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Budget car rental cleaning fee problem: That's not my vehicle!

After Budget finds animal hairs in Bernard Sia's rental car, it charges him a $125 cleaning fee. But Sia doesn't have a pet -- and that's not the only problem.

Budget charged my credit card a fee of $125 after finding animal hair in a rental car that I returned. I do not have any pets, and the people I stayed with on my trip to Austin, Texas, do not have any pets.

I asked for a damage report. It is not clear how they determined that what they found was animal hair. Additionally, they made the claim based on less than 10 hairs. Don't you think the fee seems excessive, considering what they found?

Bernard Sia, Shelby Township, Mich.

You're right, something is not quite right with this Budget cleaning fee.

For starters, the damage report has several photos that show several tiny white strands in the vehicle. A Budget employee could have vacuumed them away during the cleaning. Are they animal hairs? I have no idea, but the point is, there weren't that many.

But there's another, even bigger problem. When I asked you to review the bill again to make sure they were charging the right renter, you discovered a discrepancy that should have immediately made Budget zero out your cleaning fee. It appears the company had sent you a bill for a car other than the one you rented.

You can prevent unnecessary cleaning fees by taking before and after photos of your car and ensuring that you clean the vehicle before bringing it back to the location. But if a car rental company sends you a bill for the wrong car, what then? Well, this is a good reminder to keep your car rental records and, when you're taking your pictures, to get a shot of the VIN -- the vehicle identification number -- which you can normally find on the driver's side of the vehicle on the dashboard near the windshield. This isn't the first time a car rental company has apparently sent a bill to a customer for the wrong car.

While we're on the topic of cleaning fees for pets, it's definitely a thing. Budget has a reputation for charging these fees, which can go as high as $450. So make sure that if you're renting a car with anything that sheds -- a dog, cat or even a coat or blanket -- that you clean your rental thoroughly before returning it.

But as I've already said, this looks like a case of mistaken identity. So an appeal to one of the Budget executives I list on my consumer advocacy site,, might have convinced the company to drop its bill.

I contacted Budget on your behalf. It reviewed the bill and refunded the $125 cleaning fee.

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps consumers solve their problems. Email him at [email protected] or get help by contacting him on his site.

© 2024 Christopher Elliott


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