Why I Will Not Rent From Payless Again – Dirty Car, Pushy Agents, and More

elite status
Written by Charlie

Last month, I rented a car from Payless for the first time. The experience and the car itself made sure that I will not rent from Payless Rental Car again. Here are some of the reasons I say this.

I typically rent cars from the big car rental companies that I have elite status with. Not only does it help me to get some great upgrades and benefits, that can be very advantageous and cost-saving, but it can help with the whole customer experience as well.

Why I Will Not Rent From Payless Again

Due to the fact that I have this elite status (but more likely because I mostly rent from the larger rental car companies), I have rarely had a dirty car. Sure, I have had a car with some little patches or stains but I have found that the cars I typically rent are pretty clean and almost like new.  Not only that, but I also tend to get some pretty good customer service.

First Time Rental with Payless

Because of my typical rental patterns, this description of the dirtiest rental car I have had in the US may not be as bad as cars you have had before but it was certainly my worst. Also, the experience with the company was far from the great ones I usually have and the whole rental made me certain that I will not rent from Payless again.

Why Did I Rent From Payless?

I was in Phoenix visiting family and I had been using rental cars on and off. I needed another one for a couple of days as my wife and I were going away on a little getaway. The problem was that all the major car rental companies were completely sold out! This is Phoenix in February on the week that MLB Spring Training kicked off so not a big surprise as to why!

This left me with having to rent with the one company that still had cars in stock. And that company was Payless Car Rental. I had never rented with them before (and will likely never rent from them again) but they were relatively cheap compared to prices around that time anyway – and they were only the ones with cars!

The Dirty Details

I rented the cheapest vehicle they had – an intermediate SUV. It ended up being a Mitsubishi Outlander, not a bad vehicle! The problem came when I got in the vehicle. The tan seats were filthy with stains and the smell of cigarette smoke was definitely in the car. This was strange because they, like other companies, say they charge at least a $250 fee for cleaning if you smoke in the car. My guess was the charge was assessed but the cleaning was never done (based on the interior condition of the vehicle).

Not only were the seats stained but they also had what looked like cigarette burns in the backs of the seats. The front seats also had weird stains and I found food (very old food) on the floor in the back seat as well as hotel receipts and grocery store receipts throughout the car. Based on the dates on the receipts, it was likely not thoroughly cleaned in weeks.

When I opened the passenger door when I got to the house, a hotel receipt fell out of it. That did not give me the sense that this car had been cleaned from the last renter!

payless car rental

This is part of the back seat and this dark photo does not even show how bad it really was.

I had planned on taking photos of the entire interior to show how dirty it was but I was in a hurry and only snapped one.

The Condition of the Vehicle

Unfortunately, it was not just the interior that was a problem. As I was driving later on and approaching my family’s house, I had to slow down for speed bumps and started hearing loud creaking noises coming from the front suspension. Not only that, but the vehicle’s tires were worn down quite a bit.

I have never had issues like that with previous rentals from other companies!

Dealing With Payless

Car Rental Reps or Insurance Salespeople?

Now let’s get to the dealing with Payless. There was a very long line (took me about 45 minutes in line) to pick up the car but I again acknowledge that this was due to no other companies having any cars left and that Phoenix is like this anyway at busy times.

When I finally got to the front, the rep turned on the hard sell for insurance. I told him I had it with my card and he started pushing the liability insurance and telling me I was not covered from that. He kept pushing it for a couple of minutes after I first started saying no but I finally gave in because I have dealt with similar companies internationally and they always found something they would try to pin on you later for insurance reasons and I simply didn’t want to deal with that.

Dodgy Answers on Total Costs

I asked a couple of times if the amount he was quoting me extra for the two days was the total and he said yes. Except, when I got the receipt, the amount was quite a bit higher! I asked why and he said it tax. I told him I had specifically asked him if that previous amount he had quoted me was the total but he said that they don’t include tax in that amount originally because they don’t control the tax (a 49% tax altogether, by the way).

This was not just with me either! I heard the other reps selling the insurance hard and telling people things like Arizona is one of 4 states in the US that does not recognize this insurance or that insurance, etc. I also heard them upgrading people to bigger, better vehicles only to hit the insurance thing again by saying that their cards/insurance would not cover that vehicle because of the size.

