We booked a 4 wheel drive pickup vehicle for 4 days to be collected at Santiago Airport through Alamo UK in April of 2013. When we got to the airport we had to wait for over an hour in the parking lot for the vehicle to arrive. When it did, it had clearly just been washed yet was still dirty, it was clearly an old vehicle full of dents and scrapes, the interior mats were soaking wet, and the gas tank was almost empty. Moreover, the vehicle was not a true 4x4 as we had requested and had specifically checked again before leaving for Chile as we wanted to explore some old mine sites on unsealed roads.
We were only about half an hour out of Santiago when we stopped to fill the tank. After refuelling, we tried to restart the engine at the pumps only to discover that the battery was dead. We tried to ring Alamo but the number we were given was out of date (phone codes in Chile have been changed to accommodate an extra digit), and we eventually got help from the gas station who rang Alamo and explained the problem and were very understanding considering a vehicle was blocking access to one of their pumps. After over an hour Alamo delivered another vehicle (also not a 4X4 and with a gas tank almost empty) and we were assured by the Santiago manager himself that this one was in tip top condition. When we asked about the fuel that we had just placed into the broken down vehicle, the manager assured us that we would be reimbursed the money when we returned the car (it amounted to a sum of around US$ 80/40,000 pesos).
Our problems were only beginning. We did not use the replacement vehicle which was parked at our accommodation for 2 days. When we came to return to Santiago, to our horror we found the battery also flat on this vehicle. We called Alamo and they suggested we got the vehicle jump started. There was no jump start kit with the vehicle and it was only through the help of the hotel manager who called a friend to bring some electrical cable to jump start it that we finally got on the road back to Santiago. En route we stopped briefly in La Serena for refreshments and when we tried to restart the engine the battery was flat yet again. We called Alamo and the treatment we received was quite frankly shocking.
They instructed us to get it jump started again, to which we replied that when we stopped for fuel, the same thing was likely to happen again and could they therefore either bring us another car or get a mechanic to install a new battery. Alamo gave us a number to ring for their emergency breakdown service. When we called this number the person who answered replied that they do not deal and have never dealt with Alamo. Despite requesting your mobile phone number/contact details, unbelievably Alamo do not make calls to international numbers, even though they are an international franchise! So we had to keep calling their office at great expense. They then suggested that we go and buy a replacement battery, even though it was a Sunday and most businesses were closed. We said that this was simply not acceptable and their emergency breakdown service should come to our assistance. The man who answered our call then dropped the phone on us. Repeated attempts thereafter to contact the office by phone resulted in the same response. We were thus stranded in La Serena, luckily for us in the centre of town and not out in the middle of the desert...
It was only through the kindness of a couple of young men who came to our assistance with jump leads that we managed to get back on the road. We were too frightened to stop the engine even to refuel and luckily the gas station where we stopped didn't seem to mind the engine running. We had to cancel visiting the Humboldt penguin colony south of La Serena for fear that we might be totally stranded in a remote area. When we finally arrived back at Santiago airport, the desk was closed (even though it should have been open) and there was no one around to deal with the paperwork and no obvious key drop facility. We left the vehicle in the parking lot and took the keys with us leaving an email message stating that Alamo should come and retrieve them from us at our hotel in Santiago the following day and to sort out the fuel refund.
The following evening an Alamo employee came to get the keys, we signed the docket to state there was no damage to the vehicle but he could give no assurances about the fuel refund. A couple of days later we were flying out of the airport so called round to the desk about the refund. No one seemed to know anything about this and we were told to contact head office which we did, with no satisfaction. We asked if the credit card deposit of US$ 1,000 had been cancelled but could get no assurances that it had been.
Finally, about 4 weeks later as we were leaving South America for Europe, we called round to the Alamo desk at the airport again, requesting to see the manager. Unsurprisingly, he was not available. We asked about the fuel refund yet again but now the company stated that they did not have the paperwork at the airport, stating that it might have been sent to their head office downtown. We insisted that they call this office, which they did under duress, only to discover that the paperwork was not there either. So we have no idea if our credit card deposit has been cancelled and we have not been reimbursed for the fuel.
This company is clearly not fit for purpose judging by our experience and that of numerous other travellers who have also posted horror stories about Alamo Chile. They are providing substandard vehicles to unsuspecting customers who are sallying forth blissfully unaware of the danger they could find themselves in if their car breaks down in a deserted desert area. Customer service is anathema to this company and the consequences of their business practice is likely to result in a tragedy. Alamo International please consider ending this Chilean company's franchise as they are doing irreparable damage to your international brand.