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November 5, 2018

Official Looking Mailings Continue

Filed under: Autos — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:51 am

This tried and true gimmick is as old as the U.S. mail probably. Send advertising in an envelope masquerading as official mail from a government agency and recipients are more likely to open it. We’ve seen debt collectors and even political candidates utilize this sleazy scheme.

Now comes this official-looking notice about your car:

notification envelope

It comes from the “Vehicle Notification Department” in a window envelope that says it is “personal and confidential.” While many people may presume this to be junk mail, some may believe this from the state department of motor vehicles or perhaps is a recall notice from the manufacturer.

Inside, the truth is revealed.


notification letter

Scroll down the letter.

The letter inside looks pretty official and suggests that I have failed to renew my auto service contract or warranty and thus I could lose coverage. Considering that MrConsumer drives a 1996 Honda Accord, it has been decades since that all lapsed, this letter is nothing more than a bull feathers sales pitch.

Only in the smallest print on the page does it state “This is an advertisement to obtain coverage.”

Some people may have had a bit of a fright when seeing the envelope and immediately opened it … just to be fooled.

• • •

May 7, 2018

Congratulations, You’ve Won (NOTHING) at Car Dealer

Filed under: Autos,Sweepstakes — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:07 am

Have you ever noticed the way some car dealers advertise to get you into the showroom? They often promote a variety of sweepstakes with terrific prizes.

One such car dealer in North Carolina recently ran a “$25,000 Monte Carlo Game.” They sent out lottery-like tickets inviting recipients to scratch off the boxes and if they got a match, they would win between $100 and $25,000.

Buick Scratch Off

A consumer who got the mailing scratched off the various boxes as shown above, and the second row matched with three 7’s on both sides. It looked like he won $5,000, so he called the dealer and was told to come right down to the showroom. When he got there, there were a whole lot of other people huddled around a prize table that had been set up. The consumer was then told that he had to check the confirmation code on the board to see if it matched, and of course, it did not. He was then given the bad news that he did not win the $5,000. And they pointed to a small asterisked disclosure that said as much:



Our consumer rightly felt that he had been scammed and complained to the state Attoney General and the consumer reporter at the local TV station. WRAL ran a story about the promotion. They spoke to a lawyer representing the car dealer who asserted that the mailing was not misleading, but could have been misunderstood by recipients.

Right now, the North Carolina Attorney General is investigating seven dealerships in the area who are promising everything from cash to new cars.

• • •

February 20, 2017

Uncommon Way to Save on Rental Cars

Filed under: Autos,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:17 am

A friend recently called MrConsumer to complain about high rental car rates in Florida, which used to be available at giveaway prices for years. Not anymore. He was seeing rates in the $500-range for two weeks in St. Petersburg/Clearwater, Florida. Yikes!

He then saw one rate at Budget for $458 — a bargain by comparison — and grabbed it.

PIE reservation

Some bargain.

MrConsumer went to checking around to see if he could find a lower rate. What infrequent travelers may not know is that there are coupon codes and rental car group discounts available if you know where to look. You’ll find these codes and coupons at places like warehouse clubs (no membership required generally to reserve, but you may be asked for a membership number at the rental counter), at membership clubs like and AAA, and through various other organizations.


Budget coupon

Using those codes only yielded prices in the low $400s. To save a lot more, you have to use a technique that rental car companies don’t advertise.


Instead of picking up the car at the airport, get it at an in-town location. You can still drop it off at the airport on the way home for convenience and not pay any airport fees.

Going through the pricing exercise again, selecting Clearwater, FL instead of PIE (the airport) as the pickup location, yields dramatic savings.

downtown prices

$291 instead of $458! Of course, you have to get downtown from the airport. But, in this case, it is under three miles away and less than a $10 taxi ride.

These techniques won’t work in all cases, but as you shop for a car rental, give it a try. And don’t forget to keep checking back to see if prices have dropped. In most cases, you can cancel the old reservation without penalty and just make a new one at the lower price.