Returning the Car and Learning More About Payless

Because of how dirty the car was, I made it a point to return to the counter to make sure I was not going to be charged anything extra, including for the smoke. I had to wait 15 minutes at the counter for them to finally get it logged in and then they closed it out and assured me that I was fine and I checked over the receipt then.

But while I was waiting, I was talking to the rep (nice guy, by the way) and he was telling me how that location was actually going to run out of cars that day by 4:30 in the afternoon! To make it worse, they had 200 reservations for people picking up cars after that point – and they would have no cars to pick up! He said that if they had made the reservations through Orbitz (or similar), there was fine print that the reservation did not guarantee they would actually get a car.

The problem, he said, was that the system would let it oversell a bit in the first place but also that many people were calling and extending their rentals because it was cheaper to do that than to bring them back and rent again.


From the dirty, creaking car to the pushy agents and the company’s handling of overselling cars, I never plan to rent from Payless Car Rental again. I understand that their parent company is Avis but I have always enjoyed positive rental experiences from Avis. From Payless, definitely not even though it was just this one rental.

As I looked more at them, I found out that the BBB gave them an “F” rating last year due to over 800 complaints. Check out this ABC story from last year that talks about the BBB even wanted attorneys in four separate states to investigate Payless and their parent company Avis. Yes, Payless may have the cheapest rates up front, but it appears that you truly get what you pay for with them…

Have you ever rented from Payless Car Rental? What was your experience like?

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.


  • I’ve always avoided them due to stories like this- thanks for another confirmation I should steer clear!

    • Since they were the only option, I wasn’t picking them out of any preference. But, I figured that the cars would have high mileage, maybe some dirty floor mats, and maybe some squabbles about scratches so I took video and photos before I got in in case there was such an issue.

  • It can happen even with supposedly reputable rental companies…
    I once had a very similar car cleanliness issue with a Hertz Local Edition (one of their neighborhood locations) in Brooklyn. I had a reservation for a compact SUV and was given the last remaining one in the lot. Turned out to be a really old (with correspondingly high mileage) and dirty (both inside and out) car. When I pointed that, they gave me a voucher to go to a car wash nearby. Adding insult to injury, the tank was only 1/4 full. They refused to discount my rate or upgrade me. Needless to say, I won’t be returning.

  • I got a decent rental rate for them, then got to Phoenix in early March this year and saw a ridiculous line (would have been an hour easy). NOOOOPE (had someplace to be that wasn’t going to let me waste an hour+ picking up a car).

    I then made a reservation on the spot… with Avis. Cost me $30 more for two days. Well worth saving that hour I guess. And Payless was crossed off my list for good (none of the other agencies had stupid long lines).

  • Similar horrible experience with Payless at PHX. After waiting over an hour in line, the rude guy said no economy car as I reserved and asked me to pay $$$ to upgrade to an SUV. I mentioned then I shall be given whatever was available on the next category for free. The guy said yeah but you have to wait another 20 min till your pick up time…. eventually I had to escalate this to a manager and I was given an SUV from Avis. I am going to further complain this to the corporate level of Payless.

  • Similar experience here. They’re awful. Use them as an absolute last resort. I had to switch cars twice before leaving the garage in PHX. One car had alignment as if it had been in a wreck. It pulled so hard to the left that the car was uncontrollable. How does the valet not notice that? Awful. Just awful. That company and those employees should be ashamed.

  • Exact experience with FOX…right down to the place and time. They all suck in PHX in February. Last rental 2 weeks ago in PHX was Alamo and it was just a shade better.

  • I used them in Seattle. Nasty stains, car was not good but I at least didn’t get the insurance sale. i have had some Hertz cars with issues but Hertz on a bad day is better than Payless on a good day.

  • Rented from Payless offsite in Orlando and was charged for roadside assistance in spite of specifically declining it. I have AAA. Also later my credit card was charged for taking a toll road I never used. Heard the same roadside assistance scam story from another renter on the bus returning to the airport. Fortunately I saw the error before getting on the bus and returned to the counter to have it adjusted. I guess they figure most people will not notice the $30 charge on the receipt until they get home. Avoid Payless.

  • I stay away from them and the other non-mainline car rental companies; so that leaves essentially Hertz, Avis, Budget for me.