Beware unnecessary towing of Toyota Prius – Dealing with Alamo

So, Im in Sunny California and you would think I should only be happy.
If this helps ONE person save money by not having their Toyota Prius towed unnecessarily, it will be worth it.

Well, let me tell you whats got a thorn in my side.

I rented a car from San Francisco Alamo on August 28th.
Immediately, I was getting lights saying that the car needed Oil Maintenance, and I also discovered that the second cigarette lighter outlet did not work. So, no iPod and Navigation system at the same time.

I called Alamo Roadside assistance and they said to take the car to any Firestone or Goodyear.
I took it to the Firestone in Reno who confirmed they have an account with Alamo.
After waiting for 30 minutes, I was told that it would take many hours to perform the diagnostics and change the oil. I asked them to just check the outlet, and when they called Alamo, were told they could not get approval to work on the car for two days.

Okay – so I decided to forget about it. I was going out of MY way to help them maintain THEIR vehicle, and ended up wasting MY time.

So, I head to the desert. I try to leave on Sunday, September 5th. All I want is an Indian Taco, a nice hot shower, and to prepare for a week of interviews with winery owners.

I back up the car, all is well.
I get out to hug my campmates good-bye, and get back in. The car refuses to start.

The first message was, move car to flat surface and depress the emergency brake completely.
Two things – it was already ON a flat surface, AND the thing didnt start so i could not move it.

Then, a new message appeared. It would flash, and was hard to catch.
Looking it up in the manual, it was the “Immobilizer System activated”

The manual went on to say that the car needed to be towed to a Toyota dealership, that the fob was no longer being recognized as belonging to the car, either because it was brought in contact with another fob, or metal.


So, I called roadside assistance. This was not an easy feat – I was in the middle of the desert.

Luckily, someone had a satellite phone. This costs $1.50 per minute.

So, I get a hold of someone, relay to him the indicator message, and he says, Yes, you MUST have it towed to a Toyota dealership. He is able to send a tow truck, but needs an exact address.

I explain to him that I am on a satellite phone, in the middle of a desert, in a dust storm, and that the window is stuck in a down position since the car will not power up. I give him exact directions on how to get to my location. He tells, me, No, I need an address.

He starts asking me if I passed such and such street. I explain again that I am in the middle of the desert, exactly how to get to me, that I am on an expensive satellite phone, that the sun has gone down, and I am cold. He keeps asking me about streets, wasting my time.

He says he must be able to see the location on Google Maps in order to send a tow truck. He also explains that the tow truck will take 4 hours to get to me. So? Im STUCK IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DESERT.

I tell him, if he has Google Maps, he can go to a web address and get my location. He says he is unable to do so, and for me to call the police to find out my exact location.

The end result, $40 cash being paid to the owner of the satellite phone, and NO HELP WHATSOEVER from roadside assistance. He told me I would be reimbursed if I found a tow.
He did say he would arrange for a rental car to be available in Reno and gave me the number to call once I had gotten the car towed there.

SO…after 6 hours of having the car stuck in duststorms with the window down, I was able to get a tow.

We get towed about 2 miles, and the driver is told by another tow truck driver, have you checked the rear battery? Rear battery???

They jump said rear battery and the car starts.

Had roadside assistance, or any of the websites that I searched known this, I would not have been stuck all day in the desert.

If you ever get these messages, try jumping the rear battery of your Toyota Prius.

So, we drive all night long to get to Reno. Exhausted. Sleep in the car. Uncomfortable. And no Indian Tacos.

I call Reno Airport Alamo and am told by a nice woman that we will be taken care of, to bring the car in for an exchange and she would adjust the contract. I tell her we are exhausted, and can we bring it in the next day. She says yes.

So, we stay with a friend in Reno, and the next day go to the airport. Bikram listens to our story and says that he will exchange the car, but cannot adjust the contract without his managers approval.
We go to the car, and manager Robin Moon looks briefly inside the vehicle and says that we are being charged $250 for the dust in the car. I explain again the situation with the window being stuck down and the dust storm, but no sympathy.

After continued pleas, and crying, we are told the cleaning fee will be $50 – and will be added to the contract, but will not be deducted until the car contract gets settled in San Francisco, that she cannot make any adjustments.

She said that the fact that someone told me when I called that things would be taken care of meant nothing. That half the time when you call, you get someone from out of state. It seemed a negative to me that I would be getting different points of view and that different locations or people would be giving me different information.

Bikram assures us the $50 will not be charged, and that San Francisco Alamo will take care of us and the contract based upon our troubles.

The card they have on file emails me when I am charged anything. Interesting…I was charged $50 by Alamo the next day.

Im in the middle of interviewing winery owners for and it is not convenient to get myself to the airport at this point to deal with the situation.

I hope to post an update soon that ends this story on a good note.

2 thoughts on “Beware unnecessary towing of Toyota Prius – Dealing with Alamo

  1. Alamocares

    I am so sorry to hear about this terrible roadside/customer service experience you had. We are listening and I would like to assist you with getting this matter resolved. Please email us at care[at], subject “Incident 100909-002923”. Please include your full name, contact information, rental agreement number, and any other further details you can provide. – Rich

  2. Judy Post author

    The reply I received here was nice. When I emailed back, I was told to speak with the manager once I returned the car.

    Upon returning the vehicle I asked to speak with the manager, and was told by the clerk I could get 3 days off my rental. Givent he expenses I incurred I declined and asked to speak to the manager.

    She gave me a weeks discount and said she would send coupons. (these ended up being 25% off) She told me I should have called her location directly.

    I guess my takeaway is, if I do use them again, and get into problems, NOT to call roadside assistance but to call the location.

    I have too many other things to do than investigate this further, but perhaps these are franchises. I dont know. But the manager in Reno, just because you are dealing with others who have not done a good job of cleaning their cars after Burning Man, doesnt mean you should have been so mean to us.


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