For my birthday (over Memorial Day Weekend), my boyfriend took me to Cape Hatteras. He's a pilot of a small plane, so we sometimes travel up and down the East Coast in the summer. We wanted to stay in Cape Hatteras and needed a vehicle delivered to us at the small regional Billy Mitchell Airport, so that we could get around this very rural area and go out on the beach during our 24-hour stay. I called Valerie, the owner of Island Cruisers, Inc, and she pleasantly helped me pick out a vehicle.
Valerie's husband runs Hatteras Island Performance, the company that does the repair work for Island Cruisers. I believe they are probably scamming a lot of people with their setup.
Together they dropped off a vehicle for us to use on the beach, and explained all of the rules about driving it. They also had us both sign a bunch of papers, including a blank slip with the impression of my credit card. I should have been given a copy of that blank piece of paper. Because I didn't know to ask for it, I was unable to contest the charges they later billed me with using this signed blank slip. If you rent anything from them, be sure to get a copy of the slip before the total is filled out so you can prove that they added the charges at a later time. This was my biggest mistake.
Upon trying to operate the vehicle I realized that it was very old (later found out it was a 1998 Geo Tracker) and not very safe to drive. Valerie had told me over the phone that renting a 4x4 to use on the beach would be expensive because of the high cost of repairing damage to the transmissions to their vehicles. Now I know how they pay for those repairs.
The car was rusty and old, didn't handle well, had brakes that barely stopped the car, and it had problems shifting through the gears. I thought it was old and worn out. It was also the last car they said they had in their fleet and there were no other local places to get another car, so we used it anyway.
We drove the car on the beach for maybe an hour total in the whole day we were there. There was so much holiday weekend traffic out on the beach that we couldn't do anything wrong, like driving crazy or donuts or anything that we were asked not to do. We followed all of their recommendations, drove the vehicle slowly (under 15mph), in a straight line, and kept it away from wildlife and other vehicles, with the correctly lowered air pressure in the tires.
The next day we dropped it off at the airport and took off. As far as I knew, everything was fine. We expected to be charged about $300 for a 24 hour 4x4 rental plus the charges for drop-off and pick-up to the airport. We also didn't fill the gas tank, so expect some kind of $50 fee for gas or whatever.
Later the following week I opened the receipts from Island Cruisers, Inc. to find a letter from Valerie stating that we were being charged an extra $500+ (total price over $800) for damage that happened to the transmission of the vehicle while we were driving it. First of all, they put this huge charge on my credit card all at once, using the slip I had signed, so according to Capital One's and Visa's rules, it was considered an "authorized charge," even though I've disputed it because they filled in the slip later on. Because I don't have a blank copy Capital One, the bank that holds my credit card account, won't help me in the dispute.
Valerie and her husband justified this huge $500+ charge with a statement that there was sand found on the battery up inside the car, so we must have driven it aggressively, causing a transmission leak.
First of all, the car wasn't shifting well to begin with, but the brakes weren't working well either, and the whole car was rusty, sandy, and very very worn to begin with. Secondly, the transmission might have already been messed up when they gave us the vehicle. It was delivered on a trailer bed, so we don't even know if they drove it first. Third, they work together. The person fixing the car is married to the owner of the rental shop, so whatever money he makes from repairs is directly charged to the Island Performance slip. How convenient.
In my book, when you're spending an extra $100 to rent a 4X4 vehicle for beach driving, you're paying the extra money because, like Valerie told me, they often need to do repairs on the transmissions of beach vehicles that are used in the sand. Our extra money should have gone toward the general upkeep of their vehicles. Instead, they charged us the the full deposit amount that they took at the beginning for a repair that we can't even know actually occurred. We don't even know if there was anything wrong with the vehicle, but I'm fairly sure that transmissions are normal wear and tear repairs, and can't be attributed to any one driver, especially with a 1998 Geo tracker that is regularly driven on the beach by renters. After doing some research I discovered that a used car in the condition we rented it in would cost $800. I could almost own the rental vehicle for the amount of money that was charged on my credit card.
Think twice and then a third time before trusting Island Cruisers, Inc. They charge high prices to rent customers old, unsafe vehicles, and then charge as much as they can squeeze out of those customers for basic repairs that need to be done anyway. It is so unfair and deplorable to treat their customers like that. $800 for a one day rental of a vehicle that sucked.
I am SO disappointed. It was supposed to be a fun birthday. It was at the time, but the hours I've put into disputing the charges from this debacle have completely stressed me out and ruined it for me. In the end, they are so good with their operation, they get to keep all of the money and there's nothing I can do short of suing them. Which I probably will.