Yes, you can still fight a bogus car rental damage bill – here’s how

By | November 25th, 2013

Photo of Kotzin's alleged damage to her bumper.
Photo of Kotzin’s alleged damage to her bumper.

Don’t mess with Barbara Kotzin.

Someone should have warned Enterprise before she rented a Toyota Corolla from the car rental company earlier this year. Maybe it wouldn’t have sent her the repair bill, which Kotzin claims was bogus.

Then again, maybe it would have. Hard to know.

Here’s what I do know: Kotzin’s tale of fighting what she believed to be a fraudulent damage bill, is an inspiration to anyone who thinks car rental companies are enriching themselves from frivolous damage claims.

Enterprise, like other car rental companies, insists its damage recovery unit isn’t a profit center and that it only pursues cases where a customer is responsible for damage to a car. To be fair, I’ve covered some cases where that’s true — where the damage was a driver’s fault — but also many cases where it wasn’t true.

When she picked up her car, Kotzin says she did a walkaround with a representative to check for damage.

“There was a small ding on the back bumper, which we both saw,” she says. “It was noted on my original rental agreement. I also mentioned some pitting in the material on the passenger seat, but was told that this was wear, and nothing about which I needed to be concerned.”

When she returned the car, another representative gave the vehicle a closer inspection and then delivered some bad news: there was a “crack” in the front bumper, and she would be responsible for it.

“I asked to be shown the crack, which looked like a pencil line on the very bottom section of the bumper. I never saw this, and I doubt if the first representative saw it,” she says.

Related story:   What can a broken toilet teach you about customer service?

From there, the situation quickly spiraled out of control. Enterprise eventually sent her a series of photos that supposedly documented the damage she’d done to the vehicle. In one, someone pulled apart the front bumper to make the small crack look like a gaping hole.

“In another photo, they seemed to have superimposed damage from another car onto the left side of the bumper in question, and it looked like a huge gash in a horizontal direction across the bumper,” she says.

Kotzin couldn’t even be sure it was the same car she rented. She suspected that Enterprise was trying to pull a fast one, so she phoned a supervisor and confronted her about the damage. She says the manager quickly ended the call, but promised to get back to her. She never heard a thing.

At that point, Kotzin emailed me, and if I’d seen the photos and read her story, I would have asked Enterprise about this case. But alas, her email was one of 10,000 other messages that got stuck in an unchecked mailbox.

Undeterred, Kotzin consulted with an attorney and called a local TV station. She refused to pay the claim and eventually sent an email to the president of Enterprise. A day later, she says she received a reply, assuring her that a regional manager would contact her soon.

“I got a call the following week,” she says. “Amazingly, she said that they were willing to drop their claim.”

And that’s exactly what Enterprise did.

This story is important for many reasons. First and foremost, it’s about consumer empowerment. Kotzin helped herself fight and successfully fended off what she believed to be a frivolous damage claim.

Related story:   Enterprise pulls cars from Orbitz after dispute

It’s also a cautionary tale about the need for insurance. Kotzin had insurance, but refused, on principle, to give the information to Enterprise. If she didn’t have the insurance, then she’d have been on the hook to pay for a new bumper.

But the biggest takeaway by far is that, if some renters are to be believed, the so-called ding-and-dent scam is still being practiced. All the more reason to be extra vigilant when you rent your next car.

Take pictures of your car. Document any damage. And don’t be afraid to turn down a high-mileage vehicle.

Do you think the ding-and-dent scam is still being used by car rental companies?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

  • Justin

    Enterprise pulled a similar scam on my mother years back. Picked up car, drove about 10 miles home, parked vehicle, and left sitting for the night. Next morning, she drove a few blocks and transmission blew. Enterprise claimed my mother must have hit something and caused the damage. Sent her a bill for 2500 and demanded immediate payment.

    I too contacted the CEO and all executives raising hell on her behalf. Problem was resolved, same as OP, but with little more than an “I’m Sorry”.

    Moral: Take pictures, demand even minor damage documented, and don’t let agents push you into overlooking any cosmetic or mechanical issues. . Minor or not, YOU’RE wiriting it down. Therefore, when my car returns, we’re in agreement about condition.

