How Enterprise determines if you damaged a rental


Enterprise has been accused of running a ding-and-dent scam so often by readers of this site, I’ve lost count.

But something interesting has happened lately. The complaints have slowed to a trickle.

Why?

I asked Roger Van Horn, Enterprise’s vice president for corporate loss control, what was behind the decline. Van Horn has gone on the record before to defend the huge volume of loss claims. I expected him to tell me they’d stopped pursuing as many cases, but I was wrong.

Before I go any further, a few disclaimers: My perspective on damage claims is distorted by the crush of complaints I receive from readers like you. It pains me to hear about a frivolous $495 claim for a few dings and dents, and like you, when I see enough of them, I smell a scam.

At the same time, I believe that when you damage a car, you should pay for the repair. Van Horn and I can agree on that. Where we can’t agree — and probably never will — are the so-called “junk” fees for loss of use, diminished value and administration that often accompany these claims. I feel they should be baked into the cost of doing business; Van Horn and Enterprise want to separate them.

Several years ago, after acquiring Alamo and National, the rental companies had “different standards” for evaluating damage to a vehicle, he says. This created unexpected problems. For example, a franchisee in Los Angeles would have no trouble with a small ding, but another location in, say, Phoenix, might rush to repair the blemish. When cars were transferred between locations, that would lead to finger-pointing, and inter-franchise warfare. You get the idea.

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At the same time, customers were confused about what constituted damage to a car. Representative A in Atlanta would say the car was fine and that “anything smaller than a golf ball” was acceptable. Representative B at the same Atlanta location would disagree and write up the damage when the car was returned, even though the customer had been given a green-light previously. That kind of inconsistency can get you into trouble with your consumers, and it did.


The solution: The Damage Evaluator (see above).

Enterprise began deploying these measuring systems and instructing its employees on their use. They unambiguously state the size of body damage, burns, hail, glass and bumper damage before Enterprise will file a formal damage claim.

For example, Enterprise defines “body, wheel and metal bumper damage” as:

  • Any dent, scratch or scrape larger than the largest circle
  • Holes and tears, regardless of size
  • A dent, scratch or scrape smaller than the largest circle is wear and tear

And that, my friends, is why the Enterprise complaints are on a downward slope. They finally defined important terms like “damage” and “wear and tear.”

I think there’s a sense that they’ve managed to eliminate many, if not most, of the frivolous claims, thanks to training employees to use the Damage Evaluator. But how do you eliminate the rest?

First, it may be a good idea to circulate these Damage Evaluators to customers. Specifically, in the envelope of their rental agreement. Why would you share this only with employees? Travelers need to know what is and isn’t damage, too.

Beyond that, the only way I know is to take “before” and “after” pictures of the car. And I really don’t think that’s an unreasonable request. Car rental companies already send its employees into the parking lot with a fancy handheld device that helps them note mileage and print a bill — why can’t it also be used to take pictures of the car?

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It seems to me that the only reason for not taking pictures of a car is so that the absence of photographic evidence means the car rental company automatically wins. The car is damaged because we say so, and if you can’t show us time-stamped “before” and “after” pics, you have to pay.

The Damage Evaluator is a great start, but more needs to be done. Enterprise’s cars — indeed, all rental cars — are ready for their close up.

Take the picture. Get a customer to sign off on it. Every damage claim will be quick and painless.

Should Enterprise share its Damage Evaluator with customers?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on our help forum.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    So, how large are those circles? Seems like that would be really helpful to have in the story.

  • Alan Gore

    A PDF of the Damage Evaluator should be available to all customers on the Enterprise website.

  • jmj

    I rent often from Enterprise (but not from airports).

    1. The agent proactively shows me the damage guide before the walk-around inspection, or
    2. When I do my thorough walk around, pointing out every scratch, the agent then shows me the damage guide to assure me that I don’t have to worry. regardless, I still ask them to mark it down.

    What i’m saying is that this damage guide isnt exactly proprietary. Consumers just need to be proactive.

