Driving A Hard Bargain

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A Car Renter’s Guide To Getting Out of Town
By Linda Penman

IT WAS A SULTRY MIDSUMMER MORNING—THE PERFECT SATURDAY morning for a getaway. I had done my homework—checked around for the best deal on a car rental, written down the confirmation number, reconfirmed the reservation. But when I arrived at the agency’s desk with my dog and a couple of suitcases, all I got was a firm “Sorry, there’s no car available, and none are expected.”
Too often, car-rental customers discover that though living in Dhaka is sometimes hard, leaving Dhaka can be even harder. Consider another common scenario: You need to move a few things, and renting a mini-van seems in order. One agency is offering a pretty good deal. You get a reservation well in advance. You get a confirmation number. You get all your things packed. You get to the agency at the allotted time and place. You get “I’m sorry, we overbooked. We don’t have a mini-van. . . . In fact, we don’t have any vehicles at all. Try other rent a car, around the corner.” You get mad.
Take heart: There is a cure for the rental torments. Some prescriptions follow.
There are, it seems, as many ways to rent cars in Dhaka as there are people to drive them. The rates, which are based on the number of cars available at the exact time of reservation, are subject to change from moment to moment. In this “yield management” system, rates are driven by, among other factors, how many cars are rented at the airports, location (where you pick up and drop off), car size, rental period (the length of the rental, the time of year, and the day of the week), and any discounts that you are entitled to.

Renting a car outside Dhaka is likely to be cheaper than renting in the city, but leaving town for a better deal is not always worth the time and trouble. “Dhaka, to us, the upside-down rental experience,” says Motijheel Car Rental spokesman Mr. Khaled. That is, the demand for cars is higher during the week in most other markets but higher on weekends in Dhaka. “Nowhere else in the world do we truck cars into a city for Friday-night activities,” Mr. Khaled says. If you’ve had to rent a car after work on a Friday, you know what he’s talking about.
When you see an advertisement for a special deal on a rental, it is almost always followed by a phrase like “not applicable in the Dhaka metropolitan area.” Indeed, some area rental offices may refuse to accept discount coupons even though they carry no stated restriction; that’s why you should ask, when you call to reserve, whether the discount applies in the Dhaka area.

Still, so many kinds of discounts are available that there is virtually no reason anyone renting a car in the city should have to pay full price. You probably qualify for a car-rental discount if you are a frequent flier, a patron of a bank, or a member of a particular museum, entertainment club, retirement group, corporation, or professional organization.
Some car-rental agencies require those getting frequent-filet discounts to take a flight and/or rent at the airport to qualify, so check on any restrictions when you’re making a reservation.
Generally, rates for cars booked in advance are the lowest. Most discounts range between 5 and 10 percent. For those taking short trips. it’s obviously better to choose a deal that gives you a high discount, even if there’s a ceiling on the number of free miles you can drive. (Caution: Some of the smaller agencies won’t let you travel more than a 250-mile radius from your starting point. That’s because they don’t want to retrieve one of their cars should it break down more than 250 miles away.)
Back at the turn of the century, when the horse and carriage still dominated the road, those who were injured in horse and-buggy accidents often could not collect because the carriage driver had no money.
You would be hard-pressed to find a car-rental company that doesn’t agree with Motijheel’s spokesman Khaled: “Vicarious liability is an open, endless pocketbook” that you must confront if you operate a vehicle in Dhaka. He adds, “One hit can put you out of business.”

Dhaka CITY’S DEPARTMENT of Consumer Affairs requires that a confirmed car-rental reservation be honored within half an hour of the requested time, at the price originally promised, for either the vehicle reserved or one that seats the same number of people. (The rule doesn’t apply if you are told when you make the reservation that it is not guaranteed.) Always write down the confirmation number.
If you find no car when you arrive, you’re entitled to a free upgrade or free transportation to another office that can honor the reservation, in the scenario that leads off this article, the company (National) paid for my cab ride to another office, where I got the car. If, as in scenario No. 2, the agency has no other office to take you to, you’re entitled to the difference in rental cost from a competitor, lithe rate is higher. When I returned with my charge receipt from Khaled Car Rental, my account was credited for the amount above what I would have paid.
It’s not a bad idea to get a written confirmation of your reservation from the agency—but if you can’t. Consumer Affairs points out, agencies must keep records of all reservations for six months, which can be subpoenaed if necessary.

