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Full fare for two flat tires?

A family trip is ruined after a rental van gets a flat, as does its spare. Now their car rental company wants to charge them for the rental, plus the damage. Can it do that?
/ Source: Tribune Media Services

Q: My family and I rented a van from Enterprise to drive to California. We were looking forward to the trip of our lives. We had planned to visit Disneyland, Universal Studios and, of course, the beach.

Our trip to California went as planned. But as we were getting ready to board our van to Disneyland the next morning, we noticed the back tire was flat. Instead of wasting time calling for help we decided to take the shuttle service to Disneyland and get help when we returned to the motel.

That afternoon, we phoned AAA roadside assistance. Someone arrived within a couple of hours, and when he looked for the spare tire, he discovered it was flat, too.

Eventually, the van had to be towed. We took a shuttle from our motel to Disneyland for the rest of our vacation, but we didn't have the convenience of a van. We missed Universal Studios and the beach. The van wasn't ready until the afternoon of our last day in California.

When I returned the van I was informed that I owed $865. I had to explain to the Enterprise representative on duty that I had paid $657 for repairs while in California and that they were supposed to be reimbursing me. Our vacation was ruined, and now instead of Enterprise paying us for the repairs, they're asking us to pay them. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.
— Luz Marquez, Albuquerque, N.M.

A: Flat tires happen. But yours spiraled out of control, taking part of your vacation with it. That shouldn't have happened.

As soon as you noticed a problem with a rental vehicle, you should have called Enterprise immediately. You waited several hours and then phoned AAA roadside assistance. That would be the right move if it had been your van. But it belonged to Enterprise, and it should have made the decision about how to repair the vehicle.

In fact, Enterprise probably would have furnished you with a new van, which might have saved your vacation.

Of course, Enterprise shouldn't have rented anyone a van with a flat spare. But even if you could have avoided a trip to the garage, you would have still needed to bring the vehicle back to an Enterprise location to have the tire fixed. You can't drive around on a spare tire indefinitely.

The $865 bill appears to be legit. I wouldn't assume to be able to deduct your repair bill from the final invoice. Those are two separate issues.

In reviewing the details of your grievance (which, for space reasons, were edited) I notice that you spent most of your time on the phone trying to resolve this. You had numerous phone conversations with the Enterprise location from which you rented. Picking up the phone is a good idea when you have a flat tire, but a problem like this is better resolved in person, when you return the car, or in writing (preferably by email) when you're back home.

I contacted Enterprise, and it reimbursed you the $657 you paid to repair its van.