    Consider rental companies used cars salesmen. Protect yourself from start to finish and never sign off on final paperwork until reading carefully.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I’m still confused about the taking pictures part. Is that only if there is damage to the car?
    But yes, I 100% agree that all damage should be noted. I always get a gate agent who doesn’t want to note the damage saying, it’s too small or you’re a Gold member so its automatically waived. I can see how that might make someone reluctant to pursue it further. My standard response “I’d feel more comfortable is it were noted”
    Once, I was given a car that looked like it had been in an accident. I made the agent come outside to see the car. I told him, “that car is a waiting damage report” He gave me a much better car.

  • John Baker

    Let me understand this Chris… Enterprise decides to stops pursuing a damage claim after the media gets involved and that automatically means that the claim wasn’t legit? You’ve never worked on a case where a company gave in when they didn’t have too just to protect themselves from bad press?

    Sorry I used to be a quality engineer in an truck assembly plant. The damage shown is really easy to do but really hard to photograph. I used to do the same thing shown to highlight that a crack was really a crack and not a scratch. I also used to slip a piece of paper in the crack if it wouldn’t spread as shown.

    Here’s the heart of the matter… She admits to not seeing the crack on the walk around and it wasn’t on her damage paperwork. The crack was there when the vehicle was returned and was shown the damage during the return process (ie it wasn’t found three hours later after their employees had driven the car). By contract, it makes her responsible for the damage.

    I won’t argue that some rental places don’t try to scam renters with damage claims. They do. I won’t argue that in the case of a fraudulent claim that those same places give up instead of fight when pushed because they know is false. I do think that its a logical fallacy to state because Enterprise opted not to pursue the claim when faced with media pressure that the claim was fraudulent. I think its much more likely that the bad press wasn’t worth the cost of the repair.

  • Alan Gore

    I think that rental car companies are using these ding-and-dent horror stories to scare people into buying the insurance they provide, rather than the credit card plans that are so popular these days. Can any “enterprising” hacker out there come up with an internal memo at one of the majors that reveals this as a policy?

  • Cybrsk8r

    If I get an agent who wants to blow off the pre-rental walk-around, I do my own walk-around, note any damage and then take the form back inside and make the agent counter-sign it. If he refuses, I refuse the car.

  • Fishplate

    I rented a car at SFO that had damage…my experience had been that the form would be accepted at the exit gate, as it is at other locations. It wasn’t (because it’s a shared garage), so I drove back in to the return and made them accept the form before I would leave with the car.

  • No, as I mentioned in the story, I’ve seen real damage done to an Enterprise car where the company had all the documentation and I sided with the company, and I’ve seen damage claims that were inadequately documented and impossible to prove. Enterprise doesn’t always back down when the media gets involved.

  • shannonfla

    I take photos at rental AND return so even if a car is not damaged when I pick it up, I have proof just in case they try a photo switcheroo, like in this article where the OP thinks they tried to get her to repair a different car.

  • mszabo

    On the other hand if it is really hard to photograph see without enlarging, seems like it was likely the crack was there (or perhaps it grew in the same way a cracked windshield splits) when she got the car. Both her and enterprise noted there was some bumper damage when she took out the car. So on that grounds I’d say it may well be fraudulent.

  • Dutchess

    I do one better, when the rental agent blows past “wear and tear” damage I force them to note it on the contract, even when they protest. It’s saved my but on more than one occasion. Also video taping has saved me twice both times the damage was very hard to see but was slightly visible on cell phone video and helped resolve my case.

  • Justin

    Or normal vibrations and usage caused the crack to grow worse. Neither scenario are the OPs fault.

  • Justin

    +1. I refuse to sign until I’m satisfied all damage is documented. Period.

  • LeeAnneClark

    You assume the crack wasn’t there when she picked the car up, and was upon return, meaning she caused it. What she is saying is that the crack was so small it wasn’t seen during the pick-up walkaround…but the guy upon return clearly was more thorough, and spotted it. And since the first walkaround didn’t reveal it, she gets stuck with the bill.

    Therein lies the scam: damage so small that it gets past the first walkaround, gets dumped on the customer when it’s picked up on the second. How nice for Enterprise that they have a less-thorough person doing the first one, and an eagle-eye doing the second one. Anyone who doesn’t think this is deliberate is in denial.

