Tuesday, June 02, 2009

CarTrawler : An Alleged Car Rental Service to AVOID : CarTrawler is NOT a Full Car Rental Company and Potentially a Scam Costing YOUR money : Updated!

UPDATE (June 4, 2009)

I received a full apology by phone today from CarTrawler for the car rental booking circumstances previously described in this blog posting, together with sincere assurance that the matter would be righted. As I was told, nearly everything that could go wrong, had gone wrong. A full refund was offered.

In addition - and among other things - CarTrawler indicated that its customer service would be improved to eliminate what were described as regrettable but unintentional - and correctable - technological mistakes, especially as regards improved company response to justified customer complaints and concerns. Moreover, the misleading excess insurance issue is to be corrected.

Additional suggestions for improvement were made.

If all of that occurs, CarTrawler will be back on the right track to becoming an honest and reliable booking partner for low-priced car rental.


ORIGINAL but now UPDATED Posting (see above)

I made the great mistake recently of following a CarTrawler.com (Dublin) online link at the RyanAir (Dublin) website after booking a flight and hotel through the reputable and otherwise excellent cheap flyer RyanAir. I also booked a hotel through a RyanAir link - with very good success at a reduced price - and then tried to rent a car at a flight destination airport, thinking that it would also be a good deal and not questioning its reliability since the link appeared on the RyanAir website. That was a mistake.

As we have discovered since then, CarTrawler is NOT a RyanAir affiliate and NOT a good deal. Do yourself a favor and AVOID CARTRAWLER like the plague. CarTrawler may cost you money and you may still get no rental car.

We have informed Ryan Air, the Irish Department of Justice and the Irish police, the Garda Siochana, about our case. Here is our experience.

CarTrawler is NOT a real car rental company - but this is not clear to the potential customer from CarTrawler's website pages. Rather, CarTrawler is a "booking engine", apparently owned by ETrawler which is apparently owned by Argus Automobiles of Dublin. This booking engine is used at its online website pages and those of its affiliates (ETrawler has over 40 website domains under various car rental names) and it uses virtually the same manner of advertising presentation as real car rental companies. It advertises rental cars with photos and specifications at what appear to be very affordable prices, but these are not THEIR cars. Look out.

After getting a car booking from an online customer, CarTrawler contacts "real" car rental companies and tries to obtain the booked car for the customer at the booked date and location - and of course at even cheaper conditions so that they can make a profit at the booked low price. If CarTrawler can not find a real car rental company willing to rent a booked car satisfying the low-priced conditions CarTrawler has advertised, the potential customer - as in our case - has a serious problem.

Here is what happened to us.

1. ALERT:Your credit card is IMMEDIATELY debited at the time of the initial "booking" even though this booking is not considered "binding" by CarTrawler, see point 2 below. To our mind, this is already fraudulent. Your credit card is debited even if the actual car rental date is far in the future. This is totally contrary to the usual and expected practice at established "real" car rental companies who actually have cars to rent and who debit the credit card after rental of the car.

CarTrawler DOES NOT inform the customer clearly online about this debit practice beforehand. You have to read the fine print of their "booking conditions" and virtually no one does that and that is what such companies capitalize on to defraud their customers. We were certainly unaware of the practice at the time of our booking. Had we known of this debit practice, we would have left CarTrawler pages immediately. We in fact thought that CarTrawler was a real car rental company, given its online presentation. In our view that particular CarTrawler online presentation constitutes intentional "common law" fraud on the normal user.

One might in fact ask, how is it possible - legally - to debit a car rental in advance if the very car to be rented - at what may be an unknown price - is still being sought at the real car rental companies?

2. ALERT: If CarTrawler does not find the car that THEY advertised to the customer online at the advertised low "come-on" price at the date and location the customer wanted - as in our case, where we had booked a low-priced automatic shift - CarTrawler simply VOIDS the booking unilaterally. CarTrawler informs the customer that they do not regard the booking to be contractually binding until THEY accept it, that is, until they find the car as booked. You think you have booked a car - but you have not. To us, that is FRAUD and a view of contract that we do not find supported in contract law.

3. ALERT: You are - after the voiding of your booking - kept waiting for an allegedly "new booking" - and, we presume - more expensive booking - which may never occur. Here is what CarTrawler wrote to us one day after our booking and more than THREE WEEKS prior to the date for which we had booked a car:

"Thank you for your recent car rental request.

Unfortunately the vehicle you requested is not available with the selected supplier. We are however trying to place your request with an alternative supplier.

As your first choice is not available, the rental cost and vehicle type may vary from your original request . As availability reduces and popular locations sell out, we will offer you the best options available in the market. You will receive a new booking reference number shortly. Please disregard the old one as it is now void.


Thanks and Regards,

Contact Centre Team

Tel: +353 (0)1 499 9600
Fax: +353 (0)1 499 9661
Email: mailto: reserve@cartrawler.com
Website: http://www.cartrawler.com

CarTrawler did not contact us again (in spite of our emails and ultimate phone call to them) - until FOUR WEEKS later, i.e. after the date on which we needed a rental car. Imagine then our surprise - several days after the CarTrawler voiding of our booking - to see that CarTrawler had already debited the non-existent rental car to our credit card account on the same day that they voided our booking! CarTrawler now had our money and we had no car.

4. All the while, by the way, CarTrawler is collecting interest on the car rental amount - i.e. on YOUR money - which has been debited to the customer's credit card in advance of any actual car rental. If CarTrawler voids the customer's booking and no "new" booking - as suggested or not to the customer by CarTrawler - is agreed to by the customer, it is then up to the customer to try to get their money back. Good luck.

