An Edmonton businessman is warning Olympic visitors to beware of getting gouged by car rental companies. Jim Galpin was recently presented with a $1,100 bill to repair a windshield chip on a Vancouver rental car, a cost he believes is grossly inflated.
"I thought it was ridiculous," Galpin said in an interview. "I'm concerned that charges for damages like this could be a real lucrative revenue generator — when you have the number of people who are coming into Vancouver in the next few weeks over the Olympic period."
Galpin rented a Kia Rio from a Richmond, B.C., franchise of Budget Car and Truck Rentals in November. He said the booking agent told him a courier would deliver the car to him at Vancouver's south terminal, where his flight was arriving.
'I thought it was ridiculous.' — Jim Galpin, Budget customer, on $1,100 repair bill
He said he was told to return the car to the terminal when he finished with it, and it would be picked up later.
"I said, 'I don't need to bring it in to be checked or anything?' 'No,' they said, 'just leave the keys and we'll pick it up.' I thought it was a little strange, but I've rented from Budget before and I thought, 'OK, if that's the way they do it.'"
After dropping off the car, Galpin was about to fly out of Vancouver, when Budget called, informing him the windshield was damaged.
"I was very suspicious," he recalled. "I thought this was very strange. I drove the car for two days. There was nothing on the windshield."
Galpin later told franchise manager David Chang that Budget must be mistaken. Chang then sent Galpin a picture showing a tiny chip in the windshield, with no cracks, below the driver's eye line.
"I almost fell off the chair," Galpin said. "I thought, what on Earth? I couldn't even find the thing for a few minutes."
Still, he was resigned to paying for a chip repair.
"I thought how chintzy is that? But if that's what they want to do, fine. Bill me $25 or $30 or whatever it is. Lesson learned — I will never rent from you again."
Then Chang then informed him the entire windshield needed to be replaced, at a cost $1,000, plus tax.
Customer fully responsible: manager
"Mr. Galpin did not purchase any coverage with Budget Rent a Car and he is fully responsible for anything that happened to the vehicle," David Chang wrote in an email to the Better Business Bureau, where Galpin has filed a complaint.
Chang gave a written breakdown of the estimated repair cost, totalling $1,110.26.
Galpin said he is covered for rental-car damage through his Alberta vehicle insurance policy. But instead of making a claim, he is simply refusing to pay the bill.
"I think this matter is absurd," Galpin wrote in an email to Chang. "There is no way I should be charged for the cost of a windshield replacement on this vehicle and I have no intention of paying this cost."
Galpin believes Budget is trying to take advantage of him.
"You know, they only get so much revenue from renting a vehicle, but if you're able to pull this off, with a little chip you can't see, it could be very lucrative," he said.
CBC News surveyed windshield repair outlets Crystal Glass and Speedy Auto Glass, which quoted a price of $25 to $60 to repair a small chip with no cracks. The repair shops also estimated a windshield replacement on a Kia Rio should not cost more than $750.
"I think [the Budget outlet] could have picked up an extra $1,000 or $1,100 in revenue and never bothered replacing the windshield — or just spent the $25 or whatever it is to do the chip repair and kept the rest."
CBC News tried to contact Chang and CEO Bill Ung, who run several Budget franchise outlets in B.C.'s Lower Mainland under The Phelps Group, but they didn't respond.
Records from the Better Business Bureau show more complaints have been filed about Budget agencies than any other car rental company in the Vancouver area — 66 in the last three years. In nine recent complaints to the bureau about car rental companies, the consumers claim they were overcharged for damage.
In one case last April, involving a Budget outlet at the Vancouver airport, the customer complained of being billed $575 for a small chip on a windshield.
A spokesperson for the Insurance Corporation of B.C. said the government-owned insurance company would never pay for a windshield replacement if all that was needed was a chip repair.
"Those kind of claims are almost never brought to us," Adam Grossman said. "If they were, we would go back to the rental car company and tell them what we think the damage costs and work on behalf of our customers that way."
Grossman advised visitors renting cars for the Games to make sure they have full insurance to cover any damage claims. He said people often don't realize they are already covered in their home province or country for car rentals, if they have optional coverage on their own vehicle. Many people also have coverage through their credit cards, he said.
"You should be asking your insurance company whether you are already covered and certainly compare it to what is being offered directly by the rental car company," said Grossman.
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"The value of having [your own] insurance is that you don't end up in situations like this. If you are unfortunate enough to have a claim against you, then at least there's an insurance company there to represent you during that claim."
Chang had encouraged Galpin to contact his credit-card company to see if it would cover the bill. Instead, Galpin cancelled his credit card to try to stop Budget from putting the charge through.
"He was kind of pushing me — to phone my credit-card company to see if I had the coverage under there.
"I guess you know if you can put it through on your credit card and your insurance pays for it, then they figure the customer isn't out. But, I just don't think it's right."
No comment from Budget
CBC News asked the corporate head office of Avis Budget in the U.S. for an interview but received an email reply instead, indicating damage claims at Budget franchises are not the corporation's responsibility.
"Licensees own, maintain and insure their own fleet," wrote an Avis Budget spokesperson. "As such, they subrogate damages independently of the corporation. We cannot comment on their behalf but we have put Mr. Galpin in touch with the licensee."
Several consumer websites also list complaints about damage charges from rental car companies, but most of those cases are in the U.S. Consumer advocates on those sites recommend people take their own pictures of rental vehicles if they drop them off at remote locations or after hours.
Galpin hopes his experience will serve as a cautionary tale for international visitors to Vancouver during the Olympics.
"I would think that the people of Vancouver or certainly the Vancouver tourism people would be a little upset if they knew this type of thing went on," Galpin said.