    It’s incumbent on the rental agencies to be able to prove their case. If they can’t, they aren’t entitled to any money. They need to just accept that “wear and tear” is a cost of doing business. The nature of the business is that, unless they want to invest in expensive photography equipment and processes that would document every car’s exact condition upon pickup, there is no way to prove which customer caused tiny damage. Trying to pin it on a customer is not going to work, because the chance that it was caused by an earlier customer is just too great.

    Clearly, extensive damage should be charged to the customer who caused it. But that’s easy to determine, and easy to prove. But these tiny damage issues need to be treated as what they are…wear and tear, and the responsibility of the agency, not whatever poor customer is the one who got stuck with it. Or, as we all know is happening, MANY poor customers who get stuck with it, over and over. Because we all know they aren’t actually FIXING these things. They are using them as a profit opportunity.

  • Justin

    Pre and post photos to ensure consistency. X company can’t play a switcheroo.

  • tomjuno

    Let me see if I understand correctly. There was a pencil-thin, barely-detectible crack in the front bumper, yes? Isn’t that what bumpers are for – to cushion what, in this case, seems to be a minor impact? And doesn’t this fall into the category of normal, everyday wear-and-tear on the roads nowadays? If so, the car rental company didn’t seem to have much of a case – but took a shot at it to see if the renter would fold. She didn’t fold, though. Good for her.

  • zakany

    Pretty much anything plastic on the outside of a car is a wear item. Intentionally, or not.

  • John Baker

    @LeeAnneClark:disqus Actually I’m not assuming anything … I the OP says that she didn’t see it when she walked around. The rental companies prima facie case is the OP’s walk around and the document she signed that states it wasn’t there. Its incumbent on her doing her initial walk around to find the damage. Whatever damage she doesn’t find she owns. Otherwise, there’s no case where a renter would ever be charged for any damage short of a major collision. I wonder if people participating in peer to peer renting would find that fair?

    The crack on the bottom is really easy to do. The material is really thin and it doesn’t take much of an impact to cause it damage. Running over a stick could cause it.

  • John Baker

    She found damage on the rear bumper. The pic and the narrative state that the damage was found on a front bumper

  • Justin

    I concur and OFTEN WONDER how many customers are suckered into fixing one repair. Makes you ponder why rental companies back down when one shouts too loudly.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Perhaps I”m being dense, but help me out. On Monday, I rent a car that has no damage. On Tuesday, I return the same car with no damage and I have the pictures to show that the car was returned without damage.

    How exactly do the Monday pictures help? Regardless of what the car rental company manufacture, say a different car with a dent in the right passenger side door. You bring out your Tuesday pictures and say, nope, wasn’t me.

    Of course, if the car has pre-existing damage you want to document that to ensure that you are not charged for damage that you couldn’t have done.

    If you can show me a scenario where a picture of a damage free car at the time of the rental is relevant then perhaps I can understand this.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I think its much more likely that the bad press wasn’t worth the cost of the repair.

    Everything else in your post was spot on. That last sentence however is pure conjecture.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    The material is really thin and it doesn’t take much of an impact to cause it damage. Running over a stick could cause it.

    That’s Leanne’s point. That should be considered normal wear and tear, much like getting a flat.

    Whatever damage she doesn’t find she owns.

    Fortunately, that’s not true. She only owns those items which a would be visible during a normal inspection. This became relevant when SUV’s became very popular in the late 90’s. Some car rental companies were trying to claim damage to the top of the SUV which would require a basketball player to find. Fortunately, that practice appears to have ceased and car rental companies (at least the reputable ones) generally stop doing return inspections would which require a ladder or laying down on the ground to find damage.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    That is a wise and prudent policy. Ignore any salesperson who tries to rush you into signing anything until you are satisfied.

  • MarkKelling

    The rental companies don’t want their scratch-and-dent practices put under a microscope that a court appearance or an in depth investigative report would allow because they know many of the claims they make are repeated and fraudulent. That is why when you yell loud enough to enough media reps they drop the claim. I’m not saying that the type of practices are endorsed by the higher ups in the rental companies, but they are also apparently not discouraged because of how often they occur.

