Latest Car Rental Scam – Charges for Pre-existing Damage and Loss of Use
It's practically a law of economics that when corporate business falls in a recession, each consumer must pay more to make up the difference. Case in point: You rent a car, have an accident, and under the contract, you are responsible for the costs of repairing and lost use of the car, but minor scratches are no-cost normal wear. Right?
Not anymore. Several articles in the last two years note that car rental agencies are dinging renters for damages that don't even qualify as dings. One renter failed to receive his $763 deposit, which according to Thrifty was forfeit for damage. The damage in the photograph, however, was a "barely visible nick on the car door and a small scratch on one bumper."
One Enterprise renter received a bill for $600, with a photo of the damages – except that the car in the photo was not the car he had rented. An Enterprise renter failed to mark normal wear damages on the check out sheet, and was charged several hundreds of dollar for the cost of repair and the time off the lot to repair the "damages."
So, what's a car renter to do? The first step before leaving home is to check whether your insurance or credit card coverage includes rental cars. It is also always a good idea to travel with your proof of insurance and agent contact information.
The first step on the lot is to carefully inspect the car – outside and inside - before starting the car, and mark the checkout sheet with every scratch, spot, or smudge. Be sure also to completely check the headliner, seats and carpeting for food stains and tears. Document everything.
The second step is to photograph the car before leaving the lot, include the built-in date & time stamp – so you can use your evidence against theirs. As one former car rental agent said, "From my experience, many customers were blamed for damage they did not cause.”
Another option, as much as it pains me to say to say this, is to purchase the Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) or Loss Damage Waiver (LDW). CDW and LDW are not collision insurance. It just means that the rental car company will pay for accident damage or loss of use that occurs to the vehicle.
Lastly, when returning the vehicle, either demand a full drop-off inspection before you leave the lot, or again photograph or videotape the car – and let the agent know that you did. As the former car rental agent also said, "agency employees aren’t in the customer service business. They’re paid a commission [based on] the dollar amount we’ve brought in each month and quarter."
If after all that, you do get dinged, you have a few options. If your credit card is charged, call your card service number and dispute the charge with a demand that the car rental agency provide a body shop repair invoice.
Then call the rental office, get the name of the person you are talking to, demand a retraction of the charge until you are provided proof of damage and proof of repair and remind them that you have evidence that contradicts them.
Don't be surprised if you are told regional office approval is required. It's may be another stall tactic, but ask the agent for the name and telephone and fax number of the person at the regional office. If that fails, write a letter of dispute to the corporate level and copy the state insurance commissioner in the state in which you rented the car. Be sure to include copies of your evidence and that you are disputing the charge with a demand that the car rental agency provide proof of damage and a body shop repair invoice.
Your last option is small claims court, although don't be surprised to hear from the rental agency that the contract states that disputes must first be arbitrated somewhere outside your state, and likely not even the in the state where you rented the car. If so, contact the insurance commissioner in both states, and a consumer advocate agency in the company's 'home' state. Your local TV station also provide consumer advocate service – rip-offs make for good news.
Christopher Elliott, Washington Post, Paying upfront for rental car nicks and scratches, 11/14/2010, http://www.mercurynews.com/travel/ci_16596785.
Christopher Elliott, Tribune Media Services, Broadsided by a rental car bill, July 29, 2009, http://articles.cnn.com/2009-07-29/travel/rental.car.repair_1_rental-car-car-from-enterprise-rent-a-car-significant-scratches?_s=PM:TRAVEL
Christopher Elliott, Washington Post, 6 secrets car rental companies don’t want you to know, April 16, 2008, http://www.elliott.org/blog/6-secrets-car-rental-companies-dont-want-you-to-know/
Christopher Elliott, Tribune Media Services, Who should pay for scratch on rental car? 9/3/2010,
Rent A Car – Preparation, 9/4/2010, http://www.smartmotorist.com/auto-financing-warranties-and-leasing/rent-a-car.html