When I rented a car at the Tulsa airport, I knew I was dealing with an officious company when I told the clerk my phone number and said she needed two.
“I only use a mobile phone,” I lied.
“We need two. It’s policy. In case you don’t return the car.”
(“I could just give you a fake number,” I thought.) I gave her an old number.
Then she demanded a street address.
“But my credit card goes to my P.O. box,” I said. I only give out my post office box when I’m dealing with strangers away from home. It’s even on my driver’s license.
“It’s policy,” she said. “In case you–”
“Steal the car?” I finished. “I could just give you a fake one.” I really said it this time.
“They make me take it,” she confided. She was young and sweet, probably wanted a nap, and all she was missing was a wad of chewing gum to smack. I smiled and we laughed together. I couldn’t blame her for this invasion of my personal details. She was merely the legally ill-advised foot soldier.
We plowed through a few more options (decline CDW, I said, since my credit card covers it; yours probably does, too). Then:
“Are you going to pre-pay gas or fill up yourself?”
“I’ll fill up myself.”
“Then you have to bring the receipt for gas back with the car and show it to the attendant who checks it in.”
“What! That’s new! Why? That seems crazy!”
“Yeah, it’s kind of a new policy because people were filling up the tanks with other fluids.” She jerked her thumb toward the Dollar desk. “They’re doing it, too.”
“Really? I hadn’t heard that. Wouldn’t messing up the engine of your rental car be illegal? Isn’t that why you take my credit card?”
“Yeah, and they just need proof that you filled up with gas,” she said.
“It sounds like it ought to be a matter for the police instead.”
She shrugged. I signed. Vexed as I was by this triple presumption of guilt by Thrifty Rental Car, and as annoyed as I am to be forced, DMV-style, to prove my innocence through unnecessary paperwork, I needed the car I had reserved. I’ll assume other annoyed customers like me submit for similar reasons.
“This makes me just want to use Avis next time,” I said with an outward laugh.
She wrinkled her nose. “Yah, but we’re cheaper.”
Down at the pick-up desk, I asked a second employee how long this rule had been in place.
“More than a year,” she said, before plunging into an unasked-for explanation. “It’s for your own protection. It’s the only way to make sure the gas tank is actually full because the gauge isn’t always accurate. We get a lot of businessmen who drive around and don’t fill up but the needle’s still on full.”
Not only was this second explanation wormy — so which was the real reason? — but it also made no sense. (Whenever the phrase “for your convenience” appears, you can bet it’s to mask the real reason, which always benefits the company instead. When you hear that, scrutinize.) And in this case, having a receipt would not prove the tank was full, only that gas was purchased at some point. I was given no time parameters for when I’d have to get that receipt, after all.
“That’s funny. The girl inside told me it was because customers are fling the tanks with other things.”
She frowned. “Oh. She wasn’t supposed to tell you that.”
Update: I’m hearing reports that Avis does this now, too. Which other renters also do? Update to that update: That Avis demand was just a rumor. Looks like Thrifty/Dollar stands alone.
Update 2: When I returned the car, the clerk didn’t ask to see it. She also didn’t check the mileage or the fuel gauge. Her computers were down so she virtually waved me through.