Cruise America / bad service
The following are the contents of the chargeback I filed with my credit card company to dispute the fraudulent charges put through by branch manager Brian at the Franklin Park Cruise America in Illinois as well as a followup when they contested my claims. Their VISA bank would not honor the chargeback claiming I signed a contract to pay for any costs associated with driving the vehicle, while providing no explanation as to why their merchant is allowed to rent out unsafe, defective equipment to begin with. I am now exploring civil action regarding this against Cruise America. They rent equipment that is defective and unsafe and when their equipment breaks down because it was never properly maintained to begin with, they take advantage of charging the insurance deductible without any accountability regarding proof of the cost of their claim or retaining the parts as evidence they claim that were replaced to hide the validity of the theft of the deductible.
On Friday, June 13, 2008, I rented a motorhome from Cruise America's Franklin Park Illinois location for use as a mobile base camp for a film crew shooting a film in downtown Chicago. The rental was for the weekend, with the motorhome due back to the Franklin Park location on Monday, June 16th before 11 AM. The weekend rental for the vehicle was $704.00, plus 0.32 per mile. Upon the beginning of the rental contract, Cruise America also collected a security deposit of $500, bringing the total amount charged for the rental to $1302.75. The security deposit was to be surrendered back to me upon the return of the vehicle. The rental contract on this charge was: 36900222. Receipts and copies of the contract are enclosed.
During the course of the rental, on Sunday evening, June 15th, upon arrival to our filming location on Van Buren street, it was discovered that the waste tank underneath the motorhome was hanging down off of it's front hinges underneath the frame of the motorhome (see enclosed photos). The waste tank is located underneath the bathroom inside the motorhome. Upon discovery that the waste tank had dislodged from the hinges that were supposed to hold it in place, several calls were put in to Cruise America's Traveler's Assistance toll free number at: [protected]. We were concerned that the vehicle could not be driven safely, unless the waste tank was re-attached properly, as it could have caused an accident in transit operating the vehicle by driving it anywhere. Three calls were put in to Cruise America, none of which were answered, and a message was left with them at 8:30 PM on Sunday, June 15th. As the vehicle was parked and did not have to be moved, our film crew began work on the all night film shoot we were producing and we continued our schedule until sunrise, the morning of Monday, June 16th. Cruise America did not return the messages we left regarding our concerns about the safety issues connected with driving the vehicle, which was due back at 11:00 AM that day. We expected to hear back from Cruise America's Traveler's Assistance as we needed to request emergency service repair on the vehicle, as per the instructions in their vehicle operating manual (page 43, attached). I was concerned that with the waste tank hanging down off the frame, it could cause an accident driving the vehicle, and I wanted to notify Cruise America to dispatch a repair person so that we could return the vehicle safely and without incident.
With the motorhome parked on a city street, and our permitted parking through the Chicago Film Office expiring at 5:00 AM, and rush hour traffic starting, we had no choice but to operate the vehicle and move it since we did not hear back from Cruise America. The only way to operate the vehicle safely, was to use black gaffer's tape to hold the front end of the tank from dropping down any further (see photos), and to drive it at 20 mph with a friend driving in a car along the driver's side to keep an eye on the taped waste tank as a "spotter" to alert me if the tape came loose. I drove the vehicle from downtown Chicago, to my residence in Wilmette, using side streets that were slow moving to get the motorhome back north as safely as possible. I arrived to Wilmette with the motorhome at 7:00 AM. I still had not heard back from Cruise America's Traveler's Assistance line regarding the emergency call I had put in the evening prior.
I tried contacting traveler's assistance again at the toll free number, and finally reached an operator named Alex. I explained the situation to her, and that it was perilous to drive the motorhome with the waste tank loose, as if it came completely off, it would have fallen back underneath the driver's side rear tire and caused an accident. I explained my concerns that Traveler's Assistance had not gotten back to me before I had to move the vehicle from the city street it was parked on that morning, and she agreed that it probably needed to be serviced before being driven, and that she would put in a call and notify the dealership in Franklin Park that it would not be back by 11:00 AM, because of the loose waste tank prohibiting operation of the vehicle. She also told me that she would look into a service center that could come to my location to assess the problem and make sure that it could be driven safely to the dealership for return.
