Rental car woes re full tank

Have you ever wondered if you really got a full tank of gas when you left the airport rental car parking area? Our recent experience with Avis at Milan, Italy’s, Malpensa airport is a classic case in point.

We rented a Citroen C3 from Aug. 24 to Sept. 16, ’03. When we picked up the car, the dashboard had six illuminated lights to indicate a full tank, but the first light to go dark did so after only about 20 kilometers. When our first fill-up resulted in gas mileage of only 12.6 kilometers per liter (that’s about 30 mpg), I thought that we were stuck with a gas-hungry monster in the land of overpriced fuel.

In fact, we averaged close to 40 mpg over the following seven fill-ups (and 4,000 kilometers), and it was painfully clear that Avis had stiffed us on our initial fuel supply. Nevertheless, we returned the vehicle with a full tank as instructed, irked but not concerned about a few bucks’ overcharge.

Unfortunately, our return of the car at 4:15 a.m. was a “key drop” situation before our very early flight, and no one from Avis was present to verify that the six lights on the fuel gauge were all illuminated after our final fill-up. Imagine my surprise when our credit card statement showed up a few weeks later with an Avis charge for $81, most of which I later discovered was for “refueling.”

Upon questioning Avis International, I was informed that it was the policy of Avis Italy to reject such refund claims without accompanying receipts for the final fill-up. They don’t bother to explain how documenting the date, location and amount of fuel verifies that the tank is full, but, hey, a policy is a policy. Needless to say, we had no receipt for the cash transaction at one of those stations where a fixed amount of fuel is dispensed for each euro inserted.

Avis did eventually refund half of the fee to us.

From now on, I will always insist on an initial “top off” before leaving the rental parking area and I will always get a receipt for the final fill-up.

Albuquerque, NM

ITN sent a copy of the above letter to Avis in Italy and received the following response.

With reference to your communication regarding the above-mentioned rental agreement, we firstly thank you for the time and trouble you have taken in bringing this matter to our attention.

We are very concerned for the inconvenience Mr. Havlen had and presume there must have been a sort of misunderstanding; all our rental agents inform customers that the rented vehicle should be returned refueled in order to avoid gasoline and refueling service charge.

On returning the car, the previous customer had informed our Milan Malpensa rental sales agent the car was refueled, and his statement was also confirmed by the general check we usually do to our cars before re-renting them; six illuminated lights indicated full tank.

We must admit, Mr. Havlen’s letter highlights that it is quite impossible to make a real check of tank status on cars equipped with electronic fuel indicator as Citroen C3 and Mercedes Smart (just for giving you two examples).

Anyway, Mr. Havlen has been already refunded in the amount of US$41 on Nov. 26, 2003, and we will also refund his credit card in the amount of €19.26 (near $24).

We trust this resolves the query, and if we can be of any further assistance in the future, please do not hesitate to contact us.

LUCIA MAZZI, Customer Service Manager, Avis Rent A Car Autonoleggio, Sede Centrale, Via Tiburtina 1231, Rome 00131, Italy