We managed to get the money booked back to our credit card account at our bank - but only after more than two weeks, and only because we took the costly time to inform our credit card company of the fraud and demanded an immediate reversal of the credit card debit for a car rental which never took place.

But just think that if CarTrawler does this to thousands of customers, they are making very good money on the interest payments on YOUR money alone, without ever delivering a booked rental car at all. And what number of customers, through lack of time or insufficient knowledge, are unable to recoup their money at all?

5. THE EXCESS INSURANCE SCAM. Furthermore, if the customer makes the mistake of selecting the option of "excess insurance" (i.e. choosing to eliminate the car rental insurance deductible) at the time of their initial booking process, the customer surely thinks that this is part of their initial and single car rental booking, but - this is not so at all. CarTrawler treats the X that the customer puts in front of "excess insurance" option as a separate contract with a London outfit called Insurance4carhire.com, a trading name of Towergate Underwriting Group Ltd., whose main business is - you guessed it - the car rental excess insurance business.

The underwriter for Insurance4carhire in the past has been AIG, which recently had to be bailed out in the United States by the Federal Reserve to avoid creation of a global credit crisis. The non-profit FBIC ranks AIG eighth of all "bad-faith insurers" in its review of nearly 4,000 insurance companies. We do not know if that relationship with AIG has been retained down to the present time, but a clear picture begins to form of what is going on here.

Of course, as one might expect from the previous discussion, Insurance4carhire.com ALSO debits the customer's credit card IMMEDIATELY at the time of initial car rental booking, far in advance of any actual car hire.

Consider that debited money as gone. Here is why.

If CarTrawler VOIDS the initial booking, Insurance4carhire.com, their insurance consort, still pockets the excess insurance premium since the excess insurance sold - this is all fixed in the fine print - is an insurance coverage of the "policy holder" and not of the specific "rental vehicle" for the period of time of the initial car booking. Here is what they write at their website:

"We insure the Policy Holder, not the rental vehicle. Excess is a voluntary insurance. Decline the car rental company’s Excess cover at the counter when you collect the car. If the car is damaged or stolen, the car rental company will charge your credit card for the Excess amount and you then claim for reimbursement on your Policy."

As a result, even if CarTrawler voids a car booking - as in our case - there is still good money being earned via the excess insurance option. The excess insurance sold in this manner is difficult to recoup because it is not sold for a specific car vehicle but rather for a given person for a specific period of time.

Hence, after CarTrawler has voided a customer's car rental booking, that customer is still stuck with the excess insurance, in spite of the fact that he no longer has any car rental at CarTrawler at all. You can not easily claim the insurance payment back, since it is contracted to you as a person, and not for your car. We view that manner of insurance to be clear common law fraud. The customer is being clearly misled and others are pocketing "free money".

If that customer happens to rent a car from a real car rental company for the period provided in the excess insurance policy, the customer allegedly retains the excess insurance coverage.

But note this:
if that rental car is - for example - stolen or damaged during the period of excess insurance, the conditions of contract of Insurance4carhire.com provide that the customer first has to pay the deductible to the actual car rental company and only THEN try to recoup that amount from Insurance4carhire.com. Good luck.

It might be interesting for those law officials in the UK and Ireland responsible for investigating fraud to examine whether any money has EVER been paid under this fraudulently-appearing insurance.

In our law school days we used to equate this kind of misleading interlocking business scam with a "criminal conspiracy", but perhaps the laws of Ireland and the UK accept this kind of business thievery as legal today. Who knows.

Just imagine this process being repeated thousands of times per year and you have a money-making "golden goose" that is laying golden eggs around the clock without actually ever renting out a single rental car, but rather merely profiting through the process of offering cars at very low prices to the public - prices which may or may not actually be realizable.

Money is earned not only if a car is actually delivered to the customer as booked, but money is also earned if NO car is or can be actually delivered to the customer for the advertised and booked price. We have even read that customers have been charged for cancelling a booking which CarTrawler does not even regard as a binding "booking" on its side of the contract.

It is a great racket for those who are profiting by it, and surely misleadingly fraudulent, at least from our understanding of the common law. And we have not heard the end of this case yet. Upon returning from overseas where we rented a vehicle at the airport from Hertz for a lower price than offered to us initially by CarTrawler, we found the following email from CarTrawler in our mailbox, as if they had never received our phone call or our emails to them:

"Our bank has informed us that you are disputing your car rental....

Can you provide us with information as to why this is being disputed?
Your information would be greatly appreciated so we can improve our service.

Thanks and Regards,

The CarTrawler Team

Tel: +353 1 4999600
Fax: +353 01 4999661
Email: creditcardquery@cartrawler.com

Take a look at the CarTrawler "booking conditions" here. Those absurd conditions will keep anyone who reads them from ever booking a rental car through CarTrawler or any of the affiliates or companies which use its "booking engine". Those conditions are designed to hoodwink the customer. Clear common law fraud.

Frankly, law enforcement agencies in Ireland and the United Kingdom should get to work to remove these kinds of fraudulently misleading companies from the Internet.

We are not the only ones to register Complaints about CarTrawler. Take a look at:


The blog Bleep.ie even received a "takedown" notice because of its publication of criticism of CarTrawler in a comment. The blog owner, Tom Raftery, in Sevilla, Spain, is thus far resisting this chilling action and if there were a blogging award for a Freedom of Speech Champion this year, Tom would be our selection.

Bloggers unite! If you or anyone you know have had any problems with CarTrawler or any of the affiliated companies of ETrawler or Argus, make sure that bloggers they know put the stories up on the Internet. We have the power to get rid of these kinds of companies.

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