US mother and daughter ‘trapped’ in rented Tesla didn’t know how to open its doors

A mother and daughter who rented a Tesla Model 3 from Hertz in the US were reportedly ‘trapped’ in the electric car after it ran out of charge. However, they did not appear to know about the vehicle’s not-so-hidden emergency door releases.

Rental-car giant Hertz has offered a full refund to a mother and daughter in the US who were ‘trapped’ in a Tesla Model 3 – and could not find the emergency door releases – rented to them by the company, when the vehicle ran out of charge on the roadside.

As reported by US news outlet CBS News, the mother – Becky Liebau – and her 16-year-old were travelling to look at colleges in the US, and chose to rent a car through Hertz.

However, despite asking for a petrol or diesel-powered car, Ms Liebau was reportedly told by a Hertz employee that they were booked out of her preferred choice of vehicles, with an electric Tesla Model 3 remaining as the rental company’s only equivalent-sized car available.

Having never driven an electric car before, Ms Liebau was concerned about renting the sedan – which was exacerbated when she got to the Tesla to find its tyre pressures were low and its battery had less than half a charge.

The vehicle’s driving range calculator estimated it had less than 150km to travel until its battery went flat, but Ms Liebau was reportedly unable to find a Tesla charging station – and Hertz did not include a charging cable adapter which would allow the Model 3 to use a non-Tesla charger.

While driving around and searching for charging stations the Tesla’s battery went flat, stranding the mother and daughter on the roadside.

Ms Liebau claims she called Hertz’s roadside assistance helpline but was not given any meaningful help – while the electric-car’s doors also ‘locked’ themselves, effectively trapping the pair inside.

The Tesla Model 3 uses a small switch at the top of the door handle to open its doors when its battery is charged (see video below), though when it runs out of charge, there is an emergency release next to the window switch. It does not appear Ms Liebau or her daughter knew about this.

With their phones running out of power, Ms Liebau decided to call a tow truck driver, who later instructed the pair about how to get out of the Tesla – by crawling through the boot and using the tailgate release.

After the ordeal, the tow truck driver took Ms Liebau and her daughter to a nearby hotel, though as there were no rideshare vehicles or taxis operating in the region, a hotel maintenance employee was paid the next day to take them across the unreported state.

The story doesn’t end there. 

Following the Tesla being returned to Hertz, the rental-car company sent Ms Liebau invoices to charge the electric-car, which she refused to pay, resulting in her being put on a ‘blacklist’ of people unable to use the company’s services.

It was only after Ms Liebau reported her story to CBS News that Hertz changed its tune, refunding her the money she had paid throughout the ordeal.

In a media statement, a Hertz spokesperson told the news outlet it “understand(s) that some customers may be driving an EV (electric vehicle) for the first time, and so we provide robust digital content and other resources to help them feel comfortable on the road. 

“We regret this customer’s experience did not meet our service standards and have refunded all charges and provided reimbursement for related travel expenses.

The incident comes at a crucial time for Hertz, which has recently bolstered its US rental fleet with thousands of electric cars.

In October 2021, Hertz announced it would order 100,000 Tesla Model 3s for its North American and European rental fleets.

In September 2022, it signed a deal with US car giant General Motors to add 175,000 electric vehicles from the company to its US fleet across the next five years.

A number of rental companies in Australia now offer electric cars, ranging from the popular Tesla Model 3 and Model Y to the BYD Atto 3 and BMW iX3.

Jordan Mulach is Canberra/Ngunnawal born, currently residing in Brisbane/Turrbal. Joining the Drive team in 2022, Jordan has previously worked for Auto Action, MotorsportM8, The Supercars Collective and TouringCarTimes, WhichCar, Wheels, Motor and Street Machine. Jordan is a self-described iRacing addict and can be found on weekends either behind the wheel of his Octavia RS or swearing at his ZH Fairlane.

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