Covered for my car rental in Costa Rica — except for the tires

Thomas Bell assumes he’s covered by Budget’s optional collision-damage waiver when he rents a car in Costa Rica. But now the company wants him to pay for a new set of tires. Can it do that?

Question: I rented a car from Budget in Costa Rica as part of a family vacation this summer. I happily accepted the total-damage waiver and its high price because I didn’t want any surprises or hassles when I returned the car.

I was assured by the agent when I rented the car that my coverage included all potential damages. Shame on me for not reading the fine print, because there is an exclusion for tire damage.

After returning home, I discovered an additional $379 charge on my credit card bill. I sent an email to Budget and was told that the charge was for damage to one of the tires, and that my request for credit was denied.

I appealed. (After all, who checks the treads of the tires when you rent a car?) And besides, the tire was performing normally throughout my week-long trip. Budget stood by its decision.

I assume this is just another crafty attempt by a rental-car company to boost its profits. No average person would be expected to inspect all the treads of the tires, and replacing the tire certainly did not cost Budget $379. Can you help? — Thomas Bell, Oviedo, Fla.

Answer: Budget’s coverage should have included the tires. But even if it didn’t — and you subsequently reviewed the terms of your loss-damage waiver and discovered that it did not — the company didn’t handle this correctly.

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Here’s the wrong way: Wait until you’re back in the States, then charge your credit card. If I had a dollar for the number of times I’ve seen that, I could quit this advocacy thing and buy a Caribbean island.

Ah, that would be the life.

Here’s the right way: When you return your car, a Budget representative does a walk-around and notes the damage to your tire. You fill out a damage claim, and everyone agrees that you owe money for the damages. Obviously, that didn’t happen.

I’ve talked with car-rental insiders about the damage-claim process, and I understand it’s not always possible to fully inspect every returned vehicle. If that doesn’t happen, the renter should be contacted as soon as possible, and the process shouldn’t include an automatic charge to your credit card.

The correspondence between you and Budget raises some red flags: Budget is charging you $379 for a damaged tire. That must have been some damage! I’m not a car guy, but I recall paying far less for my new tires in the States. I also note the absence of repair records and photos of the damage in your paper trail, which is problematic. You want some evidence of the shredded tire to substantiate the Budget bill.

Don’t get me wrong: If you damaged the tire and you agreed to assume responsibility for it, you should pay. But not like this.

I contacted Budget on your behalf. It noted that you would have been covered if you’d bought what it calls “Windshield Tire Coverage” at the time of your rental. That’s good to know.

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Budget contacted you and agreed to refund the extra charge in full “as a courtesy.”

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 Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • DChamp56

    Courtesy…. not the word I would have used.

  • fshaff

    So what was the damage? You can’t drive on a shredded tire. Pretty soon they’ll start dinging the customer for routine maintenance like oil changes and other fluids and filters.

  • Annie M

    There is an article on the forums on how to fight these claims.

  • cscasi

    Thomas readily accepted the “total Damage Waiver”? Obviously the “total” was not really “total”. Now one has to read what each car rental company’s “total damage waiver” includes? Why allow it to be called “total” if it is not?
    And, telling him if he had purchased the “Windshield Tire Coverage” he would have been covered for the tire damage? I believe I would have been asking Budget corporate for a very clear explanation of its “total damage waiver” and if it does not cover certain items, how can they justify calling it “total” because I would have had to purchase another coverage to have “total” coverage.
    I wonder if this is just the Costa Rica Budget rental doing this? Nonetheless, this is a wake up call for me to go over each and every rental contract and especially any insurance coverage(s) I may take, to ensure I am truly covered. And, if I am using one of my credit cards that provide primary coverage, I guess I should ensure it covers everything, too.

  • The Original Joe S


  • Johng

    I disagree with the premise that “it’s not always possible to fully inspect every returned vehicle.” My local enterprise always does a walk round before and after and I sign to say happy before i take they car and they sign they are happy once I return it. It is certainly possible to inspect the tires. Of course it is not possible to inspect under the car or under the bonnet but this is not checked before or after the rental and therefore not charged for if there is a problem.

