AG stops rental car company of 'deceptive' acts 4 years after ABC15 Investigators uncover issues

PHOENIX - The Arizona Attorney General’s Office filed charges against a Valley rental car company Wednesday. The owner and his company are accused of overcharging customers, hiding excessive mileage and renting unsafe vehicles.

These were the exact same findings we discovered in an undercover hidden camera ABC15 investigation in 2009.

We told the AG’s Office at the time. Now, two administrations and 174 complaints later, they're suing Phoenix Car Rental and its owner, Dennis Saban over some of the same issues we exposed.

The car renters we interviewed told us, “It smelled like vomit and urine and the back seat was soiled.” and “It was in disrepair, completely."

Car renter after car renter told us the cars they rented were unsafe and the amount they paid was much higher than promised.

Back in 2009, when we first looked into their business, it was called, Saban’s Rent-A-Car. They had two Phoenix locations: one on East McDowell and the other on West Indian School Road. Today, it is called Phoenix Car Rental.

The AG’s Office claims in its lawsuit against that customers complained of transmission problems, electrical system failures, bad brakes and questionable charges.

The AG’s Office also went undercover. They rented the car for $129, but were charged $266.

We rented three cars during our investigation. We had them checked by AAA’s Certified Mechanics. All three had potentially serious issues.

One mechanic told us, “Engine mounts leaking, rear strut is leaking, lining is wet with brake fluid, [and] brakes could lock up.” He told us if he rented it, he would take it back “immediately."

The mechanics also noticed the check engine light was blackened with what looked like a marker.

Not just one car, but on all three we rented.

That's also part of the Attorney General's suit claiming customers were "not warned of potentially dangerous conditions."

When owner Dennis Saban wouldn't talk to us in 2009, we went to their office.

A manager wouldn't answer our questions. He even tried to hide. “I see you standing right there. Can't you just answer a couple of my questions?"

Phoenix Car Rental referred us to their attorney for comment on Wednesday’s AG’s action. We haven’t received a call back.

The Attorney General's Office is asking that owner, Dennis Saban and his businesses be barred from renting vehicles. They are also asking for some consumers to get money back.

As for why this happened now, the AG's Office says these investigations take time, and they can't talk about them while they are ongoing.

Read ABC15’s original investigations into Saban’s Rent-A-Car that aired in November 2009 and April 2010 below:

ABC15’s original investigation aired in November 2009:

Everybody has a bad customer service story, but after going undercover at one Valley rental car company, we discovered customers literally being kicked to the curb.

We wanted to know why so many people were complaining about Saban's Rent-A-Car (now under the name of Phoenix Car Rental), so we went undercover to rent three cars.

It didn't take long to figure out why there were so many concerns.

Our first rental car had been in a serious accident and then rebuilt. That’s legal, but not exactly a confidence builder.

Isabel and Perry each rented from Saban’s after they were lured in by low rates.

They each had different vehicles but the same story.

“It smelled like vomit and urine, and the backseat was soiled,” said Isabel, “The brakes were mushy.”

“It was in disrepair, completely,” said Perry, “We needed air conditioning.”

Their stories included unsafe cars and unexpected fees.

Perry said they charged him $11 for washing the vehicle even though the car was filthy when they gave it to him.

Both Perry and Isabel said the cars were so bad that they returned them after driving for a few hours.

Isabel was charged $190, and Perry was charged $428.

Saban’s has locations both at 30th Avenue and Indian School Road and at 26th Street and McDowell Road.

The Better Business Bureau lists 64 similar complaints against Saban’s and rates them an 'F'.

All of the complaints are unresolved.

According to one customer, not only does Saban's get an 'F', but they don't mind using it either.

“He called me an ‘f----n’ b----‘, and said that I needed to get my ass kicked,” said Isabel.

There's also this story from Jennifer. She told us she was driving through a Jack in the Box restaurant with her Saban’s rental car with her child in the back seat and burgers on the way when she heard a knock at the car window.

Startled, she saw a large man staring at her.

“He opened my door and said 'get out,'” said Jennifer. “I thought I was in the twilight zone. You're kidding.”

He wasn't. Jennifer said she was a couple of hours late on a return, and Saban’s wanted the car back – right then and there. They tracked her vehicle down.

“I had to get my three-year-old with my car seat, with my briefcase, with my purse, with all the hamburgers. I broke down. I was sobbing,” said Jennifer.

The ABC15 Investigators got similar treatment undercover from owner Dennis Saban.

You can hear him say through the use of our hidden camera, "You need to take your purse outside."

Saban accused our undercover producer of having a weapon.

Our producer asked, “You going to talk to me?” and Saban responded, “I told you to put the purse back in the car.”

“I don't have a weapon in the purse, sir,” said the producer.

“You can't carry any concealed objects in here,” said Saban as him slammed the window closed.

The producer asked, “Are you going to give me my money back?”

We didn't have a weapon, but we did want our money back.