• • •

October 24, 2016

At Payless You Could Pay More Because of Dirty Tricks

Filed under: Autos,Travel — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:44 am

Consumer World reader Marcie S. is one determined consumer. She says she was ripped off by Payless Car Rental, which is a low-priced subsidiary of the Avis Budget Group. She was determined to get satisfaction not just for herself, but for the hundreds or perhaps thousands of other consumers who may have had similar problems with them.

Marcie says when she rented a car from Payless, they did something unusual:

Payless Car Rental pre-charges the customers’ credit card for a full tank of gas, stating the charge will be reversed once the car is returned with a full tank of gas. Upon return, they inspect the car and if the gas tank is full they note it on the return receipt. They do not automatically reverse the charges. Rather, you are directed to call 1-800-Payless where they open up a customer service ticket. There, the claim is classified as a fuel charge “dispute.”

They reply via ticket that they require ALL of the following to be met in order for your fuel charge “dispute” to be considered for review:

1) A physical receipt from the gas station noting the address and number of gallons purchased;
2) Gas station must be located within 5 miles of rental drop-off;
3) The receipt must have a time and date stamp. They will only accept the claim if the purchase was made within 30 minutes of drop-off time.

These requirements are non-contractual and extremely unlikely to have been met, especially with no knowledge of said requirements beforehand. They will NOT accept the rental return with the fuel reading marked “FULL” as proof. The ticket is then closed. There is no recourse and no way to escalate this situation.

Wow. Could Marcie’s experience be unique and came about as the result of a rogue agent’s actions? Apparently not. There are hundreds of complaints online about Payless, which average consumers never see until it is too late. Here are some of their alleged practices:


  • Issuing reservations at one price, but charging more at the time of rental;
  • Cramming charges, such as optional insurance, onto bills after the customer has declined the coverage;
  • Cramming charges such as for roadside assistance onto bills without oral disclosure or permission;
  • Misrepresenting insurance charges as being required when in fact they are optional;
  • Failing to refund fuel deposits after representing that they will be credited upon return of the car fully fueled;
  • Failing to fully disclose fuel refilling requirements prior to rental;
  • Representing there was no charge for an additional driver, then assess such charges;
  • Representing that certain fees are refundable upon return of the vehicle when such is not the case;
  • Provide the customer with one receipt with a certain price, and subsequently provide a receipt with a higher price;
  • and many others…

    Many customers report they were charged hundreds of dollars more than they bargained for. Some would even call Payless’ actions bordering on criminal behavior.

    Marcie got her money back from her credit card company but she wasn’t going to let Payless keep ripping off customers. She was able to collect the complaints of other consumers, complained to state AGs without much success, organized a private Facebook group with over 250 members who had complaints, and searched dozens and dozens of law firms until she found one to take the case.

    Last month, two law firms filed a class action lawsuit against Payless, alleging many of the things mentioned above.

    The New York Times asked Avis Budget (Payless’ parent) to comment on the lawsuit, but they declined. But we welcome your views below.

    And to Marcie… we need more consumers like you who don’t take no for answer.

  • • • •

    February 22, 2016

    Sometimes There’s Good News in the Fine Print

    Filed under: Autos,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:05 am

    With minus nine degree weather in Boston last week, MrConsumer’s 1996 Honda Accord wasn’t so eager to start easily. I wondered if my battery was going bad, then again, it hadn’t been that long ago since it was replaced. Checking the receipt revealed that the battery was purchased at Autozone in mid-March 2013.

    A further check of the receipt revealed the warranty terms.


    Autozone receipt

    The battery, which cost about $119, had a five year warranty but provided for free replacement within the first three years if it was defective. Since we were now at the two years and 11 months mark, MrConsumer hightailed it over to Autozone to have it tested. After a few tense moments when they had difficulty connecting the tester, the readout said “bad battery.” Yeah!

    We went back in to process the warranty claim. Half expecting some type of snafu or some hidden charge to surface, I was treated to one pleasant surprise after another. They handed me back $4.10 in cash, explaining that the battery was cheaper today than what I paid three years ago. They pointed to a second receipt that popped out of the register good for a rebate of $20 (via gift card). And the worker said that he was giving me a free five year warranty on the replacement battery (rather than the more common practice of only getting the remaining time from the original battery).

    Wow. What great customer service! Hats off to Autozone in Medford, Massachusetts.

    • • •
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