Family finds ant infestation in Augusta, Georgia rental car

In a normal year, getting a rental car can be refreshing. They are often flawless, completely gassed and have no maintenance problems.

But this year is not a normal year for anything, let alone rental cars. And Brooke Smallwood’s most recent hire from Avis was far from normal or refreshing.

That’s because the white Toyota Highlander she rented for her family was ants-infested, as was the second car she picked up, a Black GMC Acadia.

Yes, ants. The tiny insects of every child’s nightmares who have ever fallen into a playground and landed on an anthill.

Smallwood visited Augusta, Georgia for the Nike Peach Jam basketball competition that her 10-year-old son competed in. As a frequent traveler, she was prepared with her husband and two children on July 15 and brought over the airport. There was a long wait on the rental car line, 45 minutes to an hour, she said, but eventually she picked up her first rental car and drove to California Dreaming for lunch.

“My daughter got out of the car and my two kids just start screaming,” said Smallwood, who lives in the Washington DC area. “We go over to see what happens. All we saw was ants all over the place, all over the door, in the car, outside the car. I mean, just everywhere. “

Smallwood said she didn’t notice the ants when they first got in the car.

“You are busy packing things in the car and you are not focused – you are not even looking. I mean, we never would have suspected something like this would happen, ”she said.

Smallwood and her husband immediately videotaped the ants, almost unable to believe it was happening.

“So that we can jump out of the car screaming and still catch so much activity, you can imagine how flooded that car was,” she said, adding that her daughter was welted from dozens of ant bites.

She called roadside assistance to have the car towed back to the airport. But she found that she had to wait several hours for a towing service and that she was not allowed to leave the car while waiting. The following drama took up the rest of the day.

Eventually her family made it back to the airport and picked up a new car, a Black GMC Acadia. They drove to their hotel. The ant rehearsal took up most of their first day in Augusta, thwarting any plans for sightseeing before the basketball competition.

Smallwood said she paid $ 1,200 for the new rental, including a $ 50 per day upgrade fee to buy a larger SUV. After battling through Avis’s phone system for two days, she said she managed to get a customer service rep with Avis on July 17 to more than halve her rent to $ 429, according to emails emerges with the Smallwood company. Avis also offered her a discount on her next rental.

But later that afternoon, Smallwood discovered that their new rental apartment was also infested with ants. At first she wondered if the ants were a holdover from the first car.

Upon inspection, Smallwood found dirt and crumbs of food under the seats of the car. She said it looked like the car hadn’t been cleaned in weeks.

“It takes more than one person not to clean up to create a situation where you are infested with insects,” she said.

A representative from Avis Budget Group said Smallwood’s situation was “resolved to your satisfaction” on July 21, four days after Smallwood first reached out to the company.

However, Smallwood is still unhappy with the company and believes they should receive a full rent refund. She had planned to rent another Avis car for a vacation to Myrtle Beach the following week, but frustrated she decided to cancel the reservation. Instead, she used Uber for her entire Grand Strand vacation.

This is not the first time Avis Budget Group customers have reported picking up a dirty rental car. Patricia Wall Erbe said on a visit to Myrtle Beach in June that the car she picked up was “dirty” and had “dried white stuff on the driver’s seat.”

When asked to comment on both situations, Avis did not provide details of what changes are being made to ensure their cars are clean, as the issue now spans multiple locations and is not confined to Myrtle Beach. The company said it had received no further reports of dirty cars.

Smallwood said she wished Avis had just made her wait longer so she had more time to properly clean her car instead of giving her one dirty.

“It’s something you can control,” she said. “If they just said, ‘Hey, you have to wait an hour because we have to clean your car,’ we’d go to a restaurant and come back in an hour. That’s fine. Don’t just distribute dirty cars. “

However, Smallwood said she believes Avis may have a systemic problem right now, fueled by the extremely high demand from vacationers coupled with the nationwide shortage of cars. However, the company has not stated this.

“This is much deeper than just an isolated incident,” said Smallwood.

Chase Karacostas writes for McClatchy on tourism in Myrtle Beach and across South Carolina. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Journalism and Political Communication in 2020. He joined McClatchy in 2020 after growing up in Texas, where he covers state politics, the environment, housing and the LGBTQ + community in three of the state’s largest print media as well as the Texas Tribune.

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