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353 Car Rental ...A Scan for Unsuspecting Tourists

By Frank
2010-08-19 18:54:33

My wife and I had made arrangements online through to rent a vehicle during our family vacation to Ireland August 9 to 14, 2010. When we went to pick up the car on Monday, August 9, we discovered that the car was being supplied through a local car rental agency known as “353”. I was first suspicious when the rental car desk was located down a hall and behind an enclosure rather than out in the atrium with the other more well-known car rental agencies, such as Budget and Hertz. The lady at the desk, who later identified herself as “Maria” – she had no name tag and was reluctant to offer her name, thus, this may not actually be her correct name – was very abrupt and rude from the onset. My wife and I found this behavior quite unique and distinctly different from other airport staff. I was told that I had no option but to bring the car back with an empty tank of gas. I said I preferred to bring the car back with a full tank as I felt the price that I was bring charged for the gas was unfair. “Maria” said I had no choice. The next element of frustration occurred as we tried to locate the site of the car pick-up. “Maria” had given directions that I was to turn right out the front of the airport. There is significant construction at the Dublin Airport, so my family and I dragged out bags out the front airport and headed off to the right as were had been directed. We located the Budget car rental, but no “353” rental site. After dragging our bags around trying to locate the area that “Maria” had directed, I finally went back in to get a more accurate set of directions. This time “Maria” indicated that we were indeed to go to the right out of the door, but that we were actually supposed to take a shuttle bus – it would have been helpful had she indicated the shuttle bus at the onset. 
After arriving via the shuttle bus at the “353” car rental pick up site, we eventually located a man (again no name tag), who shoed us our rental car. Upon inspection he said the car had not been “cleaned” correctly. We noted that the car smelled of smoke as he pulled away. He returned with the car in a few minutes. We pointed out several additional marks on the car including a broken rearview side mirror, but he said it didn’t matter and that he didn’t need to indicate this on the report form. I asked about the condition of the car as there was significant damage to the side panels and the rearview mirrors bilaterally, but he passed me off and went on to help other waiting in line. With hesitancy we loaded up the car and attempted to pull away onto the street. Immediately I noted that despite fully engaging the clutch, that it was extremely difficult to shift from 1st to 2nd gear. The smell of smoke became worse and after travelling less that a block, I turned into a driveway, reversed (again with difficulty moving from gear to gear) and pulled back into the lot. We got the attention of the attendant, and I told him that the clutch was going on the car. I asked for a different car. He became indignant saying that there was nothing wrong with the car and that the reason the car was smoking was due to my inability to drive a car with a stick shift. I told him that I was very comfortable with a clutch, but he persisted and said that this was the only car he had available (despite a full lot of cars), and told me I had no choice. Again we tried to pull away and again, it was nearly impossible to shift gears, despite my fully engaging the clutch fully to the floor board. Upon pulling onto the street, smoke started billowing from the hood. Other drivers were pointing to out car and motioning. I was able to maneuver the car back into the lot. Again the attendant overtly argued with me telling me that the difficulty was not related to the car, but that it was because I was an “American” who didn’t know how to drive. He again told us to be on our way as he couldn’t help me. In desperation, and anxious to get on with our holiday, my wife, 4 boys and I again tried to make the best of an already bad situation. 
We had driven about ¾ away from the lot, when the car came to a complete stop. I was completely unable to shift gears. Smoke was again billowing from under the hood. We were stalled in the middle of a busy intersection near the Dublin Airport. The car was not drivable. With the help of a taxi driver, we were able to move the car out of the way of oncoming cars. This kind taxi driver, Declan, assessed the situation and agreed that the clutch was blown. He also indicated his experience with “353” car rentals and told me to expect trouble. He drove away only to return to give me his cell telephone number indicating that we were to enlist his help when we got back to the airport as he was certain that as “Americans” we were being taken advantage of – that we had been given a car with a clutch about to go and that they were going to blame it in us as unsuspecting tourists – his prediction was about to come true. 
After the car was off to the side of the road, my wife, 4 boys and I stood over off the rode by a fence and I tried phoning the “353” office. After several attempts, a female identified as “Phil” indicated that she had to send a mechanic. After another 20 minutes I again phone “Phil” who said it would be another 20 minutes. Eventually 2 men came and loaded all of us into a small vehicle with our luggage. We were taken back to the airport and directed to get out without any directions as to how to proceed. 
My wife and I returned to the “353” desk in the airport. There “Maria” again greeted us with her sullen demeanor. She phoned someone and then immediately told us we owed her an additional 700 Euros for damage we had inured on the car. We asked to speak to the manager, “Catherine”. At this point we knew that Declan’s prediction was coming true and I phone him for advice. After much avoidance by “Maria”, we were given a phone number for “Catherine”. The person that answered said that “Catherine” would meet us at the desk where we were standing. “Maria” avoided us and went on to wait on other customers. After another 20 minutes, “Catherine” still had not come to meet us. I again phone Declan who indicated that he would try to intervene by reaching “Catherine”. My wife and I were in a panic that our holiday in Ireland was going to be ruined and that were going to be swindled our of our original rental payment along with the additional 700 Euros. Eventually after another 30 minutes, we were told that it was all a mistake and that our money would be returned. We quickly went to the Budge Rental Car desk and secured the exact same car model, a Zephyr, a much lower weekly rate than that originally offered by During the week of driving this standard shift through Ireland we had no problems at all. 
Despite our initial negative experiences with the staff of “353” car rental our Ireland holiday was saved. We met many, many kind and caring folks throughout Ireland and when we think of Ireland we’ll associate it with this very genuine and caring attitude. We realize that in any culture, there will always be some who try to take advantage of unsuspecting travelers, and that this small minority does not reflect the true nature of the Irish. We will definitely return to Ireland, but we’ll be more cautious and we’ll always go with trusted agencies such as Budget and Hertz. 
I would hope that “353” car rental be more closely scrutinized as their business practices are dishonest. They are out to take advantage of folks unfamiliar and who are at a disadvantage. In my opinion, they shouldn’t be allowed to interface with travelers as they do not represent the country in a positive light. 
North Wales, PA USA 

By Brian
2010-08-20 00:37:02

We are traveling in Ireland in Sep. Good 'heads up' on car rental potential problems. I urge you to write to the authorities about this misadventure giving all the details of your post. Shotgun (multiple mail-out) the letter to all authorities who may have a role in this matter: such as, licensing agency for the company, local and national tourist authority, the Dublin mayor's office, the chief of the airport and Dublin chief of police (fraudulent demand for repair costs should be of interest to him/her). List all the addressees on the letter so all know who else received the letter. Nothing like everyone knowing about this. Imagine the response to '353' from such authorities. Cheers.

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