Should I pay this car rental damage bill?

By | September 12th, 2016

Should John Call pay Alamo’s $260 bill?

Call rented a car in Orlando recently. When he returned the vehicle, a representative discovered damage to it — damage he’s not sure happened on his watch. Should he settle up?

In a word: yes.

I’ll explain my answer in a minute, but yes, John. Pay the bill.

Let’s have a look at the details.

Call rented his car a few months ago under less than ideal circumstances.

“It was raining, and no one took us to the car,” he recalls. “They just pointed to a group of cars and said ‘pick one.’”

In other words, no “before” photos, no walkaround — zero due diligence.

“When we returned the car, they found that the taillight was cracked and chipped,” he says. “We went to the theme parks – so it could have happened there – I honestly don’t know how it happened.”

Alamo presented him with a bill for a new taillight. It’s damage that “I don’t think happened on my rental,” he says.

“I want the damage charge waived,” he says.

So why should Call shell out the $260? A few reasons. First, he doesn’t have any evidence that the damage was preexisting. A photo of the car would have helped. A walk-around with an Alamo representative, noting the damage, would have also helped. Without any of these, he can’t prove anything.

Then there’s the Alamo terms and conditions, which he signed. Have a look at paragraph 6:

Damage to, Loss or Theft of, Vehicle, Optional Accessories and Related Costs. Renter accepts responsibility for damage to, loss or theft of, Vehicle, Optional Accessories or any part or accessory regardless of fault or negligence of Renter or any other person or act of God.

In other words, it doesn’t matter if someone else whacked his taillight. He’s on the hook for it.

Related story:   Who's responsible for this bump in my bumper?

Now, Alamo and I don’t always see eye to eye on customer service issues. For example, I believe its loss-of-use policies are not consumer-friendly. But on this point, we agree. When someone damages a car, they should pay.

That doesn’t mean pay anything. Alamo needs to show a repair bill. And if it sticks him with a loss-of-use charge, it ought to show him that the car would have been rented if it wasn’t in the repair shop. In other words, no blank checks.

But on this case, I’m with Alamo.

Should John Call pay Alamo's bil

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  • Jeff W.

    Unlike most mysterious dings and damage claims that people write in about, this one is really easy.

    A broken taillight is damage that can quickly be spotted by the renter. More so if at night. But zero due diligence works both ways, Rain or not, that is damage than can identified by a novice.

    And $260 is an unreasonable amount to charge. You should ask for the details, but I can certainly see how parts and labor can bring the total to that without the additional loss of of use fees.

  • Joe Blasi

    Pay it as long as there is not lost of use as this is a quick fix and not something that needs a full day in a shop.

  • AJPeabody

    Pay only if they prove they didn’t charge the previous renter for the same thing.

  • Chris Johnson

    Thank God for the cameras on cell phones, which is what the renter should have used. I wonder how much the car rental companies hate the cell phone cameras and if it has cut much into that extra revenue they shouldn’t have been getting in the first place. I’d love to hear an insider’s opinion.

  • Alan Gore

    No pictures mean no case. But $260 for a taillight chip? He shouldn’t have rented a Lambo.

  • Tricia K

    People seem so surprised to learn they are responsible for damage to a rental car while it is in their hands. That means hail, floods, theft, all of it, including a broken tail light are your problem, unless you can prove the damage existed prior to your rental. Fair or not, thats what we agree to when we sign the contract. I learned the hard way on a rental in Ireland to be sure to have full coverage on the car, whether through my own insurance, a credit card or the rental car company. And even if the staff is too lazy to do a walk around, you can’t be. The rental car staff isn’t on the hook for the bill–you are.

  • Tricia K

    It cost about $160 to fix similar damage on my Subaru Outback and I chose the lowest bidder. Rental car companies don’t have any incentive to give the lowest estimate.

  • wbeeman

    I am sad that consumers have to essentially do battle with rental car agencies even before they rent their cars. I believe the agencies deliberately rent cars with pre-existing damage in order to cash in on phony repairs. If the car is damaged, then why wasn’t it repaired before the rental? It may not be the case this time–a broken tail-light is pretty obvious–but for example, scratches on the undercarriage, on the roof or other inaccessible areas should be suspicious. Also, if the agent refuses or is unable to do a walk-around, or dismisses small scratches as “normal wear and tear” at the time of the rental, the consumer should not be on the hook if damage is later “discovered.” The car rental business is a necessary evil, and predatory tactics should never be approved of. If this kind of bad business practice continues to grow, it should be regulated.