By 2:00 PM, I finally heard back from Traveler's Assistance, and was informed that the closest dealership that could service the vehicle was the one I rented from in Franklin Park, and that they had no one to come out to look at the vehicle. I was told I had to drive the vehicle myself, with the waste tank hanging loose from the bottom of the frame, to the dealership. I explained to the lady (Alex) that I was worried driving the vehicle in that state could cause an accident. She said there was no other solution, and I told her I would have to find another person to drive with me to once again "spot" the vehicle on the drive from Wilmette, to the dealership in Franklin Park, which was 20 miles away. Because I had to find someone else to follow me with the vehicle after waiting for them to call me back, I told them it would take me until 6:00 to get the motorhome back to the dealership, and she told me that was fine, given the circumstances.
I got the motorhome into the dealership at 6:10, and the gates to the parking area were still open. After searching for the attendant for 5 minutes, he appeared at 6:20 from across the street, and I assumed he had briefly left the premises. I explained everything that had happened, from the discovery that the waste tank was loose, to the subsequent attempts at getting Traveler's Aid to send us someone who could insure that the vehicle could be driven safely and instructions to drive the vehicle back ourselves since no one would come out to help me. The attendant, who was the manager of the dealership, inspected the vehicle, and informed me that the waste tank was damaged because I drove over something, and that he was going to charge me the $500 security deposit. I told him I didn't drive over anything, that we discovered the waste tank was loose when I arrived to my filming location, and that his accusations bore no merit, especially in light of all our efforts to have Cruise America assist us during the course of our contract had gone unaided. He insisted on closing out the contract with the $500 deposit being charged, and I said I wasn't going to close it out until it was determined why the tank had come loose upon a thorough inspection since I didn't drive over anything that could have dislodged it, and that had I done so, there would be other visible damage, of which there was not. Upon his continued accusations that I had driven over something, my father and I crawled underneath the vehicle, and discovered that the brackets that were supposed to hold the outward lip of the waste tank in place to the underside of the vehicle frame, were loose. Upon discovering this, and beginning to take pictures of this detail, the attendant began yelling at us to get "off his property" and that he was going to call the police because he wanted to close, how dare we return the vehicle after closing time and keep him there, despite the fact the reason we were late is because we were concerned about driving the vehicle in the condition it was in, with no assistance from Cruise America's Traveler's Aid. I told him to go ahead and call the police, because I wanted it on record that he was going to charge me a security deposit despite the absence of damage he claimed I caused... just a plastic waste tank that dropped down because the brackets had either been jarred loose from the vibration of the vehicle in motion, or were never tightened properly to begin with prior to my rental. Suffice it to say, he did NOT call the police, because he knew that there would then be a record of the incident proving our claims that he wanted us gone so he could keep the security deposit. The fact of this matter is, the brackets holding the waste tank in place were loose... that's a liability on Cruise America's behalf because it could have caused an accident while driving, despite every effort I made to inform them of the danger. That their dealer insisted on charging the security deposit, despite those facts, was fraud.
I refused to close out the contract until the waste tank could be properly inspected, preferably by an objective third party given what was discovered underneath the vehicle, and he told me again that I would have to leave, yelling some more that my father and were to leave his property. We got photographs before leaving of the loose waste tank, that he charged us the $500 security deposit for.
The next day, I contacted Traveler's Aid again and informed them of what had transpired. This time I spoke with a woman named Crystal, who told me that all my phone calls to Traveler's Aid throughout the entire incident had been documented, and that if I needed to refer to them in any complaint I wanted to file that there would be a record. She recommended that I contact the Cruise America District Manager, Shawn Dickinson, who was located in Arizona at: [protected] to inform him of what had happened as I wanted to lodge a complaint against the dealer in Franklin Park for what I believed was fraud.
Mr. Dickinson was not available, but I heard back from his assistant, Travis Grady, who informed me that he had spoken to the Franklin Park dealer about this incident, and that the charge would stand because based on his dealer's insistence, I had caused damage to the waste tank and vehicle by driving over something. I told him I had photos proving there was no damage to the vehicle or waste tank, and that had I driven over anything to dislodge the waste tank, the entire underside of the vehicle and driver's side would have registered the damage, not to mention the generator apparatus directly behind the waste tank. It proved that the dealer's allegations were false. I told him I would be filing a complaint with my credit card issuer regarding this incident, and he told me to go ahead.
I also called the dealer in Franklin Park back and informed him that if there was damage to the waste tank or any other part of the vehicle based on his allegations, he needed to save the damaged parts for independent assessment regarding this incident. When I got a hold of him, he told me he had already replaced the entire waste tank, and that he had not held on to the "damaged" parts. So he was effectively able to discard any evidence of this fraudulent charge for damages that did not exist.
