“Before” and “after” pictures of your rental car? Now that’s customer CRVIS

By | October 6th, 2011

One of the most common questions I get from car rental customers who are facing a damage claim is: “Why can’t they take pictures of my car before it leaves the facility?”

Actually, they can.

Hertz is testing a new technology called Car Rental Vehicle Inspection System (CRVIS) that photographs every car leaving the lot, stores high-resolution images and allows the car rental company to compare them with pictures taken of the same vehicle after it is returned.

“It protects customers and makes the claims process far easier for employees,” says Kamil Walus, a location manager at Newark.

CRVIS has been shrouded in mystery since it was announced in 2009. Some industry observers have suggested photographing a rental car – something travel experts have long recommended car rental customers do in order to prevent a fraudulent damage claim – was impractical.

I have repeatedly asked Hertz if I could see CRVIS, and was granted an exclusive tour yesterday at Newark International Airport.

Here’s how it works:

• On one end of CRVIS is a series of cameras installed at what looks like a toll plaza. When any metal object passes over one of two pressure plates, it triggers the system. One camera records the license plate, while six others capture images from the front, back, side and top of the car.

• CRVIS takes 70 images of the vehicle, according to Hertz. They’re stored on a server and available for retrieval, in case damage to the car is discovered after the rental.

• During the claims process, an associate can quickly retrieve low-resolution images of the vehicle and compare a time-stamped image to one taken prior to the rental. If the picture is fuzzy – and none of the ones I was shown were – then they have the ability to zoom into a higher-resolution image to determine the extent of the damage.

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I observed CRVIS in action on both the front end and the back end, and although Hertz says it is still tweaking the technology, I came away with the impression that it operated smoothly, if not inconspicuously. Customers did not appear to be aware that their vehicle was being photographed.

Hertz did not tell me how much CRVIS costs or how many images it takes on a typical day in Newark. It currently also operates the technology in Philadelphia and has plans to install another test system in Atlanta soon.

Although the primary use for a system like CRVIS would be in handling damage claims, that isn’t its sole purpose, according to Hertz. It has also been used to track down items left in cars by previous customers, and to identify customers who need extra attention from the rental location.

“If someone has had a bad experience, the system can alert us, and we can have a manager greet them when they return,” says Paula Rivera, a spokeswoman for Hertz.

The obvious question, after having seen CRVIS in action, is: Why haven’t more car rental companies invested in this kind of technology?

Certainly, the biggest reason is cost. Although Hertz won’t say how much it paid for CRVIS, a system like this could easily set each location back by six figures. Hertz, which is known to be conservative with its damage claims, would stand to gain from CRVIS because it only pursues customers who have seriously damaged its vehicles. The system provides the needed evidence to make a legitimate claim that might otherwise be dropped because of insufficient evidence — or to exonerate an innocent customer.

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But for car rental companies that pursue claims for minor dings, dents and scratches – or for whom damage claims are a known profit center – a verification system like CRVIS could actually hurt business. Because the system notes all pre-existing damage, it makes it impossible to pursue customers who are falsely accused of harming the car.

Of course, CRVIS doesn’t solve every claim issue. Internal damage can’t be noted by the system, and an intrepid claims adjuster could still fool CRVIS with a few clicks in Photoshop.

But this is far better than the current damage-claim system, which relies on hearsay and often incomplete or unreliable records.

(Photo of CRVIS in action taken yesterday at Newark Airport.)

  • Dokeo

    This is great! If they get this system up and running in all (or most) locations, I will make a point of using Hertz instead of other companies that won’t spend the money to do something similar.

    Once the tech has been developed, the only reason other rental companies won’t use it is if they are too cheap to give their clients the best service they can or they want to milk customers for false claims. And why would I support a company that would do either of those things?

  • Elmo Clarity

    Funny how one of the few rental companies without a reputation of trying to rip off people with bogus insurance claims is the one developing this technology.  Now when Enterprise/National puts in this type of system, that will be a real advance.

    P.S. I know there will probably be people responding with complaints about Hertz, but if you follow this blog, that is one name that is hardly seen.

  • Chris in NC

    Totally agree. I don’t think Hertz has anything to fear. I will also make an interesting observation that most of the Hertz locations that I have rented from are corporate locations.

  • Kittymocha

    I always take my camera on a trip and take pics of any dents, scratches on any car I rent.  I’ve never gotten dinged later with a surprise charge. 
    One question I have is if they charge the person for a ding, scratch do they fix it with the money they collect?  I’ve rented cars with dings, scratches and always wonder who rented the car before me that got charged for the damage that wasn’t fixed.  If I ever get charged for something I will want proof that they used the money to actually fix the damage and won’t go after the next renters over and over for money to “fix” the damage.

  • reasonedthought

    Generally they don’t use the money to fix scratches and dings or even chipped windshields.  It seems that some companies like to collect repeatedly on those scratches, dings and chipped windshields.  I used to frequently rent from a small location that had no more than 8 or 9 vehicles and the damage that had been there months before was still there.  I suspect that any renter who didn’t fill out the form saying that they were there got billed for them.  I’ve been a long time advocate of the inspect the car thoroughly and then take pictures.  

  • Josh

    Once it’s proven that this sort of technology *is* feasible, we need a simple consumer protection law (or perhaps just a regulation from the FTC, perhaps) stating that damage claims must be substantiated with photographic evidence upon consumer challenge.

    Simple as that; rental companies can choose not to provide such before/after proof that new damage has occurred, and drop their claim instead.

    And a claims adjuster who doctors photos isn’t just “intrepid”; they would be committing a criminal fraud, no different than a gas station rigging its pumps to show more fuel pumped.   Even with this system, the renter should still take their own photographs, and it’s likely possible on close examination (in court) to determine which ones have been photoshopped.

  • As technology like this becomes more widespread, I think we might see people gravitating to companies who use it, and away from the ones who don’t use it.  I’m sure small places wont get this type of technology for many many years, but at large airports where cars are constantly coming and going this could be an advantage to bring in renters.

  • Clarence

    So, you like the system so well you think it should be mandated by law…except that they’ll just photoshop stuff, meaning we’ll still have to take our own pictures?  If things go the way you expect them to, sounds like the law would be pointless and we’d be right back where we are now, with people either being saved by their own photos or at the mercy of the car rental company.

  • Jeannie

    I don’t think Hertz is too much of a problem.  They’re a higher end company.  The “budget” folks are often what we hear about.

  • Jeannie

    More regulation, always the answer.

  • As a  tourist business
    I think this is a very good idea, its too bad that the costs are so high. We do
    want to tourists to have a wonderful time in our hotels and returning their
    cars at the end of their vacation should be a nice experience too or at least a
    fear one. I hope this system will be apply in Costa Rica soon. 

  • Funny I rented a car once a year ago from Hertz in Newark Airport and it was the most beat up rental car I have ever had. It was so covered in large scratches that I made sure they noted it. They told me not to worry since I was a Gold member but I made them note it anyway and they just wrote on the paper “scratches all over both sides of car”. That made me sure I was covered. 

    When I returned it they never said anything to me about any of the scratches presumably because all their cars are that beat-up in Newark. Make me wonder what these cameras are actually catching unless they have upgraded their fleet since then.

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