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Alamo Agrees to Change Car Rental Refill Fees

Times Staff Writer

Alamo Rent A Car will change the way it charges for refilling the gas tanks of its rental cars in an effort to meet standards proposed by the National Assn. of Attorneys General, a company spokeswoman says.

The move by Alamo, which is based in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., comes amid a series of lawsuits against rental car companies alleging that fuel charges are inaccurately calculated and inadequately disclosed. The new rental car industry guidelines from NAAG, an organization that has no law enforcement powers, were issued April 1 and called for prominent disclosure in advertisements of all mandatory gasoline fees.

Renters always have the option of filling the gas tank themselves before they return the car. With vehicles rented from the Big Four rental firms--Hertz, Avis, National and Budget--the renter thus can avoid the companies’ refueling charges. However, at Alamo and some smaller rental agencies a mandatory fuel charge has been levied regardless.

Asked to Choose

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As of May 1, Alamo’s mandatory $11.95 charge for half a tank of gasoline will no longer be required at any of its 82 U.S. offices, spokeswoman Liz Clark said. Instead, customers will be asked to choose between paying the flat fee or agreeing to return the car with as much gas as it had when it was rented. If the car comes back with less, the renter will be billed up to $1.95 a gallon for the refill.

The new system is already in use in California, Illinois and Hawaii, all of which have banned mandatory gas charges within the past year. Alamo is the nation’s fifth-largest car rental company and is the largest firm with mandatory charges.

Some Alamo clients, especially those traveling on business expense accounts, continue to pay the $11.95 fee and bring the car back nearly empty of fuel, Clark said. “The customer knows exactly how much the car is going to cost before he turns the key.”

The change was made to put the company “in accord with” the new NAAG guidelines, Clark said. But the guidelines, intended to serve as a model for state regulation of the industry, specify only disclosure and do not ask for eliminating of mandatory gas fees, said Art Weiss, a Kansas deputy attorney general who assisted in drafting them.

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“They may have decided it’s easier to make it an option than to advertise it,” Weiss said.

Three Alamo offices in Britain will retain the mandatory fuel charge, Clark said.

The Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit against Alamo on Dec. 29 alleging that in giving price quotes the company failed to disclose either the mandatory gasoline fee or its airport access surcharges, collected at 13 airports around the country that have imposed revenue-based fees on rental agencies that do not rent airport counter space but pick up customers from terminals.

Consent Order

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Alamo agreed to a consent order the same day, neither admitting nor denying wrongdoing, and its sales personnel are now instructed to mention the charges. Clark said the firm would aggressively promote its new fuel charge plan as offering consumers a choice that rival firms do not.

Since the Alamo lawsuit, other car rental agencies have begun to mention their gas fees--up to $1.99 per gallon at Avis and Hertz--in printed advertisements and over the telephone.

The Arizona attorney general’s office is suing Hollywood, Fla.-based General Rent-a-Car, alleging that the company should disclose its mandatory gas fees of $12 to $13. Officials of General did not return phone calls Friday.


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