    The above being said, airport rental customers usually don’t have walk arounds with the rental agents. but airport consumers need to be just as vigilant, going back into the office and getting someone to notate the damage. This may take a lot of time cause the airport lines aren’t exactly short, but it must be done.

  • Hanope

    I rented a car from Enterprise a month or so ago and they showed me the damage evaluator. I took pictures too, as there was a pre-existing bit of damage near the wheel well, which the employee duly noted. I also took pictures of a few other areas as I wasn’t sure if it was a scrape or just dirt. Its so easy to do that now with cell phones.

  • Peter Varhol

    I rarely do walkarounds, but I rented a car last month with which I did, and sure enough, there was a scratch on the bumper. I took a photo, and went back to report it; no problems. You may be in an unfamiliar location, anxious to get on your way, or it may be dark. Do the walkaround. Take the photos. It’s inexpensive insurance for you.

  • Dutchess

    I don’t think this is a secret, I’ve had Enterprise employees pull out this template, show me a dent is smaller than the large circle and say it doesn’t need to be noted. I politely tell them to understand AND please note it anyways because it doesn’t hurt. Some protest but I’ve only ever had to ask twice. I have them note every detail of the car (within reason) because despite all the finger pointing, and what basically comes down to poor training the customer is who ultimately suffered.

  • AJPeabody

    I particularly noted that the bottom of the bumper is not considered damage when scraped.

    Also, it appears that the damage evaluator is transparent, so giving one to a renter to keep might be a lot less easy than just printing one on an envelope.

  • Joe Farrell

    I have repped a couple of friends who had leases. A couple of carmakers have adopted these forms for determining damage claims and damage levels, which at some level, if disclosed to customers, makes lots of sense.

    The problems arise when the same set of standards for a lease with 45,000 miles is used as they do for a low mileage lease of 30,000 miles. Low mileage leases generally get turned in after 3 years with about 25,000 miles or so – then the higher mileage leases usually get turned in very close to or over the 45,000 mile limit. People know their driving patterns and lease for the best outcome for them.

    A car with 45,000 miles over three years is going to have more ‘normal’ wear and tear than one driven 25,000 miles, yet, they rate the damage and wear levels using the same standards. This mostly comes into to play with road rash on front bumpers and paint, and interior wear.

    I had a friend who leased a Volt and drove it 44,800 miles in 3 years. The seat fabric was wearing on the drivers seat. Ally Bank tried to charge the customer $1200 for two matching seats – when it was clear this was simply normal wear and tear on the fabric. In fact, the customer took the car to a GM dealer to see about a warranty claim on the seat fabric and GM told him it was ‘normal wear and tear.’

    I got the dealer to put that in writing and explain that my client had stopped in for a warranty claim. . . .

    Ally went away, but interestingly told me client they would ‘waive their claim in the interest of customer loyalty’ if my client leased another vehicle through Ally, which I thought was interesting since the wear and tear ‘damage’ would not change simply because they leased another car. . . .

    There is more wear and tear if you have a high mileage lease vs. a lower mileage lease and customers need to factor that into returning the vehicle.

  • John Galbraith

    I’m the same as JMM; I rent regularly from Enterprise but here in the UK. There is not need to be given the damage evaluator (DE). The agents always take me round the car both before and after i rent. We check it together using the DE then i sign i am happy or they do and return my deposit. It is a very good system.

  • Rebecca

    What I read between the lines here is that some franchisees were using damage claims as a profit center. Corporate finally got enough flak for it that they had to institute a company wide policy that franchisees must abide by, lest Enterprise as a whole be viewed badly due to a percentage of rogue franchise owners charging customers for wear and tear, probably repeatedly charging for the same repair that was never actually completed, etc.

  • Don Spilky

    An excellent start. Would be great if this became standard across the industry.

  • Bob Davis

    We rented with Enterprise at SEA-TAC 2 weeks ago and the checkout person esselntially said “anything smaller than a golf ball” was acceptable.

  • Stephen0118

    Looking at the Damage Evaluator, they consider HAIL as damage. The question is will they charge the customer? Let’s say you rent a car in a city and you go to a hotel that has no covered parking. It starts to hail and dings the car. Why should you get charged? You can’t control mother nature. Can you then pass it on to the hotel for not having covered parking?

