Dollar Rentals' epic system failure -- technology should have solved this

A recent experience renting (or not) a car reminded me just how broken some systems still are.

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Las Vegas is my own personal version of hell -- not being a gambler, a smoker, a big drinker or into noise and mayhem, Vegas pretty much jars all of my senses and sensibilities. So on a recent visit to the town, I decided to take advantage of a free day to get out of sin city and heady to the mountains for a spot of trail running.

I left my bookings a little late however and was worried a rental car wouldn't be available. However I was pleased to discover, after phoning Dollar Rentals, that they did, in fact, have a reasonably priced car. so, despite the fact that their depot was at the other end of the strip from where I was staying, I booked the car, grabbed my gear and jumped in a taxi to head down there.

As I got to the service desk at Dollar Rentals, however, I was annoyed to hear from the agent that they had no cars, that there were 17 other people for whom they were trying to find cars and that she didn't know if they'd have any cars that day.

I pointed out that Dollar Rentals' own call center had taken a booking from me and told me the car was ready, she didn't really respond to that. She did helpfully suggest that I wait there till 2 p.m. (bear in mind this was at 7:30 a.m. and I was planning a run over an hour's drive from Vegas). I explained that waiting around for seven hours on the off chance that a vehicle might become available, only to have to bring it back a couple of hours later didn't make much sense to me. She stared at me vacantly and went back to looking at her immaculately painted nails.

Not being one to let things lie I called the customer support line and spent a frustrating thirty minutes on the phone to a call taker and, later on, her manager. She helpfully suggested that I could make my way to Reno, Nevada (a 450-mile taxi trip) where they would definitely have a car for me. The manager reiterated that he understood my frustration, but that the best thing I could do was wait for seven hours to see if a vehicle became available.

I pointed out to him that I'd spent $20 on a taxi to get to the depot, only because they took my booking and told me a car would be ready. While I appreciated that he couldn't conjure a car up out of thin air, I would have expected that he would have had the foresight to do something to make things right.

It's all about the systems

I don't want to just bag Dollar Rentals. True they handled the situation badly, but I suspect the same thing could have happened with another car company.

But in this day and age, it is incredible that these problems can even happen. Technology has such ready solutions. A good back office system, where the entire Dollar Rentals inventory could be recorded and updated in real time would certainly help. Or perhaps sensors in all the vehicles so the company has visibility as to their physical location. At the very least some sort of manual check that a vehicle is actually available when the booking is made. And finally, some kind of proactive customer service system that is able to do something to make things right when the inevitable problems happen.


Well. That was harder than it looked. Post Valley of Fire half marathon selfie...

A photo posted by Ben Kepes (@benkepes) on


Luckily I ended up finding a car, driving out to the incredible Valley of Fire and having an awesome 13-mile run (proof in the photo above). But that I did so was in spite of Dollar Rentals, rather than because of it. And that is a systemic failure.

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