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The rental-car giant’s computer system is apparently at fault for claiming hundreds, maybe thousands, of renters stole vehicles they actually returned as agreed.
File this bit of news under “We’ll learn more soon.” A Delaware bankruptcy court judge ruled this week that Hertz will have to back up, publicly, its claims that as many as thousands of people rented its cars and then stole them.
The judge was ruling in a case brought by 230 customers who said they were wrongly arrested after Hertz told police they had stolen the vehicles—even though they claim they correctly returned them. Attorneys in the case say the 230 people involved in the case represent a larger group of about 8000 people whom Hertz accused of stealing its cars. Hertz itself pegs the number of thefts each year somewhere in the middle.
“Of the more than 25 million rental transactions by Hertz in the United States per year, 0.014 percent fall into the rare situation where vehicles are reported to the authorities after exhaustive attempts to reach the customer,” Hertz said in a statement provided to CBS News, which did the math to translate that to an average of 3500 customers stealing Hertz vehicles each year.
“The vast majority of these cases involve renters who were many weeks or even months overdue returning vehicles and who stopped communicating with us well beyond the scheduled due date,” the company said in a statement to the Washington Post.
Everyone seems to agree that there aren’t actually thousands of people stealing Hertz rental cars each year. The problems are more bureaucratic, such as when Hertz doesn’t know where a particular car physically is and so thinks it is missing. These kinds of problems can pop up if renters switch cars during a rental, or if they extend their rental period. The Post said that even problems with credit or debit cards can generate a theft report in Hertz’s system, which then are sent over to local law enforcement.
“We’re having police act as a strong arm for private corporations and private vehicles, when this is not what taxpayer dollars are supposed to be used for.” Francis Alexander Malofiy, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs, told the Post.
So, soon, the public will get to see some of these reports and other data. Hertz, which emerged from its 2020 bankruptcy filing last year, had provided the information to the court under seal. The judge ruled this week that this information will now be released, in part because CBS News filed an objection to keeping this information from the public. CBS reported that within these reports lie the number of “theft” reports that the company admits were mistakes.