A $387 bill for a cracked windshield? You’ve gotta be kidding

Debbie Vinton saw a star on her recent vacation in Los Angeles, but it isn’t the kind that you’d want an autograph from. Instead, her car rental company asked to sign a form agreeing to cover the damage for a cracked windshield “star” on her front windshield.

It’s a decision she now regrets. The bill came to $387, not including a $50 “administrative fee” for a repair that should have cost just $50.

Vinton’s case is a reminder that you ask questions before, not after, signing a release — and always, always check the windshield.

Here’s what happened to Vinton:

I rented a car through an online service which directed me to Discovery Rent a Car. I got a great rate, kind of a crappy car, but it got us around.

I walked around with the associate before getting in and pointed out every scratch, ding etc before signing off on it. However, he never looked at the windows, nor did I.

Upon returning the car the associate — a different one — informed me I got a “star” in the window. I told him I never got hit by anything and had no idea what he was talking about. He had me come look at the windshield. I had to remove the dirt with my finger to see a small star located way at the top that could not be seen from the inside because of the rearview mirror.

After thinking about the incident I realized when I wiped the dirt off I wondered one, how did he see it if I had to move the dirt to see it and two, the glass was smooth so the ding was on the inside.

He noted that it was a star on the windshield and had me sign that I acknowledged damage but said they would look to see if the previous driver had done it. Again, if that were the case, why are they driving this car?

Last week I received an email stating I had to pay for the scratch on the windshield which would cost me $387. Are you kidding me? Now it is a scratch?

I called a window repair shop and they said that was a $50 to $75 dollar fix. My deductible is $500 and what is worse I used a debit card to pay, so I can’t protest through a credit card company. They told me I have 7 days to send them a check or they would charge my credit card. I don’t have this kind of money. What do I do?

Looking back at her rental experience, the first thing she could have done was to make sure she inspected the windshield. Cracks to the windshield are probably the single-biggest source of damage claims, legitimate and otherwise, to a rental car.

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She protested the bill, asking Discovery to substantiate its claims. That resulted in the following email:

When [you] rented our Gray KIA Rondo on March 29th, 2010 a properly documented vehicle check out slip, which you signed, showed that it was no damage on the front windshield of the rental vehicle. Upon return and inspection crack was found on the front windshield of the rental vehicle. Since you declined our offer of CDW you are fully responsible for any damages to our vehicle while it is in your possession.

Enclosed please find an estimate of repair bill in amount of $337. This case is subject of administrative fee in amount of $50. Please mail us a check inn the amount of $387. If we don’t receive the funds within 7 business days we will charge credit card you used for the rental. You may be able to recover your loss by filing a claim with your insurance carrier or your credit card company.

Your prompt attention to this matter will be greatly appreciated.

Discovery also showed her what appeared to be a legitimate repair bill after she began copying the California attorney general on her correspondence. But it insisted on being paid immediately.

There’s not much I can do in a case like Vinton’s, unfortunately. She signed the form agreeing to pay for the damage. The car rental company showed her an invoice.

I believe its administrative fee is unnecessary, but it isn’t out of line with what other car rental companies charge. The repair bill may be inflated, or not. It’s hard to say.

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I can only offer Vinton this advice: Next time, inspect your rental car’s windshield carefully and don’t sign anything you’re not prepared to pay for.

(Photo: croanoke/Flickr Creative Commons)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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