Rental Car Goes Missing; Renter Concludes Avis Repossessed It

Photo credit: Alexi Rosenfeld - Getty Images
Photo credit: Alexi Rosenfeld - Getty Images
  • Discovering your car has disappeared is never a good feeling, but it's especially bad when it's a rental and you need it to get to the airport.

  • That's what happened to one renter in New Jersey, but after viewing security camera footage and doing some online tracking, he concluded it was Avis itself that simply took the car back early, for no good reason that he could find. Twitter backed him up.

  • But there's a happy ending: Avis eventually refunded the renter's money, apologized, and gave him a coupon for a future rental.

Something strange happened to Tarikh Campbell while he was renting a car from Avis last week. It disappeared, and he slowly realized it was the rental-car giant that took it.

Campbell, a diversity and inclusion business program manager at Microsoft New England, documented his strange story in an engaging and now viral (ongoing) Twitter thread, but the short version is that the car vanished from where it was parked outside his parents' home in suburban New Jersey, where he was visiting. This happened the night before he was going to drive the rental, a 2020 Toyota Camry, back to the Newark Liberty International Airport. He called Avis, who said they did not have any tracking device they could use to figure out where the car might be, and the police, who told him they had not impounded the vehicle.

Without a better option available, Campbell took a ride share to the airport and went to explain to the Avis representative why he was returning keys to a car he didn't have. He told the representative that he had filed a police report, but Avis told him he would have to keep paying for the rented vehicle until it was returned and would be liable for the full cost if it never came back.

But Campbell couldn't stop wondering what had happened. That's when he remembered he had used a personal E-ZPass device in the car and figured he should deactivate the account. But then he realized he could check the online receipts to see if it had pinged any toll booths and that he might be able to track the car down that way. And it worked, sort of, since he discovered the car appeared to have been driven right back to the airport. Odd, he thought.

After he spoke with his aunt, who lives on the same street as his parents, things got even stranger. She provided him with her front-door security-camera footage that showed a tow truck loading up the Camry the night it disappeared. But he couldn't figure out how Avis knew where the car was, since he used his home address in Boston to rent the car, and Campbell said he did not get any tickets or infractions while using the vehicle that could have prompted the tow. Well after he landed in Boston, the Avis app all of a sudden showed the car as "returned," and that's when Campbell went into overdrive, calling Avis repeatedly and then taking to Twitter to try and get the public involved.

"To add insult to injury," he wrote on Twitter, "Avis has proceeded to bill me as if I returned the car AND they're charging me late fees! All without any acknowledgement that they repossessed the vehicle and that I've been trying to reach out to them for days."

"It was and continues to be a roller coaster," Campbell told Car and Driver. "Between the time I found out the car was missing and the time I found out it was repossessed, that was an incredibly stressful day and a half. Just on a financial management perspective, that was a stressful time for me. When I found out that I was not at fault, that took a huge weight off my back, since I knew I would come out of it even."

The E-ZPass device wasn't the only valuable item that's left in the missing car, which Avis Campbell said. The transponder came from another vehicle that his family owns, a 1990s Volvo, and the key to that car is with the transponder, which Avis hasn't given him access to.

"If I had known the risk of random repossession, I probably would not have left the key in the car," he said.

Campbell said he was "hardcore on getting compensation" for the missing items as well as for the mental stress. He said he was exploring legal options, but also encouraged Avis to reach out.

"I do not want them to waste time," he said. "I am completely incentivized to resolve this in the quickest and most fair way possible. There's no benefit to Avis or myself to drag this out."

In the face of public pressure, Avis changed its tune and told Campbell they will refund the charges, including late fees. An Avis Budget Group representative sent Car and Driver this statement: "Following a review, we fully refunded and apologized to Mr. Campbell and offered a coupon for future use. Our internal findings indicate there was an incorrect tow triggered by an administrative error on a previous rental. Mistaken tows occur infrequently but we are taking steps to prevent situations like this from occurring at all in the future."

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