Spilled paint makes this Enterprise damage claim a real whodunit

Molly McMullin recently rented a car from Enterprise while her own car was in the shop. What happened after she returned the car, however, left her talking a blue streak.

A few hours after she returned her rental, the Enterprise office in Edmond, Oklahoma, called her to tell her she was on the hook for damage. Like every renter who contacts us, McMullin says she didn’t cause the damage.

In this case, I’m likely to believe her. Why? It wasn’t a ding or a dent. Enterprise claims she spilled blue paint in the trunk.

“I’m panicking, because I had nothing to do with any blue paint in the car,” she wrote. “The man I spoke to told me that he personally knows the previous renters, and they would not have spilled paint in the car. I feel like I’m being set up to pay another person’s bill.”

That’s a common complaint. But blue paint in the trunk is a pretty uncommon claim. And while we have reported on the ways that Enterprise measures damage, spilled paint doesn’t fit the mold. We need to backtrack to figure out what happened when McMullin rented the car, and maybe even a couple steps beyond.

McMullin says that when she rented the car, an agent did a walkaround inspection with her, but neither she nor the agent opened the trunk. She saw the paint for the first time on the second day of her rental, when she loaded groceries into the trunk. The paint was dry.

This probably would have been a good time to call the Enterprise office to let them know about the paint. But she didn’t think twice about it. She simply returned the car the next day.

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Contractually speaking, any damage discovered at the end of a rental may be charged to the last renter. And if Enterprise is doing its job, that is, inspecting vehicles at the end of each rental and before beginning the next, we wouldn’t have so many cases of whodunit to investigate.

But, alas, we do. Enterprise should have inspected the vehicle before renting it to McMullin. If it had, and had the agent opened the trunk during the inspection, the paint would have been discovered.

Why would the Enterprise agent tell her anything about the previous renters? Shouldn’t his knowledge of the car’s condition be based on his thorough inspection of the vehicle at the end of each rental and before each rental begins?

It should. And that’s why Enterprise should fess up and not force a bill on McMullin owing to their lack of due diligence.

Spilling coffee or soda can happen to anyone. But not anyone can spill blue paint.

McMullin engaged in a series of phone calls to the Enterprise office about the damage. The conversation, however, kept shifting back to the last renter of the car. We already heard that the agent who phoned McMullin personally knew the last renter. Another agent then shared that the last renter had purchased the optional Collision Damage Waiver (CDW), which would have covered the damage. McMullin, of course, declined the coverage.

Well, I’ve rented plenty of cars in my day, and a few times I’ve opted for the CDW. You know what happens? The agents completely forego the walkaround inspection. You know why? The inspection is only valuable to the rental company if they can pin damage on the customer. If the rental company is picking up the tab for any damage caused, an inspection becomes an unnecessary exercise. Could the last renter’s personal relationship with the Enterprise agent, coupled with the purchase of insurance, have perhaps caused the Enterprise agents to break inspection protocol?

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I think we might be onto something.

In the meantime, the manager of the location called McMullin to offer that they “split the bill,” and McMullin would only have to pay half, or $400. Again, if Enterprise had followed protocol, it would insist she pay the entire bill. Something here isn’t quite right.

Strangely, the manager insisted to McMullin that on the day she returned the vehicle, all of the trunks on the lot were opened, and that’s when the paint was discovered. Was it monthly trunk inspection day? No, says the manager, who told McMullin they open all the vehicle trunks every day.

The Enterprise version of the story is hard for me to believe. In my experience, a vehicle walkaround inspection typically allows the agent and renter to observe and damage to the paint and body and make notes on the rental contract. The agent usually checks the mileage and fuel amount, and on a rare occasion, I’ve had the trunk opened to confirm the spare tire is present. The agents never check the car’s interior for damage.

McMullin has written to the Enterprise executives whose contact information we publish on our site. So far she has gotten the manager to cut the bill in half. Could getting corporate involved thin this case completely?

Update: We contacted Enterprise, which took the position that McMullin caused the damage to the car. It nevertheless called the circumstances “unusual” and decided to drop the claim against McMullin.

