I had an experience last week that rattled me a bit. I was getting major repair work done on our beloved rental car for the first time since we bought it two years ago, and a dealer error almost cost me $106 in erroneous charges.
I’ll walk you through what happened and share some tips on dealing with similar situations in the future.
To illustrate what happened, let’s use an example with simple & round numbers:
- The repair cost, labor and parts included, was $300.
- My extended warranty covered $200 of this amount.
If you did the quick math and decided that I owe $100 (which is my deductible), you’d be correct. The problem came in with another line item on the invoice that charged for my $100 deductible, bringing my total to $200 owed.
Now, if this was the only repair on the bill, the double-billing error would be glaring and would presumably be fixed without a whole lot of fuss.
Unfortunately, not only did I have three other repairs done at the same time (none of which were covered by warranty), but I also pre-paid for some of the parts on a previous visit. As a result, the invoice had about 10 charges (for the various parts and labor costs) and 3 payments (2 from me and 1 from the warranty company).
The mistake got buried in the math.
This made it difficult to spot (though I did), but even more difficult to explain and get corrected. The whole process took about 40 minutes and 4 staff members. Eventually, logic prevailed and a manager was able to see that I was overcharged for my deductible and the associated taxes.
Tips for Dealing With Errors
Invoice, receipt, and bill problems are not rare, but they are often overlooked, or we simply don’t want to spend the energy to fight over a couple of cents or dollars. In the long run that might make sense, since your time and energy are both valuable assets, just as money is.
Every once in a while, however, the error is large enough that it’s worth clarifying, following up on, holding on the phone, arguing, and doing everything possible to get back what’s rightfully yours. Here are a couple of tips from my experience:
- Don’t trust the computer/calculator, etc. Computers and their systems are set up by humans, and it’s humans that use them on a daily basis. While policies and procedures are in place to make sure that things are done right, it’s these same policies that break down and get in the way of simple common sense prevailing over an obvious computer error. Cultivate a mini-culture of electronic dis-trust when dealing with these situations.
- Don’t let complexity get in the way of getting it right. The more moving parts to the story, the harder it will be to sort through it all. Find any way possible to cut through the unnecessary parts and explain the problem in the simplest terms.
- Don’t give up on making your point—elevate the issue. It’s possible that the offender has made the errors countless of times before, and has never been challenged. Don’t let someone else’s habit get in the way of getting your money back. Insist that your point needs to be heard and you might eventually get a manager that understands your half of the story.
- Keep an open mind. I was fairly sure my math made sense, but I didn’t want to eat my words if things didn’t pan out as planned. I was firm, but approached the situation from a point of view of discovering the truth, not proving my point of view.
- Use credit for all purchases over $100, just in case you need to open a dispute. Having a plan B in case the argument doesn’t initially go your way is critical. While a debit card dispute might take weeks or months to get resolved, potentially tying up your money for the entire time, a credit card charge can be challenged with ease.
As much as possible, urge the people you’re dealing with to use their best judgment rather than established procedures or what their machine is telling them. Many service providers are so entrenched in tunnel-vision-type thinking that you’ll have to pull them out, kicking and screaming.
Best of luck!