ECCC Was Fun, Hertz Was Not

We just got back from Emerald City Comic Con and had a fantastic time. As a huge Buffy fan I enjoyed meeting Julie Benz and Charisma Carpenter and their panel with Clare Kramer was a highlight of the show for me. They seemed to be having a fantastic time joking and laughing with each other. I also found some great deals on graded comics and got to listen to Stan Lee speak again, which is always a treat.

What wasn’t a treat was my experience with Hertz. I feel fortunate to have survived the trip to Seattle, despite Hertz’ efforts. Here’s what happened.

We decided to head to ECCC on Thursday, so we could spend a day enjoying Seattle and resting up for the con rather than driving for four hours and then diving in. We intended to leave before noon so we could get to Seattle before rush hour, so more than three weeks before our departure I reserved a van for 10:00 am that Thursday. We decided to get a van to accommodate five con goers and all the attendant cosplay and other supplies. Godzilla costumes are large, let me tell you. I rented from Hertz because they were $200 cheaper than some of the other companies I had rented from before. Now I understand why Hertz was so much cheaper. You really do get what you pay for.

Thursday morning I got a call from the Hertz office in Tigard that the van was being driven up from Eugene and would be an hour or so late. I was surprised that they hadn’t done a better job of planning ahead but that still left us enough time to leave for Seattle when we wanted to so I didn’t think much of it. The van arrived during the window they gave me and they turned it over to me quickly. Perhaps too quickly. They told me as I walked to the van that the low-pressure light was on but they had filled up the tires and assured me everything was fine. They said the light would go out after a couple of miles. The guy behind the counter also told me that the van had only a third of a tank of gas left but that we could bring it back with the same amount of gas in it. Cool.

We were all packed up so I drove home, loaded all five con-goers and our stuff and headed to Seattle. We got all the way there just fine, although the low-pressure light never went off. I just assumed that the gauge was faulty since Hertz told me they had checked everything out and the tire was fine. However, on Saturday night the valet desk at the hotel called me to tell me the tire was flat. I called Hertz for assistance and they offered to send someone out to put the spare on for $80. They said the charge would “probably” be refunded at the desk. Rather than counting on Hertz’ promise I called AAA.

I must point out that AAA and Jeff at the valet desk at the Paramount Hotel were fantastic. AAA arrived before they promised and Jeff worked with us to get their truck down to where the van was parked. Jeff also told me to wait in the lobby while he kept an eye out for AAA. Jeff also called Hertz on my behalf and gave me a service number to call. Both AAA and the Paramount Hotel Seattle were amazing. We always stay at the Paramount and we certainly will continue to do so after my experience with them this weekend.

Anyway, the first time I called Hertz they told me they did not recommend I drive back to Portland on the spare tire. The only office that was open Saturday night or all of Sunday was at SeaTac and Samantha, the rep, told me it was open 24 hours. I told her that I wouldn’t be going to SeaTac that night and told her I’d call back to arrange a vehicle exchange. After hanging up with her I Google Mapped the drive to SeaTac and changed my mind. To me, being Portland based, SeaTac is far away but it was only a 20 minute drive from our hotel. I figured it would be better to do that Saturday night rather than dealing with it on Sunday. We had early morning autographs to get (hello John Barrowman and Alex Kingston!) and we had to check out of the hotel so I didn’t want to deal with daytime I-5 traffic on top of all that. This turned out to be a very good call as Alex Kingston was delayed getting to her booth due to I-5 north traffic.

I called Hertz back, gave the new rep the case number, and told him I’d like to exchange the car at SeaTac. He put me on hold to arrange it. When he came back he told me that the location was closed. I asked him how that was possible since the first rep told me it was open 24 hours. (I did not quote Steven Wright at him, “You mean it’s open 24 hours, but not in a row?” A missed opportunity, I now realize.) He said he must have reached a back office and put me on hold to try again. He came back and told me they had 19 vehicles in the same class and that I could go exchange the van. Remember, I had five people plus costumes plus luggage plus an accumulation of cool loot we got at the con. I tried calling the office directly to confirm that they had cars in that class but was stonewalled with a flurry of automated menus. With (another) shaky promise from Hertz in hand I drove out to SeaTac to try to get a road-worthy vehicle for the trip home.