  • MarkKelling

    Since the rental company insurance charge is such a relatively small amount compared to the cost of auto repairs these days, and so many renters decline it because of their credit card insurance, I am willing to bet the rental companies are not paying for repairs from the insured cars (except when absolutely necessary to make the vehicle drivable) and are trying to pass off the repairs to the next renter in line that does not buy their insurance.

    And I doubt anyone has ever put this into writing at any rental company. It is just an “understanding.”

  • SoBeSparky

    Since is a generic poll question about rental companies in general, the hundreds of poll respondents have no information on which to make a responsible poll decision other than their own experiences.

    It would seem they are deciding all car rental companies are guilty until proven innocent. I find it hard to believe the personal experiences of 95% include being falsely accused of car rental damages. So the poll is just a demonstration of consumer prejudice, perhaps with a pinch of paranoia.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Wow. Let me get this straight…so any rental car customer who doesn’t happen to see some tiny, hard-to-spot damage is, prima facie, RESPONSIBLE for paying for that damage because they didn’t see it? I repeat: wow.

    So it’s incumbent on US, the customers, to do such a detailed, thorough inspection that it’s not possible to miss even the tiniest wear-and-tear issue…and if we didn’t, that’s our mistake and we OWN it?

    How nice for the rental agencies! They get to leave microscopic scratches on their vehicles, and any customer who doesn’t see it, has to pay for it. And you think this is FAIR?

    What about cars picked up at night in dark parking lots? What about damage on the roof on a car picked up by a short person? What about damage under the carriage that couldn’t be seen unless you crawl under the car? If we don’t see it upon pick-up, we own it?

    Wow. Just wow. You are a rental agency’s dream. Your thought process gives them the freedom to screw innocent customers over and over, just because their eyesight might not be perfect, or they picked their car up at night. Hey, you don’t see it, you OWN it!

    Nice logic.

  • Miami510

    I hope this will be an illustrative story even though it’s
    about the purchase of a brand new car, and not a rental.

    The new car was just washed and brought to the door of the new car dealer and I did a cursory inspection while they transferred my license plate. I drove to my usual gas station to fill the tank and the station owner came over to congratulate me. He pointed to a gap between two panels and made some remark about factory inspections on new cars and then pointed out another gap where one of the panels had a slight wobble.

    I drove back to the dealer and pointed these things out. They took care of it immediately, but had the nerve to preface their remark with a statement that “we know this didn’t happen on your watch because you just drove out of here an hour ago.”

    I took this to mean they might not have taken care of it if I brought it back a week later. If this can happen to a new car, think about a rental!

    Caveat emptor

  • Justin

    Easy. You rent a car, take photos, and go to return car. Agent claims damage was overlooked on your part and now there are cosmetic or mechanical faults. I.e. broken headlight, interior, body damage and so forth. You whip out pictures and say here’s the damage at time of rental. We might have overlooked or it wasn’t written down, but did exist.

    Second scenario, car is taken back and rental company tries to lay claim later on as in the ops case claiming new or exacerbated faults.

  • Chris Johnson

    I’ll say the scam is used by some, but not all car rental companies, and individual car company franchises as well, some more so than others. In any case, thank God for my cell phone camera, I use it every time I rent.


    Earlier this year I had a rep ask me to sign a form saying there was no damage to the car. He had it folded so only the signature line was visible. I insisted on unfolding the entire form and it was a form saying I assumed responsibility for damage, which as yet had not been named. The rep quickly took that form away saying he grabbed the wrong form because he was in a hurry. I refused to sign any form and will not rent from that company again.

