While we haven’t lost a diamond ring in a rental car, Brooks and Dunn might be happy to know that we may have cruised a few Red Dirt Roads. Yet here’s one thing that's clear when it comes to lost items – if a renter spends enough time in a rental car, eventually something will get left behind and that individual will be reaching out to the Lost and Found office. We have personal experience here. The older members of the team have all left items in a rental car, although at least one of us has a much better track record as an older adult.
And I’m about to curse myself with leaving an item in a rental car; I damaged a car within a week of writing the previous "AutoSlash Tells" article about damaging a rental car …
The customer's goal is to never leave possessions behind in a rental car (or hotel room, or airplane, or on a cruise ship). We've left items behind and can admit something that's hard to acknowledge for some renters; it's not the rental car company's fault that the renter left something behind. The contract sleeves, return agents, and posted signs all remind us to ensure our personal items are removed. However, the rental car companies really do try to reconnect drivers with lost property when the property is found. Although leaving property behind is the renter's fault, many renters perceive an item not being found to be the rental car company's fault; not fixing the renter-induced problem is bad for business at the rental car company.
What are the AutoSlash Team Recovery Rates?
Chris and I are the leaders in "number of items left in rental cars", although I've gone almost 15 years since my last incident. Chris also spends most days of the year in a rental car (rather than his personal vehicle), so misplaced items are to be expected! The common thread in the items we've left behind? Small, easy to fall out of sight, and dark colors that blended into the interior of the rental cars. Maybe we need to select brighter colors for our traveling items!
I’ve managed to leave two different items in rental cars. One was my Blizzard of Ozz CD on September 7, 2001, which was in the CD player of a Ford Ranger rental truck. I asked Budget about the CD on the same day but obviously stopped seeking the return once I knew a lot of folks were taking vehicles on one-way journeys the next week. The second item was a black case full of CDs while following the 2003 National League playoffs. Black CD case, in a black trunk, before 5 a.m. in the morning -- easy to lose. Hertz in Phoenix required me to pay for return shipping but the item was recovered. As CD's have been replaced by other forms of digital media and satellite radio, I've been "loss-free" since October 2003.
Chris at AutoSlash has a higher recovery rate overall but a low recovery rate on some technology items. Among the recovered items were a computer mouse, a coat, and garage door openers. Although he had the option to ship the mouse (from Kona, Hawai’i) at his cost, a friend who was traveling picked up the item from the site instead. The unrecovered items? A key to a personal car (which required reprogramming the car), Bose QC3 headphones, and a Bluetooth headset (the latter two at Washington-Reagan National Airport). Ouch.
Andrew and Eric have managed to never leave anything in a rental car and we hope they keep up that winning streak (they are also the youngest members of the AutoSlash team, so they have hundreds of rentals in their future). Ludo hasn't lost anything either but he's accustomed to thorough clean-ups, checks, and re-checks -- he's also accounting for children when leaving rental cars!
Clearing the Rental Car
It's better to find an item before returning a rental car than to risk not recovering the item later. Ludo has developed a routine to ensure his family has all possessions when leaving a rental car.
I've similarly started a routine; I clear the car and confirm everything (including the cell phone) is in the rollaboard and laptop case while refueling the rental car. The gas station is the last stop every member of the AutoSlash team makes before returning the car at the airport. We're not going to spend $9.99 per gallon (plus tax) for failing to refuel the vehicle and we're not going to prepay for a tank of gas that's subjected to airport taxes -- while that published prepaid rate might seem reasonable, it's much less so after adding 30-70% in airport taxes! The gas station is also likely to be a well-lit area where no one's talking to you, unlike many of the dark rental car return garages with check-in agents making small talk. Clear the vehicle of personal items in advance and you're ready to go as soon as you receive the printout (or e-mail) of return charges.
Lost and Found in Practice
We've all hopped into a rental car to find a previous rental agreement or coins in the rental vehicle. I've even found multiple tablets to return to the rental car company with the car. And I even had a rental car that may have been involved in a real-life Breaking Bad scenario on a rental from El Paso International Airport, with "'lost" Tyvek protective suits, plastic bags, and snack food wrappers I happened to have "found". We could call this "Exhibit A" in the case of rental car cleaners simply not paying attention.
Yes, we hope Enterprise at ELP is ashamed of assigning this rental car to a customer.
How does stuff like this happen? Well, the people cleaning cars are not necessarily the most attentive. Rental agreements are often over the visor, change is in the center console, and the tablets I've found have been between or under the seat, only located after I've dropped an item like my cell phone charger between or under the seat ... Many items left in a rental car may simply be missed by the person cleaning the vehicle (hard to believe, but the photo above is pretty good evidence) but then found by a future renter! Some rental car locations have detailed checklists for cleaners to follow and others even provide incentives and drawings for the cleaners who do locate the items lost by customers! The items left behind by customers are going to tend to be those difficult to see or find; that's why the customer didn't notice the missing item!
What Happens if You Lose an Item in a Rental Car?
Know you left an item behind? Contact the rental car company immediately! A car can be back on the line and rented to another customer within an hour at the most efficient, high-volume locations. If your item is hiding under the seat, it may be a long wait before the rental car company can check -- the company will have to wait for the rental to be returned; the rental might even be returned to a different station if the next renter has the car on a one-way rental. The highest probability of recovering an item is before the car is rented again.
Lost and Found
Each of the major rental car companies lists resources to contact for "Lost and Found". While many corporations now use consolidated systems for their "Lost and Found" processes, other sites -- especially franchisees -- will require contacting the location where the rental was returned.
- Alamo Lost and Found
- Avis Lost and Found
- Budget Lost and Found
- Dollar Lost and Found
- Enterprise Lost and Found
- Hertz Lost and Found
- National Lost and Found
- Payless Lost and Found
- Sixt Lost and Found
- Thrifty Lost and Found