My rental car smells rotten – and so does this phony damage charge

By | April 29th, 2017

When Tracy Bertram’s new rental car breaks down shortly after she picks it up, Hertz tries to bill her for a burned-out clutch. Can our advocates convince Hertz that Bertram is not at fault?

Question: I rented a brand-new Nissan with only 15 miles on the odometer from Hertz during a recent visit to Copenhagen, Denmark. But before I had driven it three miles, I was alarmed by an extremely bad smell. Then the clutch froze less than 20 minutes after I had picked up the car.

I immediately called Hertz, which retrieved the car and issued me a replacement car with a manual transmission. I drove that car for three days with no problems.

But when I returned home, Hertz charged my credit card $3,000 for damage to the first car.

I contacted Hertz to protest the charge, but its agent claimed that I must not have known how to drive a car with a manual transmission. When I asked about the strong smell I had noticed when driving the car, I was told that I should not have driven the car off Hertz’s lot.

Then I wrote to Hertz to ask that it present me with proof that I had damaged the car. It sent me photos of a burned clutch that showed far too much damage to be in a new car. I am sure that the clutch in the photo was not in the car I had rented.

I showed the photos to three mechanics who all confirmed that the burned clutch was the result of a manufacturer’s defect and that the car should be covered by Nissan’s warranty. I wrote back to Hertz with these findings, but its agent reiterated the damage claim and insisted that Hertz “would have to pursue the case to closure.”

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Can you help me get Hertz to drop this claim? — Tracy Bertram, Blaine, Minn.

Answer: Something definitely smells rotten in the state of Denmark — and not just the damaged clutch in your first rental car.


Sadly, bogus damage claims are common in the car rental business. Because damage claims are a major lucrative source of revenue for car rental agencies, they unfortunately pursue doubtful or blatantly false claims against customers, assuming that they are guilty of damaging the cars until they prove themselves innocent.

Hertz’s website and contracts contain language that makes very clear that customers are responsible for any damage to the cars they rent, regardless of who or what caused the damage:

What would happen if I damaged the Hertz car?
You are responsible for any and all loss of or damage to the Hertz car resulting from any cause including and not limited to collision, rollover, theft, vandalism, seizure, fire, flood, hail or other acts of Nature.

After you were told by Hertz that it would “pursue your case to closure” (which I assume means that it would legally hassle you until you finally ponied up the $3,000), you contacted our forum for assistance.

The forum members agreed that the damaged clutch in your rental car was a manufacturer’s defect. They suggested that you contact the executives we list in our company contacts for Hertz following the steps in our FAQ about disputing car rental damage claims. (Our forum advocates also provide advice on how to protect yourself from phony car rental damage claims.)

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Unfortunately, our forum advocates’ advice didn’t persuade Hertz to drop the claim. You then contacted our advocacy team, which reached out to Hertz on your behalf. You have notified us that Hertz has refunded the charge for damage to your rental car.



  • sirwired

    Another entry for the “Americans should always rent automatics in Europe, even if they know how to drive a stick” files.

    Because you will ALWAYS be blamed for a clutch, irregardless of who’s fault it is.

  • NotThatBrooklynGuy

    So Hertz thinks Tracy made an amazing break through in driving a standard by going from burning out a clutch in 20 minutes to driving the second card successfully for three days? Not likely.

  • greg watson

    It may be that certain ( not all ) locations, worldwide, try to intimidate or scam consumers, but it is up to Hertz ( & other rental agencies ) executives to clamp down on this problem. Hertz ( & others ) are you paying attention NOW ??

  • cscasi

    And, I guess pay the extra for an automatic which would increased fuel cost for lower mileage in an automatic, plus they usually rent the automatics for a fair bit more than a standard shift.
    Still, I agree that may be better to rent an automatic. Paying more is probably better than risking paying a lot if you are accused of damaging a clutch.

  • sirwired

    Actually, these days automatics run neck-and-neck for fuel efficiency with manuals, sometimes even coming out on top. But yes, they still often charge extra for them in Europe.

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