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Holiday from hell: Richmond family's dream trip to Rockies goes up in flames

The family-of-8’s rental car went up in smoke in the middle of nowhere, leaving them stranded, with bears close by

A Richmond family’s long-anticipated dream trip to the Canadian Rockies ended abruptly, and in scary circumstances, when their rental car caught on fire before they’d even reached the famous mountain range.

When Sweta and Abhishek Choudhary panned for gold with their family at Hell's Gate, north of Hope, they had no idea their vacation would turn into a holiday from hell.

“Our whole vacation was ruined. My brother, he spent $7,000 coming from India to be here and he (didn’t even get to) see the Rockies…,” said Sweta, whose brother was visiting Canada for the first time.

The family of eight, including two kids and two toddlers, embarked on the five-day road trip to see the Rocky Mountains in Alberta during the Victoria Day long weekend last month.

The vacation was five months in the making, but things went south before they even left B.C.

Day one had gone by without a hitch, but as the Choudharys bid Clearwater, B.C. goodbye on Friday, the second day, and headed toward Jasper, they started hearing strange sounds in their eight-seater car at around 4 p.m.

The car was rented through Turo, a car rental service that provides an Airbnb-like service for car owners.

Car burst into flames at the side of the highway

Abhishek pulled over on the highway just 58 kilometres outside of Valemount, B.C. and drivers in passing cars turned back to tell him there was a small fire and smoke coming out of the car. The car had experienced a mechanical breakdown.

“There was no internet (and) no telephone connection, no cell phone connection,” said Sweta.

The family had to huddle on an island on the side of the highway, but fellow drivers were quick to come to their rescue.

One driver gave a ride to Abhishek and his nephew so they could get help from Valemount, while a construction worker offered to let Sweta use his wifi to contact friends and family in Vancouver.

“The local people around there, the police, local people travelling on the road, local people in town, all sorts of people helped us a lot. Amazing,” said Abhishek.

In Valemount, things were looking up as Abhishek had gotten a call from Turo customer service representative, who promised to send a new car and help them book their accommodation. However, that was the last time they spoke to that representative.

“From that moment till night, 11:30 p.m. (or) something like that, they never called us back,” said Abhishek, adding that he had to call Turo at least four to five times but was met with customer service representatives who didn’t understand the situation.

The family was eventually able to book accommodation in Valemount for the night and hitch a ride from the side of the highway to the hotel after two hours, but the story did not end there.

At around 10 p.m., the family realized their Turo reservation was cancelled unilaterally, having only charged them for the first day of the trip.

No vehicle available to get home to Richmond

They were told that Turo would not be able to provide an alternative car for them, since they were going on a one-way trip and would not be able to return the car to its original location, Jasper.

As it was the long weekend, the family was also unable to find any alternatives for rental cars.

“There was no buses, no Uber, no taxi,” said Sweta.

Stranded at Valemount with no other means of continuing their trip, the Choudharys were forced to cut their trip short — with a 21-hour train ride back to Vancouver that cost them $1,000.

“The Rockies is the main thing (on the) West Coast, there was nothing else. And we booked everything since January. I booked for Icefields Parkway, I booked for gondola ride,” said Sweta, adding that she booked three to four hotels for the whole trip.

The train, which departed on Saturday, was the Choudharys’ last chance to return to Vancouver. The next train was scheduled for Wednesday.

Although they managed to get tickets for the Saturday train at the last minute, they weren’t able to get a sleeping coach and had to sit for the full journey. Being vegetarian also meant they struggled to find food options.

And it appeared that they had narrowly missed two bears spotted just two kilometres away on the highway when the car broke down, according to a police officer who stopped by to check on them.

Sweta told the Richmond News that the trip was a “disaster” and that no one should have to deal with the kind of customer service they received from Turo.

Including parts of the trip that the Choudharys were unable to cancel, they incurred around $2,900 in expenses.

“The worst part was that my brother was not able to even see the beauty of the Rockies because we didn’t reach there,” said Sweta.

In a statement to the News, Turo said the Choudharys’ experience is “extremely rare” and the rental company has provided a full refund and is in the process of reimbursing their travel costs.

Turo is also offering future travel credit so the Choudharys can “book a new and improved Turo experience.”

“We have also restricted this vehicle and our quality assurance/reporting teams are investigating ways to ensure exceptional Turo experiences moving forward,” reads the statement.

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