  • Rose Y

    More than five years ago I rented a car. I was given an old Corolla with very high mileage and dents/scratches everywhere. I was new to renting cars, didn’t think too much of it as long as I marked all the damages on the form. An attendant even double checked all the ding-and-dent with me. When the car was returned, a different attendant told me there was a big dent on the rear bumper and I was responsible for it. I then showed him the form which had the “x” mark on the same spot, to prove that the dent was already there when I was inspecting the car. He told me the “x” meant a smaller dent, an “X” would mean a big dent, and that was a big dent so I must have made the dent bigger while the car was in my possession. I asked him to show me where on the form says “X” stood for a big dent. Of course “X” didn’t exist, only “x” did. Anyway, things escalated when we walked back to the office. The attendant took our form and refused to provide us a copy of the form, saying it was their property. I asked him to check the form from previous rental. He came back saying the previous form showed no damage on the same spot on the rear bumper, and refused to show it to us. Was that a scam by the rental company? I thought so! Anyway, they sent us a bill close to $1500 to replace the whole rear bumper! The bumper already had plenty of dents and scratches. I never heard from them after my lawyer sending them a letter, a complaint to the BBB, and a phone call from me to the mechanic at the garage where they got the $1500 estimate from.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Again, please explain. When you return the car, are the headlights broken? If not, then when the agent claims you broke the headlights, you have Tuesday’s pictures showing that the headlights are not broken. Still makes no sense.

    I think to make any sense of this, we need details (e.g. dates)

    Monday: Rent car, no damage or any pre-existing damage adequately noted
    Tuesday: Return car, no damage, Take pictures with todays paper
    Wednesday: Agency claims you returned car with broken headlight
    Thursday: Send Tuesday’s pictures of car showing headlight not broken
    Friday: Case closed

    I’m still not seeing how photos taken at the beginning of a rental are relevant if there is no damage to begin with, or the damage is adequated noted, But I am keeping an open mind ;-)

  • Joe Farrell

    the complaint to the BBB was a wasted stamp and effort . . . don’t bother with the BBB in the future.

  • Justin


    I’m not a lawyer, but the expectation in civil disputes is 51%, so I understand. One can take photos the day of rental holding a newspaper to substantiate the date. Upon return, the same can be done along with accompanying pictures.

    What are you proving? The condition of the car pre and post rental. If some mysterious damage or claim turns up, those photos serve as proof. Correct?

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I’m still not hearing with specificity what the pre-photos prove, i.e. what useful information that is not gleaned from the post-rental photos showing an unblemished car. A statement like, “the condition of the car” is generalized and not probative.

    The reason I’m asking is that I don’t take pre-rental photos. Its been suggested that they are useful. If someone shows me why, then I might start taking them. I have yet to hear any reason why I should go through that exercise unless the car has damage.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I doubt that is happening at the larger companies, particular company owned locations. Not that they are more ethical, but the likelihood of exposure (i.e. disgruntled employee, investigator reporter, etc.) is too high. At any airport location, there is only one Hertz, one Avis, etc.

    Franchise neighborhood locations abound and face less public scrutiny.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Consumer prejudice? Paranoia? Hardly.

    Every poll that is presented here, the respondents vote based upon their own experiences. That is the only possible option in a consumer oriented poll. I suggest that you are reading into the results your own biases.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I’m dying to know which company. And the BBB is generally useless.

  • SoBeSparky

    Perception. Only perception after reading a horror story of probably false car rental charges.

    Not my biases, but yours to assume something. The question was “do you think,” not “do you know.” Major difference. The results would be competely different had the question been, “Have you in the past year been a victim of the ding-and-dent scam of car rental companies?”

    Astounding you would think 705 readers were victims out of a total of 735 polled. Astounding you would think these people actually rented a car in the past year. No proof of that whatsoever.

  • dkschneider

    Of any of the agencies, Enterprise is the one that is the most diligent about the process (as are the new siblings National and Alamo). I am working through a claim right now for a slight scratch in the top coat paint of a car. The scratch is consistent with someone walking past the car with a key. It is hard to see, and is typical in the North East. I am using American Express to fight off the claim.

    The real money maker for the rental agencies is the daily insurance coverage. Enterprise wants your insurance co, policy # and deductible. If you carry a high deductible, say $500, the agent may attempt pressure you into purchasing the daily insurance. That is exactly what the renting agent did at the Enterprise office where I rented the car. Upon return the agent quickly identified the scratch damage.

    A sizable portion of the claim is “loss of use” and “lost value” charges. The “loss of use” assumes that the company could not make money while the car was in repair. The lost value is a supposed deduction of value. Both are very hard to prove – and are the first that should go in any claim negotiation.

  • Justin


    Specifity. Take the OP. Op rents car, takes pre photograph of a minor crack with a newspaper to substanitate date (or time stamp). Op drives car and returns vehicle. Takes photos of same crack. Doesn’t notice any worsening.

