice from the collection agency arm of Hertz ATS Processing Services. I called and tried talking with them and they said they would look into it, but couldn't really do anything and then recently sent us another bill, this time with a higher fee for being late. I tried calling Hertz and after being bounced around from person to person and explaining my situation, no one seemed able to help. I'm not really sure who I should talk to next. Can you help?
— Meaghan Dellar, Cincinnati

A: Hertz should have ensured the tags on your rental were up to date. And it should have paid for your ticket, as agreed.

But there were a few things you could have done to prevent this, too. Although it isn't your responsibility, it's not a bad idea to check the tags on your car before you leave the lot. When you're managing a fleet of hundreds of vehicles, it's easy to overlook an expired registration or two.

When you returned the car, I wouldn't have just taken the employee's word for it when you were told Hertz would "take care of it." Get it in writing. That may mean speaking with a supervisor, but it's well worth it. Even if the supervisor refuses to put something in writing, you'll still have a name and phone number, and can follow up with that person if there's a problem later on.

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I also notice that most of your communication with Hertz happened by phone. In this kind of situation, an e-mail works far better. If the company refuses to help you through the Web form on its site, you can always appeal your case to someone higher up with a keystroke and the click of a mouse.

Lately, car rental companies have become more vigilant about collecting unpaid debts from their customers, sometimes going so far as to sue them. Taking such a hard-line approach isn't particularly good for the company's image. Nor is it a customer-friendly policy.

I asked Hertz to take another look at your case. A company spokeswoman said ATS had been directed not to bill customers for expired tags. "However, a few technical glitches caused a handful of customers to be billed," she added.

Hertz withdrew your bill.

© 2011 Christopher Elliott ... Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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