Wrongfully accused of damaging my rental car

Enterprise wants David Bressler to pay for damage to one of its cars. But he didn’t do it. Or did he?

Question: I recently rented a Ford Fusion from Enterprise at a car dealership body shop in Boyertown, Pennsylvania. The vehicle had buckled trim pieces, bumper covers and scuffs. Most of these were noted, but a large portion of the damage was not, because the representative said they seemed “surface only” or “buffable.” I kept pointing them out, but they were not noted. No photographs of the car were taken.

I drove the rental about a mile to my office and parked it there. The car then was driven approximately one mile back to the car-rental location seven hours later. I asked a person at the desk what to do, and she said she’d check in the car for me. There was no damage noted by me, and no negative incidents occurred while the car was in my possession.

The car then sat on the lot for more than a day, until it was driven by an Enterprise employee to Pottstown, Pennsylvania. According to a manager, Enterprise noted damage to the vehicle I rented a day after my rental, and after it had been driven more than 10 miles by someone else. I was not contacted regarding the alleged damage until three business days later.

I believe I am being wrongfully accused by Enterprise for damaging its vehicle. You seem to be the authority on this. What should I do? — David Bressler, Boyertown, Pennsylvania

Answer: Enterprise needs to send you an invoice with a repair bill, indicating the vehicle, license number and mileage on the car. Those records should match the receipt you received from the company when you returned the car.
But let’s push the “rewind” button for a minute. If that Fusion was beat up, you should have turned it down. But if you said “yes,” you need to record every single ding, dent, scuff and scratch.

Related story:   A "unique and complicated" request for a refund

Why? Because Enterprise’s employees are trained to record every single ding, dent, scuff and scratch when you return your car. Questions about recording damage on a rental car are among our most frequently asked (http://elliott.org/frequently-asked-questions-about-car-rentals/). Basically, you need to take pictures of your car from every angle and keep the photos, just in case the car-rental company pursues you for a frivolous damage claim.

You didn’t bother waiting for a bill. Instead, you sent an email to one of Enterprise’s executives. That’s an interesting strategy, but given the fact that you tried to note the damage, only had the car a few hours, and that there was a missing 24 hours and 10 miles between your return and the time the damage was noted, I can see why you’d do that.

By the way, I list the names and numbers of Enterprise’s executives on my site: http://elliott.org/company-contacts/enterprise/.

This is an odd case, no two ways about it. I decided to ask Enterprise about it, and in response, the company dropped its claim. Next time, just say “no” to a dented rental car.

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 chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • MF

    When are consumers going to start shouting “FRAUD!”, and getting some attention from prosecuting attorneys for this kind of scam??? Maybe TV shows like ’60 Minutes’ should go undercover to document this kind of fraudulent financial practice? I’ll bet that you have some frequent scammer locations to nominate for the show. Perhaps a call or eMail to them suggesting a show segment? You could even be ‘fair & balanced’ by nominating a couple of different car rental agencies in different parts of the country…

  • Barthel

    Great idea. I haven’t rented a vehicle for many years, but back then I don’t remember hearing complaints of this type. It seems that in recent years, the rental companies have realized they could gain revenue from fraudulent damage claims.

  • AJPeabody

    Actually, claiming the car was damaged when the car is damaged is not fraud. Claiming that a particular damage doesn’t count on rental but does count on return is. Furthermore, the present system allows the same damage to be billed to sequential renters as long as it is not repaired. Right now, even if the damage is not repaired, the rental company can be paid for the diminished value of a damaged car, and can easily rebill the same damage over and over undetected.

    So, of course, there ought to be a law, namely that for a damage claim to be paid then there must be proof that the repair was done. Call it the “no tickee, no laundry” rule.

  • Alan Gore

    And the company would also have to submit a full set of before-and-after pictures, time-stamped and available on a public server, or no damage claim.

  • KennyG

    I agree with your basic premise. Just wondering why you think it should be on a public server? How about a server that is made available to the renter, his attorney, the public service commission/trade commission, or any other “involved” party. Why would you have it available to a few billion people on the internet? If I have a dispute with my neighbor, should the pictures I take of my property/his property, personal belongings etc be made available for anyone in the world to view as well on the internet?

  • Alan Gore

    For the same reason that legal notices have historically been “published in a newspaper of general circulation.” (Remember when the news was printed on paper?) Publication prevents any after-the-fact fudging of dates and details, and at the same time I can see no nefarious use to which pages and pages of car body record shots could be put.

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