Pricey ride? Renter disputes mileage charges

When Kurt Kroboth needed to rent a car for a two-day trip to Maryland and Norfolk, he decided against using any of the rental-car companies located at the airport and instead called Dennis Rental Cars on Pantops, which is close to Kroboth's home.

Kroboth emailed me his version of the transaction, which began when the woman with whom he spoke allegedly told him that "the rate was $19.95 a day for a compact car." There was no mention of mileage or any other charges.

When he went by to get the car on the evening of Monday, January 5, Kroboth claims, owner Dennis Minetos "quoted a rate, $43.10, which was two days at $19.95 plus tax." Again, Kroboth says there was no mention of a mileage charge, nor was one specified on the contract.

"In my experience in recent years, it's standard practice to rent cars by the day with unlimited mileage, so I wasn't surprised that no mileage rate was mentioned," he says. Kroboth had far to go– about 600 miles. "I would not have rented from a place that told me there would be a mileage charge," he says.

When he returned the car on Wednesday, January 7, he says. he got a nasty surprise. His bill came to $177– more than quadruple what he was expecting.

According to Kroboth, this was when he learned that in fact mileage was charged: 100 miles a day were free, but after that, the charge was 30 cents a mile. That meant that his 614-mile trip, with taxes, cost $134 more than he claims he was expecting to pay.

Minetos "insisted that this has always been his policy, and pointed to something on the contract under 'Mileage Allowed' which he said was a handwritten '100.'" On Kroboth's copy, however, that "was not legible." Furthermore, the line on the contract that says "Miles @ ____" was left blank.

Kroboth, whose credit card had already been billed for the original $43.10, refused to pay more. "I told him this was deceptive, that he was trying to change the terms of the rental agreement after the fact, that I would not pay the additional charge, and that I felt his claim would not hold up in court.

"He said, 'Okay, I'll see you in court.'"

The next week he received a letter with an itemized bill and a credit-card receipt for $134 from Melissa Crenshaw at Dennis, stating that they had charged him for the mileage he owed.

When Kroboth studied the new bill, he was startled to see that there was a crucial difference between it and the copy he'd been given on January 5, when he picked up the car. One new handwritten item had been added: It now read "Miles @ 30ยข."

The next day, according to Kroboth, he not only called Crenshaw to protest the charge, but took his copy of the contract (which I've seen) in to show her.

"She acknowledged that there was no mileage charge," he claims, "and then went to get Minetos, who came out and launched into a tirade... he again said he would see me in court."

Minetos declined to speak with me, but faxed a statement in which he claims that Kroboth was indeed informed, in his first call, that there was a charge for mileage after 100 miles a day; Minetos also states that he told Kroboth this himself.

"Dennis Rental Cars is sorry that Mr. Kroboth is angry. However, Dennis Rental Cars stands by the legal arrangement made [with Kroboth]," the fax says. The statement concludes by saying that if I had further questions, I would have to contact Minetos' attorney.

If these two end up in court, I'll let you know. In the meantime, I did some research and learned that if Kroboth had rented a compact car for two weekdays from either Avis or Hertz, he would have paid $123 30 percent less than what it cost him at Dennis. On the other hand, for trips of less than 100 miles a day, Dennis offers a less-expensive alternative.

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer, write her at 100 Second Street NW, 22902, or call 295-8700 ext. 406.