Of the cars we rented, two of them were 12 years old with missing pieces and interiors that have seen better days.

And that is just what we could see.

We used certified mechanics at the AAA repair shop in Peoria who told us about plenty of stuff we couldn’t see.

According the AAA, the 1997 Chevy Lumina:
-had no washer fluid reservoir,
-engine mounts were weak,
-the rear strut was leaking,
-the steering hose was leaking,
-the lining was wet with brake fluid,
-and the brake could easily lock up and could cause the wheel to skid.

Our producer knew there were issues with the 1997 Ford Taurus as soon as she drove it off the lot.

“It looks like it's in park, but you start going in reverse,” said our producer.

According to AAA, the car had some real safety issues:
-the gear shift had a lot of slack in it so you never knew which gear it was in,
-there was a valve malfunction,
-the wheel wobbled which would make it hard to keep the car straight in the lane and loose control.

If the mechanic received this car as a rental, he said he would return it immediately.

When Saban wouldn't talk about our concerns by phone or e-mail, we went there.

That is when our cameras found the manager, Al, trying to hide from us ... unsuccessfully.

He hid behind the door.

He avoided our questions about safety, overcharges and about something the mechanics noticed on our rentals.

The service light on the dashboard that warns you of dangers under the hood was painted over or blackened with a marker.

“Somebody had to take it apart and disassemble it to do that,” said the mechanic.

It wasn’t on just one car; it had been painted over on all three of our rentals.

We asked Al if that was something Saban’s Rent-a-Car did. Once again, there was no answer.

After the sun went down, Al scurried to his car and drove away leaving us with no answers.

But, while we were undercover, Saban told us their fees are printed on the contract, and that they will remove charges for insurance if you can prove you had it at the time.

If you rented a car from Saban’s, let us know by e-mailing us.

Also, get tips on Car Rentals and Hassel-Free Car Rental to keep you and your family safe.

 

A follow-up investigation aired in April 2010:

Renting a car shouldn't end with a call to police. But Keith Anderson of Mesa said it couldn't be avoided.

Anderson said in August of last year, he walked out of his apartment and discovered his rental car was gone.

At first, he thought it had rolled away. He said he called police and filed a report.

Police later found the car abandoned near the Gila River.

And just when Anderson thought it couldn't get worse, he said the car rental company held him financially responsible and emptied his bank account.

He said they first took $1,500 out of his bank account.

The company is Saban's Rent-A-Car also known as Phoenix Car Rental online.

Anderson said a few hours later, they took another $1,000.

Not only that, now the company is suing Anderson for $1,000 that they claim he still owes to replace the car.

That would be $3,500 total.

Anderson discovered the car was salvaged. He said there were parts missing, and the car was in poor condition.

A check of the Kelly Blue Book value shows the same model car, a '97 Ford, is worth much less, in fair condition.

The ABC15 Investigators found calls to 9-1-1 and police are routine at their two locations of 3625 W. Indian School and 2934 E. McDowell in Phoenix.

Phoenix Police records show the calls include fights, threats and fraud.

In the past 10 years, there have been a total of 659 calls for help, many from angry customers.

In November 2009, the Investigators started looking at Sabans.

Customers complained of being harassed and verbally abused.

One woman said she was pulled out of her car at a fast food drive-thru because she was a couple of hours late returning her car.

The ABC15 Investigators rented three vehicles from Saban's at that time.

Certified mechanics at AAA examined them and found brakes that could lock up and possibility cause skidding, difficult steering and much more.

But, customers might never know because the service engine lights on all three of the vehicles we rented had been painted over.

Saban's Rent-A-Car had no comment last year, and they did not comment when we tried reaching them this time.

But, after viewing our first story on Saban's, more renters contacted us.

Deon Williford said his car broke down on a major road with his family inside.

He said the whole driver's side dropped.

Somehow, Williford said he managed to get the car back to Saban's and asked for a replacement.

But, he said Saban's wanted another deposit. Williford refused.

And, there are new concerns about actual mileage on Saban's rentals.

One customer sent us a contract showing 39,000 miles on the car. But, the Carfax report shows it had more than 115,000 miles in 2008.

A car we rented showed 38,000 miles on our contract. Carfax shows it had more than 117,000 miles almost 5 years ago.

After all of this, victims wonder why authorities haven't stopped Saban's.

A source tells the ABC15 Investigators that Phoenix police did investigate the company.

ABC15 obtained police reports showing search warrants and photo line-ups.

And, we were told the case was handed over to the state Attorney General's Office last year.

But, that office has taken no official action against Saban's.

The Attorney General's Office said by law, they "cannot confirm or deny the existence of any investigation" and "all complaints are confidential."

Some victims worry about the cars that Saban's continues to put on Valley roads.

Car renters should expect certain costs, but avoid others.  Smart Money magazine breaks down your rights as a renter.

If you need help or need to warn others about a consumer problem or scam, let me know at joe@abc15.com or by going to my  "Let Joe Know" Facebook page.

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