  • Rebecca

    That’s actually reasonable. I had to replace a similar part on a car last year. I did it myself, and it cost about half that. So, with labor, that seems reasonable.

  • Jeff W.

    It is also possible that the car was damaged while the car was parked in the Alamo lot between rental periods. Hence it would have been inspected and passed when the previous driver turned it in.

    True story: Picked up a car at Avis lot, forgot the airport. May have been Omaha. Did my typical inspection and it was clear the tail light was heavily damaged. It was also clear someone drove into it while it was parked there as you could also see the red plastic pieces on the ground. Went back to counter to show an agent who then assignment me another car. Could have been another renter, could have been one of those workers who move cars around.

    Things happen to cars while they sit there in the rental car lot. So that is why the renter has to look as well.

  • AJPeabody

    Every car in a parking lot is a dent magnet. Rental car lots are no exception.

  • Annie M

    I recently rented a car and when I returned it can clearly understand how one can get hit with a damage claim that they may not have done.

    When I picked up I was also told “just pick a car”. As I was looking for cars, every single one had some type of damage. I took the one with therapy amount (a small dent) and we t back to kid in the booth to tell him. He waived me aside and said “tell them when you leave”. Refused to get out of the booth or mark damage.

    At the booth I told the woman to please mark the damage. She wouldn’t even get out of the booth either but she did write down the damage I told her was there and signed on my sheet.

    When I returned the car, no one checked it. They simply scanned the car and sent me in my way.

    So it is left to whoever cleans (if you can call it that) the car to re-rent to mark damage. If that person is sloppy and marks nothing, I can see how a damage claim can beach much later to someone who never did the damage.

  • wbeeman

    You can see how pernicious this process is. It is utterly dependent on the auto rental personnel. One checks out the car with someone who tells you, essentially, “don’t worry about it,” and you believe them. Then when the car is returned, some other person–or even some person who was never present at the return–sends you a bill for damage months later and you are stuck. This does not engender trust in the industry. Enough of this goes on that all consumers should be deeply distrustful of all rental car companies.

  • Noah Kimmel

    Many rental companies use certified repair shops / dealers as many of their cars are leased so the repair must be fully documented and done to the owner’s (usually Ford, GM, etc.) specifications. Reselling of cars / returning to lessors is a big part of the business and important not to screw up or the resell value could be impacted. Multiply over thousands of cars, and it is a problem.

    Additionally, rental car companies charge for “loss of use” In essence, this is to cover the time where they are paying for the car, but cant use it to rent to another person. You can argue whether that is a “real” fee or not (as it is an opportunity cost not a paid cost), but it is still there.

    Not saying they arent gouging or possibly covering up for costs with repairing cars that people disputed the damage on and they are stuck with, but not everything is a scam.

  • Noah Kimmel

    I take issue with the idea that thousands of employees are in on a scam to screw customers….

    That being said, policies are not set up to protect consumers well. Every car company has a damage form, most of the time in the glove box. Always do a walk around, always take pictures, always ensure damage is documented and dont leave until it is. Regardless of ideal, no one is responsible but you. It may take a bit of pushback, but most of the time after saying “id feel more comfortable if this scratch was marked in the rental record” they usually do it).

    As additional protection, look for credit cards that provide coverage, your personal insurance, or consider 3rd party insurance. Sometimes those costs are worthwhile to avoid the headache.

  • Annie M

    Exactly which is why I think everyone should protest being charged even if it is only $260. They have to prove you were the one that did it.

  • Barthel

    I wouldn’t pay it. If they bothered me about it later, I would forbid them to contact me again and write a letter of complaint to the highest ranking executive of that company. End of discussion.

  • cscasi

    How can t
    Alamo prove that? Simple. It can just say that it did not charge the previous renter for any damage. Can you prove it did?

  • cscasi

    Have you looked at some of the tail light lenses on some cars these days? They are EXPENSIVE to replace; never mind the $100-120 an hour labor they charge.

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