Have you ever had one of those days where you wake up and think there’s SOMETHING you should be doing, but you can’t put your finger on it? Feed the pets, maybe. Pay that bill you keep forgetting to pay. Throw out the plants you’ve slowly tortured to death. Water the kids. Write a new blog post because it’s been a few months.
Ya, that last one is me. It’s not like I’ve run out of stuff to write about. South Africa is a blogger’s dream! Despite my best efforts to have a normal day, South Africa insists I don’t. And I could write about something insane that happened on almost an hourly basis. But the thing is, I have the attention span of a drunk toddler goldfish, and sometimes I blink and the last post I’ve written was forever ago.
In any case, here’s a new one. Renting a car is never fun, wherever you are. Now multiply that unfun by several thousand, and you’ll get a sense of what it’s like to rent a car in South Africa. Let me tell you the story of my one and only triumph over a car rental company that tried to scam me in South Africa.
My car blew up about a month ago. Something disintegrated and sent tiny little particles of despair all through the fuel rhizomes and turned my piece of garbage into a stationary piece of garbage. Or something like that. I’m not a car guy.
But the Ford dealership has car guys/gals, and they told me they’d need to ass around with my car for a solid month.
They first told me that I’d be without a vehicle in the meantime, but I calmly explained to them that that wasn’t an option, and as a self-respecting dealership, they should be providing me with something to drive while they held my car hostage. After they determined I wasn’t going to leave until they gave me some sort of courtesy vehicle, they arranged with a well-known car rental company to provide me a vehicle on Ford’s dime. That’s a good thing, because the daily rate for rental cars in South Africa will set you back about the same price as 13 medium-quality prostitutes (just a guess here, but it sounds about accurate).
A month later, when Ford had FINALLY finished mechaniboozling my car, they told me I could just leave the rental at the dealership, and the car rental agency would come pick it up. That seemed easy enough.
*Narrator: After almost 3 long years, one would think Phil would have learned that nothing is easy in South Africa. Phil is a ninnyhammer.
Everything went smoothly enough. Until the next day when I got an email from the car rental agency. It was a document explaining that I had chipped the windshield and I needed to sign to accept responsibility.
I didn’t REMEMBER getting a chip in the windshield, and when I looked things over before I dropped off the car, I didn’t SEE a chip in the windshield, but that didn’t mean there was no chip. I once left my infant son in his car seat directly behind the exhaust pipe of my running car as I let the air conditioner cool off the interior a bit so he’d be more comfortable. Being aware of things isn’t my best quality.
So I replied to the email saying I’d happily sign, but I asked
them to send me a picture of the damage.
I got a response back less than ten minutes later with a picture
of the damaged windshield.
Huh. Ok, fair enough. I responded that I would sign the document
and send it back to them as soon as I got to my office.
I printed off the form, signed it, and was about to send it back
when, on a whim, I decided to check the EXIF data on the picture they sent me.
It struck me a little odd because the picture was taken on April 18, 2019, and the date I returned the car was June 27, 2019. I’m not really a number scientist, but even I can figure out that April usually comes before June.
So, like I have had to do so many times in South Africa, I called and asked to speak to a manager.
Me: Hi, is this the branch manager?
Car Rental Guy: Yes. How can I help?
M: Hahaha. You say that like you have any intention of helping me whatsoever.
M: Nevermind. I’m calling because I suspect I just caught one of
your employees trying to rip me off.
CRG: I’m sorry to hear that.
M: Hahaha. You say that like 1) you’re surprised you have a thief working for you and 2) you’re actually sorry.
M: Anyway, here’s what happened…*relates the story
CRG: Let me investigate and I’ll call you back
*To his credit, he did something I’ve not experienced once when dealing with customer service in South Africa- he actually called back.
CRG: OK, I looked into it, and it was the correct picture. The time and day wasn’t programmed properly in the camera, and that’s why the date is different in the data. That definitely is a picture of the damage.
M: Wow. That’s interesting. Did you know that the picture was
taken with a Samsung phone?
M: Phones are connected to sky magic and always show the correct
date and time.
CRG: Let me investigate and call you back.
*I’ll be a meerkat’s uncle. He actually called me back again.
CRG: I don’t know why, but that phone was displaying the wrong date and time. We’ve fixed it now so it won’t happen again.
M: Can you do me a favour? Please open the picture you guys sent
me. Then zoom in. What do you see?
CRG: A chip in the windscreen.
M: No, past that.
CRG: I see the seats.
M: Can you describe the seats to me?
CRG: They’re grey.
M: And what are they made out of?
M: The car you guys rented me had black leather seats. Did you
happen to replace the seats after I dropped it off?
CRG: Let me call you back.
This time, I didn’t get a phone call back. I did, however, get an email stating that since they didn’t follow procedure, they would waive the cost of the windscreen damage. How noble of them.
Part of me felt a little guilty for confounding the car rental company’s plan to increase profits. Times are tough here, and every little bit of extra revenue counts.
And let’s be fair here- this is hardly the most egregious way South Africans have come up with to part the unsuspecting from their money. I usually don’t have the time or patience to argue when I suspect something is a little fishy.
So I guess this is a warning- if you rent a car in South Africa, take pictures. Lots of them. Or, you know, just be ready to donate a little extra.
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