Visit the Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group’s website and it states with some pride that the company is "Driven by the mission to deliver Value Every Time."
The fact that the V in "Value", alongside the E in "Every" and the T in "Time" appears in capital letters leads you to imagine they may well hold self-motivational seminars at Dollar Thrifty, at which staff members are encouraged to scream "V! E! T!" at one another so passionately that they go purple in the face, sometimes to a point where employees might require a visit to the very person whom they are shouting about.
Anyroad, presuming that it is to the customer and not just the shareholders that these people are promising to deliver, the ethos of the Dollar Thrifty mantra does seem a touch shaky in light of an experience I had earlier this week.
I went to Stuttgart to drive a new such-and-such, and in the process had to hire a car at the airport in order to go and collect the new such-and-such, and when I went to the hire car counter I was asked to pay a supplementary fee of five whole euros for the use of winter tyres.
Despite doing German at school briefly, my command of the übersprachen is extraordinary only for its inaccuracy, and as usual we were in a panic to be somewhere else an hour ago anyway. So at the time I just thought, "It's only five euros, forget it."
A little later, though, once the heat of the job had dissipated, I began to wonder. Winter tyres are compulsory at this time of year in Germany. If you don’t have them fitted to you car, in fact, it’s actually illegal – in much the same way that driving around on bald tyres is illegal at any time of year in the UK.
So how come Dollar Thrifty charges five euros extra for a set of tyres that, were they not fitted, would render a hire car illegal in Germany at this time of year? They may as well just put down "Tyres – five euros" and forget the "winter" clarification altogether.
Or better still – and this would please the shareholders no end – how about they expand their pricing strategy to include a range of additional extras, all of which you'd struggle to say no to as a customer. Such as: windscreen – 10 euros, steering wheel – 8 euros, engine – 15 euros, logbook that proves your hire car is not a cut-and-shut and won’t just snap in half the moment you drive away from the terminal in it – 13 euros.
It’s not just Dollar Thrifty that engages in this particular ruse, however – most of the hire car companies play this particular game in countries where winter tyres are required by law at this time of year, it seems. Presumably there’s a department within each company that spends its entire time working out ways to fleece the customer, but in a manner that the customer can do nothing about.
So there’s only one course of action left to take really – next time I’ll pay up front for the full insurance and so on, and then I’ll take my hire car to the nearest scrap merchant and have everything on it broken down for parts, except for the tyres and windscreen (which aren’t covered). And then I’ll return the tyres and windscreen to the hire company, intact, having sold the rest of the car to an Albanian. And even then I reckon I’ll still be out of pocket…