Residents of Arizona may have seen articles recently that two firms owned by a Dennis Saban -- Phoenix Car Rental and Saban's Rent-A-Car -- were recently found responsible for paying a $1.85 million verdict for violations of Arizona's Consumer Fraud Act. The case is a little baffling to us -- although Saban's companies were already known to the Arizona Attorney General's office through a consent decree in a horrible discrimination complaint, it took a further 150 consumer complaints before the State sent over an investigator. And it takes a special set of circumstances for this behavior to persist for years.
What does the Arizona Attorney General consider to be Consumer Fraud?
Consumer fraud, as defined by Arizona law, is any deception, unfair act or practice, false statement, false pretense, false promise or misrepresentation made by a seller or advertiser of merchandise. In addition, concealment, suppression or failure to disclose a material fact may be consumer fraud if it is done with the intent that others rely on such concealment, suppression or nondisclosure. Merchandise may include any objects, wares, goods, commodities, intangibles, real estate or services.
What types of allegations were made against Saban's firms? Well, the State got complaints and sent an investigator to the site, and the investigator had a less-than-satisfactory experience. Here's a "trip report" from the Attorney General's Office:
An undercover investigator was promised a rental vehicle for $129 a week, a rate also advertised on the company website. After additional fees and taxes, the total rental was more than $250. The agent was denied a copy of the rental agreement and falsely told he would be arrested if he left the Phoenix area because of specially coded license plates. An employee also informed the investigator that an additional charge was the “county tax” when in fact it was a surcharge imposed by Saban’s. Upon inspection, investigators also discovered that although the rental car’s odometer displayed 99,840 miles, the vehicle’s actual mileage was 199,840 miles.
We occasionally hear about stupid statements made by rental car company staff but denying a copy of a contract? Special Phoenix license plates? Fake county taxes? Odometers that are falsified because the rental car has 200,000 miles?
Why Is This a Limited Issue?
First, Saban's companies rely on individuals who are willing to suspend disbelief in a major transaction.
- A refusal to put complete quotes in writing (or online), even in 2018?
- Consumers willing to believe it's faster to call in to get a quote?
- Rates that change based on where one wants to drive?
There's also a bit of "anything goes" behavior in Arizona. Saban's companies could have simply been taking a lesson from ... The State of Arizona, which has been collecting an unconstitutional tax with proceeds that exceed Saban's by a factor of more than 100 (but we digress in seeking the truth). As the Wizard of Oz reminds us, "pay no attention to that person behind the curtain" as the state commits plain old fraud (not consumer fraud). If the State can illegally collect hundreds of millions in rental car taxes because they have a "purpose for the cash", why shouldn't a company be able to follow the same logic?
Although the case against Saban was extreme, here's one nice aspect to remember -- one would intentionally have to take actions to do business with a firm like Saban's; they only do quotes via phone (never in writing) and there's no potential of booking online (or even tracking at AutoSlash.com/Track, as the company doesn't produce documentation).
Is This Normal Rental Company Behavior?
No, this is not normal rental car company behavior. Large firms would face massive class action lawsuits if they engaged in this kind of behavior. In fact, allegations of this type of behavior are the primary reason Payless has 0.5 stars (out of 5) on our rating system. The only reason Payless has a half-star is that we didn't want readers to think we "forgot" to rank the company!
When we created our ranking system, we took those assignments seriously based on all the history we have with each individual rental car company. In that system, we have a clear "Use Caution" range. The reasons for the "Use Caution" ratings are usually based on the policies created and enforced by the rental companies in question. The one major difference between the companies we rank as "Use Caution" and Saban's? The companies we rank actually disclose their customer-unfriendly policies within their published rules at the time of booking!
- Saban's companies made up a "Phoenix" restriction but companies like Sixt and Fox have limited geographic restrictions, sometimes down to a single state in Fox's case.
- "Use Caution" companies may have mileage restrictions for local renters while simultaneously offering Unlimited Mileage for out-of-town visitors.
- Some of these companies are tiffy with damage, even when the vehicle starts with damage. For instance, I made sure the only damage on a recent Sixt rental were the nine (9) pre-existing items listed on my contract before leaving.
- These companies also likely have higher mileage fleets; some rental car companies buy cars from major rental car companies once those vehicles fail to meet the standards of the company with the global brand name.
These rules and policies of which we speak? Renters affirm they have read those rules before making every single reservation.
Remember -- not all rental transactions go perfectly. The best rental car companies make the situation right when things go wrong. We've noted in the past examples where National's Emerald Aisle wasn't exactly a jewel -- National fixed those issues. I had an example last year where my local Hertz didn't have a car despite my President's Circle status; a phone call got a free day and accommodation by a different site. And years ago, I was even the victim of an Enterprise staffer making up a requirement to buy insurance, going so far as to write a note to that effect on my contract! A note to the Maryland Attorney General (with a copy to Enterprise) and I quickly got a call from the branch saying my rental was "free for as long as I needed it".
Mistakes happen and get fixed by top-tier companies. With mid-tier companies, the "mistake" may actually be a published policy of the organization (no mistake)! And with less reputable companies (like Saban's), the biggest mistake is the one made by the consumer!