When There Is No Fine Print: Adventures in Car Rentals


October 5, 2020

On Saturday, I was slated to leave Tennessee at around 1 p.m. to drive to Florida so I can visit my parents before I head back to California. The plan was to go to the airport, pick up the rental car, drive the car to Florida, and then return the rental car to the airport in Florida the next day.

Reader, that is not what happened.

First, we were a little late to the airport because my friend had to pick up the grocery order. That part was fine except that she forgot some of the groceries in the car, which meant my daughter and I were out of some of our road snacks. This was not entirely my friend’s fault because it wasn’t until we were almost to the airport that I realized I had forgotten the fruit. So that was sad, but you know. Easy enough to deal with.

Then, once I got to the airport I discovered that they wouldn’t rent me the car.

As I have mentioned before, I am committed to getting out of debt. Part of that commitment means that I cut up my credit card over a year ago and have gone cash/debit only. Now, on the rental car company’s website it says that they take debit cards. The website even says to double check that the location you are using takes debit cards. So I double checked, and the location does indeed take debit cards. Yet, NOWHERE on the ENTIRE SITE does it say that you cannot use a debit card for the security hold thing if you’re going airport to airport UNLESS you are scheduled on a flight FROM the airport you are returning the car to. And I know it doesn’t because I read through the fine print AND double checked the debit card policy.

So obviously I didn’t find that out until I got to the actual counter of the rental car company.

The explanation seems to be two-fold. One: it’s some kind of airport policy. Two: Because they have to put an additional hold on the debit card, I guess they don’t want to because it’s a financial thing. Which…okay, I planned for the latter and also THE FORMER SHOULD BE PLAINLY STATED ON THE CAR AGENCY WEBSITE. I mean, honestly, it’s not that hard.

Anyway, the guy at the counter told me that he thought maybe one car rental agency or perhaps another might let me rent using a debit car. I knew the one car rental agency wouldn’t–but only because they were out of cars since they were my first choice anyway. The other one–Thrifty–I had never used before so I went and stood in line for the very nice agent to tell me that, yes, I could rent using my debit card, but I could only go to Georgia, not Florida.


I thanked her for her time, went to find my friend, and told her what was up. She decided we go get some food and then brainstorm some solutions, which was a great idea because I was starving and all I could think was that my parents were going to have to drive to Tennessee to come get me.

After eating (and consulting with my mom and friend), I decided to rent the car to Georgia, and my parents said they would drive up there to get us. There were two options for airports, so I chose the one further south, which meant I had to drive for about six hours so my parents could drive three hours to meet us and then drive the three hours back.

Now, the original car I requested was a Toyota Corolla (or similar). What I got was Dodge Ram pick up truck with a quad cab because that was literally all that was left. It was HUGE, but also a delight to drive. For one thing, I love sitting up high when I drive, and also it was just a smooth ride.

The point is that eventually we made it, but, man, what a deviation from the plan. I couldn’t do anything I planned to do on the drive (call into my book club meeting, mostly, but also call my friend) because I had to completely focus on driving that ginormous truck. I only swerved a few times, but it was about one time too many for my daughter who admonished me to keep both hands on the wheel at all times.

(The truck was SO NICE. It only had 735 miles on it, which means it was basically brand new. SO GREAT.)

it's me, standing in front of a truck!
Me, with the actual truck. You can’t tell but I’m giving a thumbs up.

So, yes, we made it. But when I dropped off the rental car in Georgia, there was a couple at the counter in front of me going through the exact same thing. No credit card, debit card only, needed to get to Virginia, but Virginia was out of the rental car agency’s service area. I have no idea what happened with them, but what a nightmare all around.

These rental car companies really need to make these policies clear. There’s literally no excuse–especially if it’s a known issue.

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  1. nikkihb

    That truck is huge! I’m so nervous driving anything bigger than my Subaru Outback!

    • Akilah

      My parents had a van when I was a teenager, so I knew I could drive it, but I definitely prefer a smaller car.

  2. Katy K.

    I’m glad you found a way around it! I feel suddenly lucky – I also have no credit card and had to rent a van for a couple of weeks after a tree crashed into my own. But my closest rental agency gave me no trouble.

  3. Ally Bean

    Oh brother! I’m glad you found a way to work around the situation, but REALLY? There you are living a better life, and penalized for doing so. The truck, however, is cool. BUT…

  4. K E Garland

    I also think that maybe they can change the policy. Holds can be made on a debit card :-/

    • Akilah

      They said the hold amount is too much, and I was like, “Yeah, I accounted for the hold amount.” 🙄

      • K E Garland

        I have so much to say about this. But I’ll just add I’m beginning to loathe this patriarchal, capitalist society.

        • Akilah

          Since it’s only at airports, I’m guessing it has more to do with some Patriot Act nonsense, which is also super infuriating. So, yeah, I feel you.

    • Akilah

      Thank you!


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