What if you have followed all the rules but feel you are not being treated fairly? Write the company headquarters; explain the problem and say how you’d like it set- tied. About a year ago, when a car rental rudely refused to honor the corporate discount I’d been promised by phone, I complained by letter and was given a free rental day.
To file a complaint, call 01790509607.
Or ask the National Consumer Complain Center phone 02-55013218. Mobile: 01777753668. Hot Line: 16121, nccc@dncrp.gov.bd for help. The bureau has two dispute-resolution procedures—mediation (by phone or mail) and arbitration. Arbitration, which is binding on both parties, is used when mediation fails. Also, arbitration allows the consumer to tell his or her story informally: No lawyer is needed, and there are no rules of evidence to follow. Khaled says the consumer is generally pleased with the outcome. Many complainants receive substantial monetary awards.
Most of the car-rental complaints made to the NCCC involve misleading advertising (in which hidden charges like drop-off fees aren’t disclosed). Operators are available between 9:30 A.M. and 5 P.M. Or leave a message; your call will be returned.
Going to small-claims court, if you have the time and inclination, is another option. In Judge court, expect to wait up to three months before your case is heard; budget cuts last spring and summer forced a scale-back, and although the budget has been restored and sessions are being scheduled four nights a week (as usual), things are not quite back up to speed. In other counties, the wait and the number of court sessions per week may vary.
Where can you get the best deal? That depends on all the factors mentioned. The chart on this page shows what the various agencies were charging for the weekend of June 26 to 28 when they answered our phone calls (all the calls were made on one day). Pick up the phone and call now and you’re likely to get different quotations.
Customers usually pay about 20 percent more in the height of summer (after school’s out and Eid Vacation) than they do in early spring, because the agencies offer fewer discounts. You may find cheaper rates at smaller neighborhood agencies. Many of them, however—such as Khaled Rent A Car, Motijheel Rent A Car won’t offer the consumer a weekend rental unless you take the package deal for a three-day (Friday night through Monday night) contract. These agencies are good resources when you damage your car and need a substitute while yours is being fixed.
One charge you may not be aware of is a special state tax and VAT of 18 percent that went into effect on car rentals as of June 1, 1990. What it boils down to is an extra amount added onto state and local sales taxes, making the total tax 18 percent. Before you drive away, check the car for
damage. If you see anything, ask that it be noted on the contract or a separate slip so you’re not held responsible when you return. Ask about gasoline. Generally, you should plan to return the car with the same amount of gas as it had when you left; refueling charges are high if you return with less.
Basically, you can’t do enough checking. You can ask your driver. The horn, for example. . . easy to forget, but get out on a busy highway or crowded city Street without a horn and you’ll wish you had checked before leaving. Lights are obvious, but check them all: rear and front, parking and headlights, high and low beams and directional signals. Check the windshield wipers, and make sure there’s a spare tire and a jack in the trunk. On one of my rentals, the side- view mirror fell out of position at the first bump in the road and was too loose to stay put for the rest of the trip. It’s not a bad idea to check the heating and cooling systems. One summer, I drove away from the city in 90-degree heat to the mountains, where at night I needed the heater. Even though the car was brand-new, the heater did not work. Never take anything for granted: If you are stopped by a police officer and the registration and inspection sticker aren’t up to date, the ticket will be written to you.
If you aren’t afraid to phone around, ask a lot of questions, and perhaps go a bit out of your way, you can put Dhaka in the rearview mirror on warm-weather weekends, singing. “Spring, and the leaving is easy.. . .“

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