  • Joe Blasi

    to failed to get an oil change and now we need an 5K engine swap out.

  • Dutchess

    “Total Damage Waiver” that must exist in the same realm as AT&T’s “Unlimited Data.” It’s total coverage in as much as not everything is covered, and the data is unlimited until the point where you’ve reached the data limit.

  • fshaff

    An engine change because the oil wasn’t changed? I would think that is the responsibility of the rental agency to keep up with routine maintenance.

  • Jeff W.

    Which means that you have never rented from an airport location and returned a car during prime time business hours (3 PM – 5 PM).

    Yes, your local Enterprise location.has the bandwidth to thoroughly check each car as it comes in. The airport location where 10, 20 or more cars may be flood in at the same time, not so much. I am quite sure there would be many mad mad people if they had to wait in such a line for complete inspections.

  • greg watson

    I think Joe Blasi was just being a bit sarcastic……………….I get it !

  • Johng

    HI Jeff – I have rented from airport location and i agree they are not keen to check but i did wait until they did it. Maybe we start making them do it to avoid issues such as this. As for Prime time yes I regular pick up and drop off at prime time. At my local Enterprise they always check even if that means some customers have to wait. Personally i prefer to wait a bit rather than be wondering what will happened after i have returned the car i.e will i get a bill.

  • Carrie Livingston

    Not totally sarcastic. We had a case on the forums where the check engine light was on during the entire rental and the car failed. I think it needed total engine replacement but I know it was major damage.

  • Carrie Livingston

    My other thought on the Windshield Tire coverage is that I wouldn’t have thought a windshield would be excluded but maybe I’m naive.

  • greg watson

    I remember that case, but in this case I don’t think fshaff……………got it ………………..the tongue in cheek, I mean !

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    Total scam. If the coverage has a word like “total”, “complete”, “fully”, then I would contend that it is a deceptive business practice to limit coverage in the fine print.

  • PsyGuy

    Courtesy, is that what they call “we got caught on a fraud and now want to look like nice guys”.?The LW is completely right, who checks tire tread, and whatever the tire tread is it’s normal wear and tear as part of useage.

    This is why when you rent a car you need to use a credit card with a very low credit limit $200-$300, enough to cover your rental. If you need more make “Bill Pay” payment to the credit card company during the rental period. This way when the car rental company tries to rip you off, there charges are declined.

  • PsyGuy

    Local rental places sure, they mostly do auto repair bodyshop work. At an airport location the counter can be swamped with 20 or more renters in a matter of moments.

  • PsyGuy

    They already do this. Had a coworker who was on a private rental with Dollar and the check oil light turns on. Thinks nothing of it, there wasn’t a convenient place to get a quart of oil and he was returning the car the next morning at the airport, the gas station he filled up at before drop off didn’t have any oil. Drops the car off, mentions the check oil light to the counter agent, heads into the airport. Couple days later he gets a charge on his bank card for $117.85, he can’t figure it out, calls Dollar and the charge is a $69 mechanic service fee, 1 quart of 10W30 oil at $8 and $32 for loss of use.

  • PsyGuy

    They would probably argue you had a responsibility to mitigate potential damages.

  • PsyGuy

    I remember that case, wasn’t it in ireland or somewhere in Europe?

  • Exactly. This is criminal activity . . . . again.

  • “we got caught on a fraud and now want to look like nice guys”

    You are so right, and this applies to many of the cases that Elliott advocates.

    These crooks make me want to spit!

  • wilcoxon

    It’s pretty common for “total” damage waiver to exclude windshield and tires. We encountered the same thing with Hertz in Ireland (but it was explicitly communicated to us when picking up the car so it didn’t bother me).

  • LonnieC

    Sorry, but something’s missing here. Was the tire “shredded”, or was it just worn? The LW says nothing about any problem returning the car. If the tire was shredded, shame on him for driving on it, and it is understandable that the company wants reimbursement. If it was just worn down, that should be ordinary wear and tear which the driver should most definitely NOT be responsible for. We need more information.

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