A few years back, I was accused of stealing a rental car. Not to throw any particular rental car company under the rental car shuttle but Hertz in Las Vegas completely lost track of a vehicle I had never rented. After enough statements of “I never even arrived in Las Vegas due to a flight cancellation”, the local station manager walked onto the lot and located the “missing” car. Hertz could have made many hundreds of dollars over that timeframe if an employee of the location had used some basic critical thinking skills to determine I could not possibly return a car that was never checked out.
The whole experience with Hertz was one of the reasons I turned toward National’s Emerald Club instead. After all, no one likes to be accused of theft or being threatened with financial claims on a car never rented. And as an old techie, what type of Information Technology deficit did this reveal about Hertz? Didn’t those vehicle scans when leaving the parking lot really mean anything?
Rental Car Theft Really Does Occur
In fact, there's enough rental car theft that there's an entire industry related to the recovery of stolen rental cars. Not only have rental car companies added technology to cars in an event to protect theft, many of the policies enforced by the rental car companies are a result of loss prevention. There are reasons it's almost impossible to rent a car with cash, it's difficult to rent with a debit card, and the driver listed on the contract has to be present at the time of rental pickup.
We recently received an entertaining reminder that rental car theft does indeed occur, aided and abetted by information technology that doesn’t seem to have improved very much over the years. Ordinarily, rental car companies quickly notice that cars are missing. Then came the case of Vicki Lynn Smith.
Who’s Vicki Lynn Smith? She's the newest member of the global rental car Do Not Rent list, a resident of Williamsburg, Virginia who was recently caught with a rental car that had been stolen from Enterprise in December 2014. Here’s a quick timeline:
December 2014: A car is stolen from the Richmond Airport (RIC).
February 14/15, 2017: Enterprise realizes the car is missing.
We know you have questions and we’re always happy to help with answers!
Question: Isn’t December 2014 to February 2017 more than two years?
Question: Is it common for a rental car to stay in the rental fleet more than two years?
Answer: Not unless you’re Payless or another deep discounter.
Question: Enterprise’s IT systems never thought it was odd to have a vehicle unrented for 2+ years?
Answer: We wouldn’t say “never”. After all, the company did search for the vehicle in mid-February of 2017.
Question: If Enterprise didn’t know the vehicle was stolen, were they still paying for insurance on the vehicle?
Answer: Very likely. Ms. Smith was only charged with “Receiving Stolen Goods”.
Question: How did the police catch Ms. Smith?
Answer: Enterprise found the vehicle using the pre-equipped OnStar, which means the stolen vehicle was manufactured by General Motors. Enterprise may have paid for Ms. Smith’s OnStar service for multiple years …
Question: Did Ms. Smith steal the rental car?
Answer: We can’t say that she stole the car, only that she’s been “in possession of the vehicle since its disappearance”.
It’s fairly depressing that an industry willing to bill a customer for even the most modest violations of a grace period could somehow completely lose track of a vehicle for multiple years. But on a lighter note, we do have to laugh that despite many technology failures by the rental car firms, Ms. Smith might still be driving her “free” rental car today if the model were less technologically advanced!
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