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Jessica Monsell

A writer and natural advocate, Jessica joined our consumer advocacy effort following a decade of work on behalf of air crash victims at one of the nation's largest plaintiffs' law firms. She has lived in Europe and Asia, but now calls Charleston, S.C. home.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    Not only should they have to provide time stamped photographs of the damage after the rental, but they should have to provide the same photographs of the car from before the rental, so that the change can be compared. That would provide them with proof the renter caused the damage, or provide the renter with proof that the damage was preexisting.

  • Kairho

    Would be nice to have real time stamped photos, but everyone knows how easy it is to fake a time stamp.

    The key to taking valid, legally time-provable photos is not only to take such photos upon rental and return, but also to put indisputable evidence in the photo of the time. What I do is try to first position the vehicle in the rental lot such that I can take a wide shot showing the position of the car in their lot including shadow angles, proof it was their lot, etc. (between that, contract signing time stamp, and lot exiting, it essentially proves where the photos were taken and when). Also try to show myself of someone in my party in a shot or two which, with boarding pass and the above items, prove I was there). It’s also nice to get an employee or three in shots to establish who “missed” said claimed damage.

    Only once needed to pull out this arsenal for a manager and the claim was dropped before were even walked into the terminal for our flight.

  • Jeff W.

    I have on a few occasions rented cars where I have discovered the trunk was not cleaned — primarily because that is where I usually place my luggage. Never to where there was damage like that, however.

    Most inspections deal with the exterior of the car, not the interior. And while the trunk (with a spare, if that is an option these days) is an easy one, we are closer the path of absurd. What is next, the glove box? Center console? A rip or stain in a seat fabric?

    All of which could be considered legitimate damages. But no one wants to spend an hour taking photos of every nook and cranny on the inside of car. Having to do it on the outside is bad enough.

  • Dutchess

    This smacks of Enterprise up to their old tricks. I’ve told the story more than once of an Enterprise agent parking a car in a manner I feel was designed to conceal some damage. I thankfully caught the damage on a video recording I make of the car before I start each rental or things might have turned out different after my conversation with the rental yard.
    As far as I’m concerned once they accept the vehicle back I’m off the hook. If you didn’t catch damage at the time I returned the vehicle there is no ability to determine if it happened when in my care. If you missed it when I turned it in it’s just as likely you missed it after someone else turned the rental in.

  • AAGK

    Ms. McCullin made a classic error in failing to protect her purchase by declining the Blue Man Group Member trunk transportation damage waiver.

  • MarkKelling

    Enerprise dropped this because simple forensics would have been able to show the paint was in the trunk and dried before Ms McMullin rented the car. They don’t want anyone to have proof of their evil ways.

    The rental companies sure are up to their old tricks, but sometimes they get caught. They had to eat the loss from the previous renter who chose to pay for the loss waiver insurance. Failing to stick this renter with the charges, I’m sure the next renter not paying the insurance will face the same claim.

  • When are the AGs of the various states going to get involved in this massive fraud “RICO” enterprise (pardon the pun)?

  • joycexyz

    Does anyone else think the manager was too palsy-walsy with the previous renters? It almost sounds as if he knew they were responsible. For self-defense, I guess we have to snap pictures of the exterior (including the undercarriage and roof), the interior, AND the trunk before we accept the car.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    I don’t see any way she could have easily proven anything. And any testing that would have helped her wouldn’t have been cheap. Hypothetically, the previous renter could have spilled the paint just before returning the car. It could even still have been wet when she first got the car as she never checked the trunk until the next day. Unless the car was just ancient and it was obvious the trunk carpet had worn around the existing stain it would have been almost impossible to definitively prove anything.

  • Annie M

    I always take pictures of my rental car at pick up and drop off but I’ve never thought of taking pictures of the trunk. I guess I have to add that.

    The fact the manager said he personally knew the last renters mean he didn’t bother checking the car thoroughly and that have closed the case right there.

  • EvilEmpryss

    Time stamps on the pic itself, yes, easy to fake. Not well, mind you, that still takes skill and a bad photo manip sticks out like a sore thumb.

    But the underlying code for the pic that lists time, date, and geo code? Not so much. A Google search will show how to get that info. I would trot that out for proof, since it also proves the photos are undoctored.

  • Noah Kimmel

    Enterprise should be concerned if the employee is talking about the previous renter at all. Shouldn’t be referencing any potential, personally identifiable information to one customer about another

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