Budget Rental Car Breaks Down, Company Sends Truck For The Car But Strands Two Senior Citizens

In a very long twitter thread a customer who rented a car from Budget detailed how their vehicle broke down two and a half hours outside of Denver. There was no Uber or public transit. Budget Rent a Car sent a tow truck for the vehicle, but they weren’t allowed to ride in it. Instead two senior citizens “fighting altitude sickness added to pre existing respiratory challenges” were left stranded in the middle of nowhere to fend for themselves.

The couple had rented a Mitsubishi Outlander Sport at the Denver airport and made their way to a hotel in Golden, Colorado. They drove to Salida, Colorado about two and a half hours away. Then, on their way back,

The rental car began acting strangely. When I accelerated, the engine slowed, paused, and juddered. …The symbol of a large wrench appeared on the dash info screen. A loud “repair needed” warning. ..[We] actually made it as far as the eastward turn, when immediately ascending into the first mountain pass, the car began to shimmy and shake and lost acceleration and power. A bright warning light began flashing on the screen next to the wrench : “Check Engine Soon”.

They pulled off the highway and called Budget’s roadside assistance number. They were placed on hold, transferred around, and – they say – finally were told that a tow truck would be dispatched from Aspen and would take four to six hours.

There was some confusion about what to do next. It was suggested they could leave the car and take a reimbursable Uber, but then the couple says Budget determined the ride would be too long to do that. Budget apparently told them “that it ‘appeared’ that the replacement car had been ordered.”

The car managed to make it to Buena Vista, and they pulled into a coffee shop to wait. Not content to rely on Budget they searched for their own options but found none.

The tow truck did eventually arrive however. The driver refused to take them with him (‘hitchhikers’) for insurance reasons.

No one came from Budget. They found a room at a Best Western two miles away and paid a coffee shop employee to drive them there.

They began calling Denver limo companies to see if anyone would drive out to get them. Most refused, but one finally accepted the job for the next day. Their total trip time 29 hours. They never heard from Budget again, except for this:

Rental car companies don’t assume a duty of care for you when their vehicle breaks down. In fact they’ll attempt to ascertain if it’s your fault and expense.

It’s easy to be lulled into complacency in a world of Uber, Lyft and smartphones that no matter where you go you can get somewhere else at the push of a button. But that’s not so everywhere. Be aware when driving in less traveled areas that there may not be convenient backup options. Know what yours might be, and get creative.

At least this couple didn’t rent from Hertz. They still have their freedom.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Hertz was already in the toilet. Now I just added Budget to my “Do Not Do Business” list.

  2. The person who tweeted this called out Taylor Lorenz,.. lol

    What is Taylor gonna do other than dox the CEO of budget or the one who took her call?

  3. I don’t understand how this is Budget’s fault. It seems like they are very lucky that Budget didn’t bill them for a tow truck.

    Are they AAA members? When I’ve needed a tow, AAA tow drivers have always given me a lift to wherever they were taking the car.

    The reality is these people were driving across mountains and the plains. Yes, there are some cities out there but there are also some sparsely populated areas.

    Some places in Colorado are very difficult to reach because you have to drive around mountains, even if the distance is only 20 or 30 miles. In fact, another 20 or so minutes west/northwest and they would have been in the middle of no-where without any cell phone service.

    I’ve been to Buena Vista and Salida. The cities are about 20 minutes apart from each other. Neither are podunk towns. There are several hotels in both cities. Chaffee Shuttle is a FREE local ride-sharing and public bus that takes folks free of charge to several towns. 5 seconds on Google would have found them.

  4. Similar thing happened to me on Alligator Alley. I waited over 7 hours in the Florida sun for a tow. They told me I had a replacement car and the tow driver would transport me. I was delivered to a repair facility with no car. At that point I Ubered to my destination. They actually had the nerve to send me a bill for the flat tire but later dismissed it and reimbursed me for the rental cost.
    Lesson learned was always check the trunk for a jack and a spare.

  5. “fighting altitude sickness added to pre existing respiratory challenges”

    Give me a break. BOTH of them?

    Perhaps they should have stayed home.

    I’m not defending Budget, but I can spot whiners a mile away.

  6. Sounds like the customers should get free service and erase the bill for their troubles. What do you think?

  7. No jail time is considered a win. This is the current state of the rental car world.

  8. I was going to make a joke about getting a ride back in the police car with a Hertz rental

  9. Cars break. It happens. Budget should have brought them another car and swapped it out. Simple and done. Give them a small credit for the inconvenience of not providing them a reliable vehicle. You can bet your sweet a$$ that Budget will get some credit from the manufacturers for the vehicle’s down time in repair.