The only thing that needed to be done, as my photographs show, was for the waste tank to be pushed up, and the brackets tightened properly to the frame to hold it back in place. For this, the dealer claimed it cost my entire $500 security deposit for labor and replacement parts, while never having produced any evidence of a.) a damaged and replaced waste tank, b.) any invoices or service records referencing the replacement parts or a new waste tank. My photographs provide some evidence that the damage they claimed was nonexistent, because there is no evidence of having driven the vehicle over anything that could have reached the waste tank where it was bracketed to the frame, because anything below that level would have registered even more damage, The photos show there is no damage from driving over anything. When I told the dealer his disposal of the alleged damaged parts disallowed either of us from adequately and without any doubts proving either of our claims, his response was "well I guess you've got me there".
Despite all my efforts at notifying Cruise America during and after this incident that the vehicle was unsafe to drive, I received NO Traveler's Aid, I was forced to drive the vehicle in an unsafe condition on their instructions to return it to the dealership, and I was accused of causing the damage to the waste tank without the dealer agreeing to provide any evidence of such in the form of saving the alleged damaged waste tank parts after I was charged my $500 security deposit. I did not receive the service I paid for while renting the vehicle, and was held responsible for a part of their vehicle coming loose because it was never secured properly before being rented to me. On top of all this, despite having a record of all my phone calls to Travele's Aid, the management of Cruise America has still not explained why I was told to drive the vehicle in an unsafe condition, and did not provide the Traveler's Aid that their own manual claims it will provide in the course of one of their vehicles being unsafe to drive. Not to mention the fact during this entire incident, despite all good faith efforts to reconcile the situation, their dealer was more concerned with trying to prevent my party and I from documenting the circumstances with our camera so he could get us out of there with no evidence to prove my claims that there was no damage caused related to my driving the motor home. It was when the loose brackets underneath the vehicle were discovered and pointed out he went ballistic, yelling at us to get "off his property" without allowing me to close out the contract noting the discrepancies in my claim and his allegations.
This entire incident has caused more damage in that Cruise America's insistence in putting the security deposit charge through without proper and thorough investigation by an objective third party, also pushed my credit card balance over it's limit, maxing out my balance and causing more charges to be incurred. Based on the preceding, I am disputing the service charges placed by Cruise America onto my WaMu credit card in the amount of $500, for alleged damages I caused despite my account of the situation and corroborating photographs showing that there was no damage to the vehicle or waste tank causing charges of $500. Cruise America rented me a vehicle that was unsafe because the brackets holding the waste tank in place were not screwed in tight the way they should have been, and the dealer thought he could make an extra $500 until I discovered the source of the problem crawling underneath the vehicle myself at which point he was screaming at me to leave because he knew I had discovered his scam and furthermore, he refused to retain the damaged parts he alleged he replaced.
If Cruise America denies any of this and refuses to refund the security deposit they fraudulently billed, I will retain an attorney to take them to court for the fraudulent billing, irresponsibility renting an unsafe vehicle, negligence in providing Traveler's Aid as indicated in their operating manual, and further damages.
I am also cc:ing a copy of this to the "Fixer" column at the Chicago Sun-Times in the hopes that the exposure of this fraud will influence Cruise America into reversing their charge the way they should have in the beginning for failure to address all the circumstances in the preceding account given the photographic evidence attached. I also have two witnesses to the events at the dealership who were present at the time of the return who are willing to swear under oath that the account I have provided is accurate as to what transpired.
This letter is in response to the billing dispute I filed with Cruise America.
I do NOT accept the charge that was placed on my account by them in the amount of $500 for equipment they claim I damaged.
It is astonishing and obscene the amount of time I have had to spend compiling evidence and composing correspondence to counter this company's unethical behavior in a.) renting dangerous equipment, b.) charging my card $500 for damages they claim I was responsible for when I returned the vehicle despite my efforts to notify them that their vehicle was dangerous to drive while in the field, c.) branding me as a liar when I told them that I did not drive over anything to damage the waste tank that dropped off it's brackets during normal vehicle operation, and d.) refusing to settle this properly, by retaining the "damaged" waste tank for proper investigation after charging my card for "repairing" the vehicle.