I got to SeaTac and the Hertz return area. It was a huge lot with lots of parked cars and no people. Uh oh. I got out of the car and found a sign saying that if you have issues, you should see the Hertz desk on the fifth floor. OK. I found the escalators and ascended into a windy, concrete jungle with deserted buildings on both sides. I thought, “Am I being punked?” as I wandered the area, trying to figure out where a Hertz counter would be. Fortunately I found it, and amazingly there was a line of exhausted and/or pissed off people at the Hertz counter at midnight. A very patient guy named Chris manned the counter. Potential renter after potential renter left Chris’ line pissed off that the prices they were promised online were not being honored at the desk, or at some other price related issue. Every person ahead of me in line left unhappy, although one gave in and rented a car for one night for over $100, if I overheard right, just so she could get home. Yeah, I was eavesdropping, but hey it was late and I was standing right behind each of these conversations.

In the seating area there was an elderly couple who were also very upset. The woman finally said, “Oh, forget it, they don’t give a shit about anyone anyway. Let’s just take a cab.” I don’t know what had set them off but witnessing these experiences did not fill me with hope of getting a suitable vehicle for the return trip.

Finally, after midnight I got to the front of the line. As I said Chris was very patient and showed me a couple of vehicles. I decided on one, I forget the make now, and he started on the paperwork. Then he asked where I was going to go with it and I told him I would be returning it to the Tigard OR office. He said, “Oh, wait, I can’t rent either of these cars to you then. They’re both brand new.” So then he searched for — what, a suitably old car to rent? I don’t know if it’s standard practice to only rent old vehicles to people who are going out of state. Seems strange to me. Anyway he looked and the only vehicle big enough that he was willing to rent was a Toyota Highlander. He said he had to charge me a $20 upgrade fee, which I found a bit outrageous since I was only upgrading because their original vehicle was defective. Also the rep on the phone said they had 19 vehicles in the same class. But I chose not to fight that battle for $20 and said OK. Chris finished the paperwork and sent me on my way. Chris did not mention anything about gas fees or the implications of gas levels on exchanged vehicles.

The Highlander did indeed seat 8, as Chris said, but the storage space was somehow less than the Chrysler Town and Country that we started with. I think the under-seat storage in the T&C was missed. On the way home we crammed that Highlander full of people and costumes and stuff. One in our party slept on the Godzilla costume’s tail on the way back because she had to wrap it around herself in order to get it in the vehicle. But the Highlander got us back to Portland safely. It bobbed like a boat sometimes but overall had a very smooth ride.

This morning I returned the Highlander to the Tigard office. I was hoping for some sort of accommodation on the rate. You know, maybe the “hey, sorry we put your family in mortal danger” discount. But nope. They offered a half-hearted apology after I explained what happened. Then they tried to charge me over $90 for gas. I had been polite and patient until then but that did not make me happy. I argued that I had brought back the Highlander with more than half a tank of gas, and that I’d only used a quarter of a tank of gas to get the Town and Country to Seattle, so I assumed that would be fine. I also pointed out that the clerk at their SeaTac office did not say anything to me about a gas fee or offer to have me prepay. I argued and argued but the guy behind the counter (with no name tag) did not relent, so I took the keys back to go fill up.

I brought the Highlander back and got the bill. It was still $100 more than their original quote, so I looked it over when the guy handed me the receipt. They charged me for four days for the vehicle upgrade! I remained calm and asked why they had charged me for four days for a vehicle I had only had for a day and a half. And by the way, I would have returned the vehicle Sunday night but of course that was not an option as their office is closed Sundays. After calling a manager over they refunded me $40 of the $80 upgrade fee.

In short, Hertz offered terrible service (other than Chris at SeaTac), no concern for their driver’s safety, no sense of personal pride or accomplishment, broken promises, and terrible vehicles. I will NEVER rent Hertz again and I suggest you look for alternatives as well, even if their online prices seem to be low. Apparently Hertz owns Dollar and Thrifty too so I will avoid them as well.

In case you’re wondering, I can offer brief reviews of the vehicles. The Chrysler Town and Country wasn’t bad. It actually handled better than the Chrysler 300 we had in Hawaii and it got pretty good gas mileage. It also had lots of storage, which was a key for us on this trip. I will say that the AAA guy sighed when he saw it was a Chrysler. They have the spare tire mounted underneath the middle of the chassis, which makes it a real pain to get to, particularly in a strangely sloped underground parking garage. “Stupidest design ever” were his exact words.

The Toyota 2014 Highlander had more power but I was surprised that the seats were manually adjusted rather than power. Not a big deal, but I didn’t even know they made vehicles without power seats anymore. The ride was comfortable but the rear view was difficult, even setting aside all the stuff we had back there. The rear view mirror barely fit the rear windshield and there were some big blind spots. I had to be careful changing lanes. I would hate to drive this vehicle in downtown Portland where bikers and pedestrians are plentiful.

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Roy Z

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