    That’s customer service and how you can situations like this.

  10. Instead two senior citizens “fighting altitude sickness added to pre existing respiratory challenges”

    And they go driving up in Colorado. Maybe they are better off in a hospital ward, they have zero common sense.

  11. “Why is Budget under any obligation to transport a replacement car to them?”

    Um, going out on a limb here, but I suspect it’s maybe because they didn’t get what they paid for.

  12. A few years ago I rented from Sixt in Switzerland. As I was arriving at our destination the car started to smoke. I called Sixt and they agreed to send out a tow truck but it would be about 12 hours (which was ok).

    The tow truck driver arrived and insisted that I had to drive the vehicle onto the flatbed truck on the very steep hill where we were parked. Visions of me jumping over the tow truck were fortunately fantasy and not reality.

    We drove for about 20 min to a car dealership. A Sixt representative met me there with keys to a new vehicle they had just purchased for us. Everything was good.

    Three things that I believe saved us here:

    We purchased every form of car insurance they offered. I had heard too many horror stories. Maybe they intentionally gave us a car ready to break down, but I doubt it.

    The rental was a van for 4 weeks. The price was roughly a mortgage payment. They didn’t want to lose that revenue after one day.

    They didn’t want a negative review.

    If we had been stranded somewhere I’m sure they would have transported us.

    The above is how I would expect things to be handled. You rent a car and you expect it to be maintained impeccably, not in need of serious repairs (in this case likely caused by the person renting before us). Anyone who seriously wonders why a car rental company should be responsible for the maintenance of its cars seems to not understand the value proposition of renting a car.

  13. @LK: But what if they were responsible for the issues through some sort of careless driving or otherwise damaging it? I would love for the rental car company to take the hit every time I have an issue but, in my experience, they always say I’m responsible.

  14. In 30 years of driving, I’ve never needed a tow truck. Never had an accident, a mechanical breakdown or a flat tire. I had two incidents with rental cars in the same month. In both cases, a tire on my Hertz rental went flat. Both times, Hertz roadside assistance was useless with long waits and no answers. I have AAA membership.

    The first time it took 3 hours for AAA’s dispatched tow truck to come out and put my spare tire on. I then drove it to the tire shop recommended by Hertz and paid $200 for an identical brand new tire to be on the rental. I didn’t want to deal with Hertz in the event they said it was my fault.

    The second time I had a flat tie at 8 pm. Again, I couldn’t reach Hertz roadside. AAA was estimating 2 am before a tow truck could arrive. I ended up just googling the number of the closest tow truck operator. When I called they said they would come out in 10 minutes. I paid $80 out of pocket, towed the car to Hertz at the airport and returned it a day early. Hertz was kind enough not to charge me for returning a car with a damaged tire and a mostly empty tank of gas.

    At the end of the day, there is a lot of personal responsibility in these situations and an element of survival of the fittest.

    The Budget customers drove a rental car more than 2 hours/100 miles from their original location and more than 2 hours and 40 minutes/151 miles through mountains and vast stretches of sparsely populated areas, which include some of the highest elevation areas of the United States.

    I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect that Budget was just going to come rescue them with a snap of the fingers. Especially when, like every summer, there is likely a rental car shortage in Colorado during the peak summer tourism season.

  15. I wonder what the Chase Sapphire Reserved or similar cards would cover in such situations.

    The tow truck driver refused to take them?

    This makes me thankful nothing similar has happened to me in 44 years of driving.

  16. Yes, yes, we know, we know… now go back to watching Wheel of Fortune grandpa.

    FNT Delta Diamond says:
    June 27, 2022 at 3:35 pm

    In 30 years of driving, I’ve never needed a tow truck. Never had an accident, a mechanical breakdown or a flat tire. I had two incidents with rental cars in the same month. In both cases, a tire on my Hertz rental went flat. Both times, Hertz roadside assistance was useless with long waits and no answers. I have AAA membership.

    The first time it took 3 hours for AAA’s dispatched tow truck to come out and put my spare tire on. I then drove it to the tire shop recommended by Hertz and paid $200 for an identical brand new tire to be on the rental.

  17. Sounds like they should have booked a commercial tour. The mountains teach harsh lessons to all comers, hikers and motorists alike

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