In it's response to this dispute, Cruise America is still operating from the presupposition that I "drove over something" to cause damage to the waste tank under their motorhome and cause it to drop off it's brackets. That's essentially the same as calling me a liar. There was no accident. I did not drive over anything. They rented me a vehicle that was dangerous to drive with screws underneath the vehicle that were not tightened properly to the frame that were supposed to keep the waste tank securely attached to the vehicle. A logical explanation for these screws being loose is that in the course of normal operation of the vehicle, vibrations loosened them and the tank dropped down. It was not my responsibility to climb under the vehicle and discover that the vehicle was not being properly maintained when I rented it, that's the job of Cruise America. I do not know how ANYONE could possibly know to check for something like this when accepting the vehicle for rental... it was a situation that Cruise America took advantage of when their representative Brian chose to place the charge despite my pointing out the tank and the brackets in question underneath the vehicle that showed EXACTLY why the tank was hanging down, and it had NOTHING to do with it making impact with ANYTHING.
I spent hours contacting Cruise America trying to resolve this. I took pictures showing the vehicle displayed no evidence of damage to the frame and body that would have occurred had I driven over anything that would have damaged the waste tank. I took pictures underneath the vehicle showing EXACTLY where the brackets were loose as the result of untightened screws (when their rep Brian was SCREAMING at us to leave the lot or he would call the police when I pointed it out and I invited him to call the police so I would have another witness regarding the state of the vehicle and he suddenly chose NOT to call the police). And still Cruise America insisted on charging my card claiming I damaged their vehicle, and their representative and manager of their lot Brian engaged in abusive behavior that I have never encountered from a vendor in my life.
Cruise America had the opportunity to resolve this properly, by reviewing all the same information I submitted to WaMu in this dispute and making a judgment call without adding further insult to injury claiming I damaged their vehicle. Had that waste tank dropped further off the brackets while I was driving on the road and gone under the rear wheels in transit I'd be dead right now from the entire vehicle wiping out.
Now they are upset that an dispute for the entire amount has been filed against them instead of just the $500 for the "repairs" and replacement. I did not request a dispute against the entire amount, but because they bundled the "damage" charges in question with the rest of the rental contract, WaMu placed a dispute against the entire amount. That's not my problem anymore... maybe if they had engaged in ethical business practices, instead of choosing to try and steal $500 from me where they saw they could take advantage, they would not be dealing with the prospect now of losing the entire amount for crappy attitude and service.
I requested that the damaged waste tank be retained the week I spoke with them about this, the week of the incident, as evidence to determine the damages they were charging me for and they had already conveniently disposed of the "damaged" waste tank (if it was ever even removed). They should have documents or purchase orders from that week or some kind of paper trail indicating the parts that had to be ordered or inventory reports showing evidence of newly installed equipment right? Have they provided that? Of course not, because all their branch manager Brian did was climb under the vehicle, push the tank up and re-tighten the brackets, then charge me $500 because he thought he could get away with it. And on the telephone, when I confronted him on the disposal of the damaged equipment needing to be retained because I was going to initiate the dispute and it was needed as evidence, and told him "how do I even know you replaced anything if you disposed of what you claim was damaged", he smugly responded "well, you've got me there".
Does ANY of this account indicate a vendor behaving ethically with a customer who rented a vehicle that was not properly maintained and dangerous before driving it off their lot? I contacted them when their equipment failed several times as evidenced by the phone logs they provided in their response, to be told to drive the vehicle in it's condition over 40 miles back to their lot while it was dangerous to operate because their rep would not come into the field to assess it was dangerous to drive, placing me and their own property in further harm's way. I have three witnesses to the incident at their parking lot where their manager Brian tried to chase us away when I was taking pictures of the vehicle to counter his claims I had driven over something and damaged the waste tank, pictures that show NO damage to the vehicle as would have been present had I been responsible for the type of misuse of their vehicle that they claim "caused" the waste tank to drop off it's brackets.
You have a paper trail of everything I did to try and remedy this, from frantic phone calls to their customer assistance number to the photos I took to phone calls to their district rep Travis who continues to say "well we don't know what you did with the vehicle, you could have driven over something".
The ONLY thing I drove over was properly paved highway, and no vehicle I have ever driven in the past has ever had a tank dropped off like the waste tank dropped out from under their motorhome because THEY did not properly maintain the equipment they rented to me.
On top of this, their insistence on placing this charge drove my credit card beyond it's limit until his dispute was posted, which has adversely effected my credit limit because I was not able to make the payment required to bring my balance down.
I will NOT pay the $500 that Cruise America charged for damages I was not responsible for because they did not maintain equipment properly that they rented out, and if they wish to pursue the matter directly with me, let them. I have witnesses, I have documents, I have photos, I have phone records, they did not retain or present ANY evidence of replaced equipment that would have cost $500, and I am not letting them charge me that amount so that the local dealer can pocket it after tightening some screws that should have never been loose to begin with under the vehicle.