A surprise fee for damaging her rental car, but she says she didn’t do it

Christine Downey is stuck with a surprise $1,490 bill for damaging her Budget rental car. She says she didn’t do it, but she may be out of luck. We’re wondering whether we should take this case.

Regular readers of this site know that we urge car renters to take photos and videos of their vehicle both before they drive off the lot and at the end of the rental when they return it. There are other important pointers about car rentals in the FAQ section of this site. The key is being proactive to protect yourself. Downey’s story is yet another reminder of the importance of doing this.

Downey rented a car from the Budget location at the Des Moines International Airport for three days last August. As is her usual practice, she declined the optional liability damage waiver.

When she returned the car, Downey did a walkaround and saw no damage, assumed everything was fine, got her receipt, and headed for her flight. She says she usually takes pictures inside and out but didn’t this time.

It was a decision she regrets. “I do know in the future, I will certainly make sure an employee walks around the vehicle (even if they don’t want to leave their desk) and will get a signed document the vehicle was returned without damages,” says Downey.

About a month after her rental, she received a letter saying she had damaged the car with a scratch across the side. The letter demanded that she pay $1,490. However, the letter was not from Budget but from a Utah-based company called PurCo Fleet Services, Inc. That’s a part of her problem.

Related story:   "It is so unjust to poison someone and get off scot-free"

PurCo, according to its website, is “America’s largest independent risk management company devoted exclusively to loss prevention for vehicle rental companies.” It is hired by car rental franchises to prevent loss and eliminate, as PurCo puts it, “uncollectible damages on everything from a rock chip on a windshield to a totaled vehicle.”

PurCo has a reputation for being aggressive in collecting damages. Its job is to get money from renters, not to give them a break. In its industry promotional materials, PurCo says it has handled hundreds of thousands of recovery claims for rental vehicles in all 50 states. PurCo also has many complaints against it with the Better Business Bureau.

Downey followed PurCo’s process to appeal the claim but got nowhere. She wrote to Budget’s customer service department, which told her to follow the appeal instructions in the damage claim letter. In other words, the customer service agents sent her back around the circle.

Budget makes it clear in its terms and conditions that the renter is responsible for any kind of damage:

If you didn’t purchase the Liability Damage Waiver, you are responsible for any and all loss or damage to the car resulting from any cause including but not limited to collision, rollover, theft, tire damage, vandalism, seizure/medical condition, flood, fire, hail or other acts of Nature.

Language to that effect is in all car rental contracts. The principle is that if the company finds damage to the car after your rental, it assumes the damage to have happened during your rental unless you can prove otherwise. While she says she didn’t see any damage, Downey cannot prove otherwise.

Related story:   Ridiculous or not? Just ignore those dings and dents - your bill is in the mail

She could have written to one of the Avis/Budget executive contacts we list in the company contacts section of this site. Instead, she contacted us.

Our advocate asked her to first post this issue to our forum to get suggestions from other posters who have gone through similar problems. Here is the link to that thread.

One of the forum posters provided a link to another thread with detailed steps on how to fight back when faced with rental car damage claims.

We don’t know yet whether she has followed those suggestions. We’ve seen cases of rental car companies dropping damage claims when customers follow those steps as they fight back. But with no evidence on Downey’s side, this might be tough to win.

Should we advocate for Christine Downey?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Abe Wischnia

Abe started his working career as a television news reporter and newscaster before moving to corporate communications and investor relations. Now retired and having learned useful tips from Elliott.org, one of his volunteer activities is writing for us. Read more of Abe's stories here.

  • BubbaJoe123

    “We don’t know yet whether she has followed those suggestions.”

    Wouldn’t it make sense to find out first?

  • Alan Gore

    This behavior by Alamo did seem weirdly fishy. Good thing LW got pictures.

  • Dutchess

    One month later is far too long to notify the OP that there’s damage to the rental car. When you hand the car over to the lot employee that’s the time for them to notice any damage. How can we be sure the damage didn’t happen when it was sitting in their lot? How do we know it didn’t happen during a subsequent rental? How do we know if one of their employees scratched the car? If this is such a significant scratch how is it possible that the person who gave her the receipt didn’t notice it?

    I say advocate for the LW, Budget seems to be notorious for these kinds of claims.

  • Steve Rabin

    Wait a minute…isn’t the burden of proof on the rental car company/collection agency? If they show at the time of return the damage was done, fine, that’s reasonable proof. But if they come back a month later and say you damaged it, where is their proof that it happened on your watch? Time stamped photo (although this can be manipulated)?

    Here’s what I think happened, and it seems to happen a lot, especially with franchised rental outlets: when they discover the damage, they go down the list of renters, trying to pin it on someone. As one renter pushes back, they go on to the next one, etc. It needs to come down to the rental car agency has to determine the damage at the time of return or soon thereafter and challenge the renter with firm proof. I would suggest she keeps pushing back until they give up and move on.

  • Alan Gore
  • Kairho

    “She says she usually takes pictures inside and out but didn’t this time.”

  • Alan Gore

    Sorry folks – the name ‘Alamo’ above caused me to respond to the adjacent Alamo/Kalispell thread, in which the victim did take pictures. This rental was from Budget.

  • jim6555

    There should also be a legal requirement that the rental company take pictures of the vehicle BEFORE it leaves the lot. That will keep unscrupulous companies from charging renters multiple times for the same damage.

  • joycexyz

    As I said in the previous thread (dealing with Alamo), there oughta be a law. And it should specify, among other things, a tight time limit for a rental company to “discover” the damage (like immediately upon return of the vehicle). One month? Anything could have happened in that time span. PurCo has obviously sold its services to the rental companies with a promise of aggressively pursuing claims whether or not they are valid.

  • Annie M

    The burden is on the rental company to prove she did the damage.

    In at least the last 5 years when I’ve returned a car no one ever does a walk around. Employees scan the car and check the gas. If there is no walk around and someone checking the car at return they can’t prove the damage was done by that renter and not someone earlier.

  • Byron Cooper

    American Express provides primary car rental insurance for $25 for the entire rental. Your primary car rental insurance does not get involved and this is much cheaper than the insurance the car rental agencies charge. I have 2 Chase credit cards that also provide primary car rental insurance. One is a Sapphire card and the other is a United Airlines card. American Express card covers Mexico if you buy the optional insurance. These credit cards do not cover liability to others, just the collision which seems to be the issue with a lot of the bogus claims. I used the American Express coverage once when someone hit my parked car and refused to provide insurance info. Fortunately I saw the accident and took a photo of the license plates and the other car. I had no hassles and American Express insurance recovered the money from the other driver. Most of the other credit cards I am aware of provide secondary coverage and only pay the deductible after your own insurance is involved.

  • PsyGuy

    I voted no, because what would you advocate with, the LW wants a pass.

  • PsyGuy

    They probably do it with more than one renter.

Get smart. Sign up for the newsletter.