Car rental company backs down on bill

When his hotel room burnt down with his hire car key inside, and the car rental company was unable to give him a new car key or a replacement vehicle, Walter van der Merwe thought his trip to Dunedin couldn't get any worse.

But when weeks later the car rental firm phoned him demanding he pay the replacement costs for the incinerated car key, the 56-year-old medical specialist wondered if the nightmare would ever end.

During that phone conversation he did not find out how much the key was worth, explaining: "It's possible I didn't let the conversation get that far - I just said, 'Good luck getting money off me','' Mr van der Merwe said.

The Aucklander was in Dunedin last month with his wife for the anniversary of her father's death.

After fleeing a fire that began accidently in their Kingsgate Hotel room on February 13, the van der Merwes discovered they had left the key of their rental car in their room.

They were then left high and dry by their rental car company, Europcar.

The couple spent the night in a different hotel and , unable to get into their car, they got a lift to Dunedin airport with relatives to see if the rental company could help.

He said: "We told the car rental company what happened and could we have a spare key to get back in the car.

"They said they didn't have a spare key so they couldn't help us. The spare key was in Auckland, and they would possibly try and get it down, but they never managed to and they were never back in touch with us, in fact.

"And they could not help us with a different car, or any alternative form of transport. So we had to find our own way back into town, and for the rest of the time we were there.

"We only had use of the car from the airport to the hotel, because the fire was that first evening. The car was parked in the hotel parking lot so we couldn't get back into it. The car itself was fine.''

The pair had to make their own way around the city for the rest of their stay.

Although the car had already been paid for - $94.92 for the car hire, and $45.79 for the insurance, which included the mandatory cover, as well as the extra insurance that Europcar "advised we take'' - Mr van der Merwe said it was unlikely they would be refunded any of their payment. They had had the car only a matter of hours before the fire.

Today Europcar told APNZ that after a review of the case, it would no longer pursue him for the cost of a new key.

A spokeswoman said that while it hadn't done anything wrong, "we agree that some more empathy could have been shown'' to Mr van der Merwe.

Mr van der Merwe said he had dealt with other car hire companies in the past, but: "I wouldn't go back to that company, certainly, and I'd also be clearer about exactly what was and wasn't covered by insurance.''


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