It’s in the fine print


“We try harder”? I’ll be the judge of that!

This is a ‘consumer affairs’-style story that goes to the heart of why, even though the customer is supposedly “always right”, they can never win out against the fine print.

Two weeks ago I went down to Melbourne for a few days and hired a little car from Avis to get us about. On returning the vehicle to Melbourne Airport around 6:30pm on the Monday, I managed to leave my GPS case in the odd little slot between the upper and lower glovebox (who knew there were cars with two gloveboxes anyway!?).

Next day at around 11am I advised Avis in writing that I’d left the GPS case in the car. Three days later a representative from Avis at Melbourne Airport left me a voicemail, advising she’d been in contact with the customer who currently had the car but that they’d not found anything. She also said she’d not found a “GPS pouch” (my slightly dodgy original description, not hers) in their lost property, but to call her if I wanted to discuss further.

Point of contention #1: the whole “please call if you want to discuss further” thing was really just a shallow customer service platitude, wasn’t it? Other than to clarify my description of the GPS case – if only to ensure she actually understood what she was looking for – I’m not sure what point further discussion could possibly serve, particularly given that Clause 13 of Avis’ Terms & Conditions of Rental states:






Which leads me neatly into point of contention #2: I get that this is my fault. I’m normally so anal-retentive about thoroughly checking rental cars before handing the keys back, so who knows why I wasn’t this time. I also concede that I haven’t exactly lost the Crown Jewels, but it’s now more a matter of principle: I let Avis know within a reasonable timeframe that I’d inadvertently left something in the car. Despite the dodgy name I originally used for it, I clearly described its physical characteristics and told them exactly where I’d left it, yet somehow it still wasn’t found. And it’s that proper little gem of a term and condition, right there in Clause 13, that puts the kybosh on anyone thinking they can take a lost property matter further unless they can prove that a member of Avis’ staff was somehow negligent in the course of their job – and who’s ever going to be able to do that?

At any rate it’s something of a moot point. The number Rhonda gave me to call her on goes to a generic lost property voicemail when it isn’t answered (which is every time I’ve called it so far) and I’ve left multiple messages for Rhonda to call me back, none of which have since been returned more than a week after her invitation to discuss further. Who thinks it wasn’t a shallow customer service platitude now?

I understand that it wouldn’t be at all feasible for car rental companies to reimburse or otherwise compensate every customer who left something behind in one of their cars, but if Avis had adequate procedures in place then their customers’ carelessly forgotten belongings wouldn’t disappear into thin air and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. It would only take the most basic of checks on each vehicle as it was returned for there to be (in theory, at least) no question of missing property, interrogation of next customers or debate around who should be accountable. Indeed, where a customer advises of a lost item within 24 hours and that item can’t be found either in the vehicle, by the next customer or in the lost property, why shouldn’t the car rental company be held accountable? After all, it was they who had the earliest access to the contents of the vehicle after I returned it and there are surely only a very few possibilities:

  1. My GPS case left the vehicle of its own accord. Of course it didn’t, but let’s keep an open mind to all options.
  2. The Avis woman didn’t believe my claim and/or didn’t undertake any follow-up with the next customer. Possible but, I think, unlikely.
  3. The Avis woman didn’t believe the other customer’s confirmation that my GPS case wasn’t found in the car. Again unlikely but, even if that was the case, what could she have done about it anyway? Besides which, she was hardly likely to share that opinion with me.
  4. The other customer found my GPS case where I’d left it and either disposed of it or otherwise appropriated it for themselves. Entirely possible.
  5. Someone (possibly an employee of Avis) found my GPS case where I’d left it and either disposed of it or otherwise appropriated it for themselves. Also entirely possible.

As options go, I err towards one of the latter two as the most likely outcome – and note that I offered both ‘disposal’ and ‘appropriation’ as two possibilities, so it’s not exactly an accusation of any wrongdoing per se. But let’s face it – there simply aren’t that many ways this thing could’ve gone.

In the end, if the incredibly misaligned steering and rattling rear suspension of our rental vehicle was any indication, I’d be very surprised to learn that Avis undertakes any kind of substantial checks on vehicles when they’re returned, but surely they must at least do a quick superficial inspection for lost property and/or signs of unexpected wear and tear? If so, then they should’ve found and removed my GPS case and sent it straight to lost property, linking it to my rental of the vehicle as a reference. If they don’t undertake such checks, my first question is simple: why not? It also begs the question of how much other stuff that’s inadvertently left behind by their customers remains “lost” forever.

In any case, I believe Avis should be held accountable either way. I only signed up for this car because it was the smallest rental offering manual transmission that I could find and it came with the lowest quote. What we actually got was a gutless automatic which used far more fuel than a manual would’ve, which had such grossly misaligned steering that I had to maintain the wheel at a quarter turn to the left just to go straight ahead, which had an alarming intermittent rattle in the rear suspension and which, in the end, saw me incurring additional fees and charges that were 108% of the original quote. To now tell me they’re unable to locate an item which was plainly in the vehicle when I walked away from it, then offer no recourse to any form of compensation only adds insult to injury.

Nobody reads Terms & Conditions, we all know that. Everyone checks the box to say they have, but virtually no one ever does. To some extent, it doesn’t even matter. Even if I’d clearly read the Avis Terms & Conditions of Rental would I have baulked at Clause 13 and decided not to rent from them? Just because I objected to their position of non-accountability in the event of me inadvertently leaving something behind in their car, would I have rented from another company? It’s unlikely, to say the least.

They probably all have a Clause 13 to give their customers the finger with anyway.