Can you successfully fight a bogus car rental agency damage claim?

During Allan Solomon’s recent visit to Spain, he rented a car with a manual transmission from Thrifty Car Rental in Granada. But it broke down an hour outside of Ronda, and he had to call Thrifty to send a tow truck. Now Hertz, the parent company of Thrifty, is billing Solomon for the transmission repair.

Although he contacted Hertz to contest the charge, he’s had no success in getting Hertz to drop the claim.

“I have had no response and at this point I am being threatened with a collection agency if I do not pay $2,267,” says Solomon, who then contacted our advocates to ask for help in fighting the claim.

As much as we want to help Solomon — and we think he deserves our assistance — our advocates have had no better luck than he has when it comes to fighting damage claims since 2013. At that time, our own Christopher Elliott persuaded Hertz to drop a damage claim as a courtesy to a consumer. But this case is an exception. As a rule, we simply aren’t able to help customers contest car rental damage claims.

Solomon had purchased insurance from Thrifty as part of his rental and was given an emergency telephone number to call. But when the clutch failed in his rental car, he found himself stranded in a dangerous area for over an hour. The emergency telephone number did not work.

Somehow, he managed to reach an agent of Thrifty, who arranged for a tow truck to pick up the car in Ronda. Solomon then took a train to Seville, his final destination on his trip.

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When he returned to the U.S., he contacted Hertz and was told that the bill was closed. But three months later, he received the repair bill for the clutch.

Solomon posted a thread about his case in our forum. Our advocates advised him to contact the Hertz executives listed in the contacts section of our website, beginning with the lowest-ranking executive and allowing that person two weeks to respond before escalating to the next higher-ranking executive.

We also referred him to a pinned forum thread in which we offer a procedure to follow in contesting car rental damage claims.

In general, we recommend in that thread that car renters send polite letters to our executive contacts, asking them for various documents in order to prove their claim that the car renters are responsible for damage to the vehicles. We also advise all car renters to photograph their cars thoroughly, both before driving them off the rental facility lot as well as at the time of returning them.

Unfortunately, following these procedures didn’t persuade Hertz to drop Solomon’s claim. Hertz reiterated its demand for $2,267 by the end of July, threatening to turn Solomon over to its legal department if he didn’t comply. It also refused to provide him with any of the documentation he had requested as proof of the claim.

At that point Solomon contacted our advocacy team for help, referencing the 2013 case in which Hertz dropped the damage claim. But our advocates told him that he needed to contact an attorney.

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Solomon questioned our response.

“I do not fully understand your unwillingness to advocate for me,” he says. “I was in a position where I was being threatened with referral to a collection agency, but I still feel this was extortion and wonder why one of your volunteers could not have simply tried to help.”

It’s not that we don’t want to help. Rental companies are following the letter of the rental agreement and not responding favorably to our mediation in these matters. Most of the problems in our ‘can’t resolve’ file aren’t that way because of a lack of resolve on our part, but because of the system. Simply put, the deck is stacked in the industry’s favor, and there is nothing we can do or say to change it.

It’s painful for us to have to admit that there are deserving consumers whom we can’t help. But car renters fighting phony damage claims are sometimes among them.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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