  • Tricia K

    Templates or not, I will not rent a car without taking video before and after (I even did it in Ireland a few weeks ago after we paid for full coverage). Having gotten charged what I believe to be an excessive amount for damage I acknowledged, I don’t have a lot of faith in rental car companies doing the right thing. It irritates me that they charge for loss of use when you know they didn’t actually repair the car for cosmetic damage. While there isn’t any requirement that they use the funds to actually repair the car, charging for loss of use for the estimated time of the repair is over the top.

  • Tricia K

    Because anything that happens to that car while it is in your possession is your responsibility. If it gets stolen or a rock drops off the truck in front of you, if it happens during your rental period, it’s on you (or your insurance company) to pay up.

  • cscasi

    Great idea. Wonder if Enterprise will do that for its customers.

  • cscasi

    Lots of luck with trying to get the hotel to pay for hail damage to your car just because it does not offer covered parking. The probable answer just might be, if you were concerned about that you should have gone to a hotel that offers covered parking.

  • Steve Rabin

    Pardon me for being cynical, but they will find other ways to soak the customers. I applaud Enterprise for standardizing the system–this can only help. But the franchisees will figure out new ways to gain revenue. For example, I returned a car (Avis) a few months ago, and had filled up the car two miles from the airport. The agency hit me for an extra $2 fill up charge (with their mark up on the gas you can only imagine how much it took–not much!) well after the return. I was on business so it wasn’t worth my time to protest and my company paid it. But to me, just a money grab.

  • RBXChas

    Back in 2007-08, my employer sent me about 4 hours away on a regular basis to work on getting a new office opened. I figured out that it was cheaper for me to rent a standard vehicle from Enterprise, including waivers, than for them to reimburse me for mileage. I figured why put the wear and tear on my own car when I can save the firm money and drive a different car (albeit a base model) for every trip? Occasionally no car was available in that category, so I got upgraded for free (small SUV or larger sedan instead of a “standard” sedan, which at the time meant a Ford Taurus). I did the damage walk-around every time, and while I had them mark it down, I never saw any damage guide. Perhaps this is a newer thing to Enterprise, but after reading articles on this site, I am shocked that I never had a damage claim brought against me. So many of the cars I rented had some pretty solid damage – not just dents and dings but small burns in the seats, broken vents, and the like. I’m a non-smoker and wouldn’t bring any pets with me, but the fact that I didn’t get blamed for a smoke smell, pet hair, cigarette burn, or non-working something-or-other sounds like nothing short of a miracle.

  • jmj

    This site, as valuable as it is, and as enjoyable to read as it is, tends to highlight complaints and very rarely features compliments. I suspect the vast majority of consumers are satisfied.

    In my mind, the value of Elliott and his team’s value is for situations when they aren’t, and the rest of us can vicariously learn through these unfortunate people.

  • RBXChas

    I totally agree with you.

  • RBXChas

    I’ve definitely heard this before but haven’t rented recently.

  • judyserienagy

    This sounds like a great solution to what seemed to be a growing problem. I am glad to learn how things work in the car rental biz. Everyone should have and use this kind of Damage Evaluator. I think it could literally cut complaints down by 95%.

  • CycleAZLindyB

    My stepson did an internship with Enterprise in college and brought me one of those evaluator thingys.

  • fromthepitts

    I rent from Enterprise all the time in Southern California and have never seen one of these cards. In fact, just turned in a car 2 weeks ago. Maybe the practice of showing customers is done on a branch by branch basis?
    I think it’s a great idea for Enterprise to put one in every packet. Then there would be no surprises if there ever was damage to report. I would think it would make life easier for both customers and employees.

  • just me

    Why is it that that renters are responsible for what appears to be wear and tear, and the risk of doing business?
    The size of the sizer is nothing but damage – it is wear and thear. Is it a joke that bumps and bruises to the bumper are “damage”? Remind me what is the bumper for? And how do you determine whether I bumped something or another car bumped this car without renter’s participation>
    There is something very wrong with the whole picture.

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