Here’s how Enterprise stopped its fraudulent damage claims


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. 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.

Alamo and National, which were acquired by Enterprise several years ago, had “different standards,” 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 constitutes 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 previously been given a green light. 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 also need to know what is and isn’t damage.

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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 their 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?

It seems to me that the only reason for not taking pictures of a car is 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.

Since this story appeared, I’m happy to say that fraudulent damage claim cases have all but disappeared for Enterprise. The template seems to be working. If you believe you’ve been a victim of the ding-and-dent scam, please contact us and we’ll do our best to help.


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.

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