Mother and Daughter 'Trapped' Inside Rented Tesla Didn't Know How To Open Doors Manually

A mother and her daughter who rented a Tesla from Hertz remained trapped inside the car when it ran out of battery. Without prior experience driving a Tesla, they did not know how to charge it or how to open the doors manually when it ran out of power.
Hertz customer remain trapped inside a rented Tesla 6 photos
Photo: CBS News
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Car rental companies embraced electric vehicles as they allowed them to cut costs significantly compared to ICE vehicles. With almost no maintenance costs and electricity significantly cheaper than gas, EVs are a boon to companies like Hertz, who amassed tens of thousands in their flees. Although this is good for the company, its customers might suffer, especially when they know nothing about driving an EV.

Hertz claims electric vehicles in its fleet are a popular choice with customers, but the reality is different. You can always find rental EVs in parking lots because they are avoided by many people who want to rent a car. Sometimes, they are heavily discounted, but often, the rental company persuades the customers to accept one by telling them there's nothing else available. This is a recipe for disaster for everyone involved: the rental company, the customers, and the EV adoption.

This is precisely what happened when Becky Liebau and her 16-year-old daughter arrived at a Hertz office to rent a car for their trip. The Hertz rental agent told them they were overbooked and the Tesla EV was the only car available, take it or leave it. It was already at closing time, so they took it despite Liebau having never driven an electric vehicle. The problems started even before departing the parking lot.

The Tesla they got had less than half the battery charge, with the car's computer estimating a 90-mile (145-km) range. Not knowing how to use Tesla's excellent trip planner, they ran out of battery before finding a Supercharger station. They encountered other stations, but Hertz did not include a plug adapter with the car, so they couldn't use them. To make matters worse, the 12-volt battery also went out of service, essentially bricking the EV.

Liebau called Hertz customer service, but it wasn't helpful, and without a 12-volt battery, they couldn't open the door, being trapped inside the Tesla. Not being used to the car, they did not know about the safety door releases that Tesla offers, at least on the front doors. The emergency release is placed right next to the window switches on the door's handle, but it's unmarked, and thus impossible to know that it's there.

Eventually, Ms. Liebau called a tow truck driver who instructed them to get out of the Tesla through the boot using the tailgate release. They later employed a driver to take them to their destination, but the Hertz story doesn't end here. As the rented Tesla was returned with an empty battery, the company billed Liebau for charging even though she never got to charge the car. As she refused to pay, Hertz placed her on a blacklist so that she could never rent from Hertz again.

Hertz changed its tune after Liebau told the story to CBS News. The rental company refunded the fees and provided reimbursement for related travel expenses. Liebau's story made waves because of the emotional factors involved, but many Hertz customers reported abysmal experiences renting electric vehicles from them. Forcing an EV down somebody's throat will not make them EV lovers, that's for sure. It's even worse when stories like this cast a bad light on the company that does it.

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About the author: Cristian Agatie
Cristian Agatie profile photo

After his childhood dream of becoming a "tractor operator" didn't pan out, Cristian turned to journalism, first in print and later moving to online media. His top interests are electric vehicles and new energy solutions.
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