Sean P. Murphy | The Fine Print

A broken windshield wiper on a rental car and the company’s less-than-ideal response — initially

Kevin Barrett was treated poorly by Avis on a recent vacation in Arizona.
Kevin Barrett was treated poorly by Avis on a recent vacation in Arizona. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

On May 27, Kevin Barrett set out on a driving tour of some of the most spectacular vistas of the Southwest with his girlfriend and two other couples from Boston.

They began in Phoenix, where Barrett rented a car from Avis, then headed north on Interstate 17 toward Sedona, the first leg in a three-state, 1,000-mile odyssey that would include visits to the Grand Canyon and a scattering of other treasured national parks.

But it started raining about one hour into the trip, and when Barrett turned on the windshield wipers, it became instantly obvious someone at Avis had blundered badly: the rubber wiper blade on the passenger side was missing from the metal arm, which loudly scraped against the windshield.


With little or no visibility on one side of the Mercedes van, a white-knuckled Barrett managed to edge out of traffic, pull to the side of the road, and stop until the storm passed.

“It was too dangerous to drive,” Barrett recalled.

At first, Barrett figured Avis would quickly come to the rescue by sending someone to him with a new wiper blade or a new vehicle. Instead, Avis sent Barrett on a 60-mile detour to Flagstaff, where it took more than two hours to switch vehicles.

After he had returned home, Barrett politely requested a reduction in his bill to make up for lost vacation time and aggravation. It took him hours on the phone to finally reach an Avis supervisor, who grudgingly offered a $20 voucher on a future rental. Barrett said that wasn’t enough to compensate him for a defective vehicle.

“The vehicle was only defective when it rained,” the Avis manager shot back, according to Barrett.

That stuck me as so absurd I laughed when Barrett told me. Was that supposed to excuse Avis? Shouldn’t a rented vehicle come with a functioning horn and lights, as well as wipers? Doesn’t Avis know some states (including Massachusetts) flunk vehicles with faulty wipers in safety inspections? Try telling an inspector, “I only drive in dry weather.”


Barrett’s vehicle was, by Avis’s own admission, defective. Shouldn’t Avis refund the entire $500 he was charged because it had compromised his safety?

I certainly think so, not only as a penalty for a safety lapse, but also to make up for lost vacation time.

When the rain finally stopped that day, a shaken Barrett drove for another hour to Sedona, a red-rock paradise high (4,350 feet) in the desert.

Barrett, 70, a retired soldier (Vietnam, 1970), teacher, and lawyer, sent everyone in his group to lunch while he hunkered down in his hotel room on the phone pleading with Avis for help.

Coincidentally, there was an Avis outlet about 100 yards from the hotel, Barrett pointed out. But the Avis representative said there was no replacement blade in stock and no vehicle large enough for them on the lot. The nearest available vehicle, a Toyota Sienna, was in Flagstaff, 30 miles out of the way.

When he arrived in Flagstaff the next morning, Barrett discovered only one Avis staffer on duty at the busy outlet. It was a long wait.

I’ve written about Avis before, detailing how it absurdly charged a $3.95 daily administrative fee for a toll transponder even on days when a customer didn’t go through a toll. Avis, one of the largest auto rental companies in the country, replied to my inquiries last year, which I duly included.


But when I contacted it about Barrett’s plight, Avis ignored me and instead reached out to Barrett, offering him a $200 reduction in his fee, plus an apology.

Barrett instantly accepted. He told me he would have accepted $100, if it had been offered earlier. It was never about the money, or at least not only about the money, he said.

“It was the corporate indifference,” he said. “Their attitude was: ‘Hey, you made it, you got to where you wanted to go. What’s the big deal?’ ”

I give Barrett a lot of credit. By getting Avis to focus on its dangerous oversight, and how upsetting it was to him and his passengers, he may have helped to remind corporate America that its highest priority is to keep us safe.

* * *

To date, 49 consumers have submitted claims totaling $11,235 for reimbursement for gift cards to the closed Back Bay gourmet restaurant L’Espalier. (Average amount on cards: $230).

The restaurant closed abruptly on Dec. 31, just days after announcing it would do so, prompting complaints from folks stuck with unused gift cards.

After I wrote about the unfairness of it, Attorney General Maura Healey reached an agreement whereby L’Espalier’s owner will make $11,400 available for gift-card holders stiffed by the restaurant.

A form for anyone requesting reimbursement can be downloaded from the AG’s website, filled out, and mailed with the gift card to the AG’s office by July 23. Or you can call 617-963-2596.


Sean P. Murphy can be reached at smurphy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @spmurphyboston.