    Either through being in a rush or Enterprise trying to pull a fast one, a claim is made the crack is now a break. See photo. OP receives notice of claim in the mail.

    More so, the photos protect the rushed travelers who don’t closely read paperwork or protects againt an agent slipping in a claim.

    You might argue we both get copies of the final paperwork and those actions are fraudulous. Most people lose or toss the paperwork as time passes

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    But that’s not the scenario I asked about. I specifically asked about a car that is either has

    1. No damage
    2. Any previous damage is adequately documented.

    and in particular scenario #1.

    You take pictures at the return showing a pristine, undamaged car. I’m still waiting to here about that scenario and how pre-rental pictures help.. If its taking this long to an example of how a pre-rental picture of a perfectly unblemished car helps, my initial skepticism remains.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Lets’ clarify, because you are talking a hyper-literal reading of the word experiences. In this context, one’s experiences relate to everything which shapes who you are and what you think. That can be things that happen to you first hand.

    It can also be things that happen to others that you are merely a spectator. For example, a friend of mine lost his law license years ago at the same time I was entering the law profession. That knowledge strongly influenced my practices.

    Depending on the person, it can also be from third party information news sources.

    All three sources are part of your experiences which determine “What you think” So no, I am not asserting that 705 of 735 respondents have rented a car within any given time frame.

    As far as the poll results with different question, that has neither bearing nor relevance to this poll.

  • Helio

    Because you seems to always ask and insist to the gate agent to annotate any small scratch or damage in your rented car, in your case the pre-photos aren’t necessary.
    But for the people who believe that “it is a too small dent, don’t worry”, “it will be waived, don’t worry”, these photos may help to avoid a claim.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I agree 100%. If there if any damage. Get proof. It’s the undamaged car that I don’t see the pre photos being of any use.

  • SoBeSparky

    You are playing with words to twist them to your satisfaction. You said quite plainly, “Every poll that is presented here, the respondents vote based upon their own experiences.”

    Most people would define “their own experiences” not to be third party information sources. You are asserting that 705 respondents have “their own experiences” that car rental companies are still using the the ding-and-dent scam. False assumption.

    Further as for a given period of time, again you twist common meanings to your tortured logic. To say the scam “is still being used” is using the present progressive tense. Notice the word “present.” The respondents are asserting “their own experiences” prove this practice is being conducted at the present time.

    How fallacious.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    You can try to put words in my mouth, but it still doesn’t mean anything.

    I have clarified what I meant so that there would not be any confusion. I gave you the benefit of the doubt, that you might not have understood what I meant. I have made it abundantly clear that I am not making that assertion.I assumed that you were discussing in good faith. That assumption was indeed fallacious.

    I notice that in your attempt to win rather than being accurate, you have subtly dropped the second point that experiences can be vicarious (aka symbolic). The reasons why are obvious.

    The remainder of your argument, such as it is, devolves into the use of a participle. Really? I know you can do much better. Actually technically I don’t actual know that. I am assuming, but don’t have any actual facts to go on.

  • SoBeSparky

    Condescension does not become you. No devolving. English is precise.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    You’re right. It doesn’t. Treat me respectfully and you won’t have to worry about it.

  • Rose Y

    It was Payless. I didn’t know BBB was useless at that time, was just hoping Payless would feel the pressure of being exposed. BBB was a waste of time, then Payless’ lawyer threatened to sue. My lawyer replied to that letter, and I never heard from Payless again.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    +1. A crack in the bumper is not normal wear and tear;. A scratch or scrape is one thing, but a bumper doesn’t crack during normal usage. This lady didn’t have a single legitimate argument, photos, nothing. All she did was throw a big enough temper tantrum so she got what she wanted.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    A CRACK in the bumper is not normal wear and tear. The photo in the story is of the OP’s rental, and that is not normal wear and tear. If you valet parked your personal car and your bumper came back looking like what it looks like in the picture, somehow I have a feeling you wouldn’t be quite as understanding as you apparently expect Enterprise to be.

    A crack like that in the bumper is not something a reasonable person would miss on a walkaround. Your view on the issue seems to be that unless there is major damage, rental companies should just take customers at their word 100% of the time. Unfortunately, and I speak from personal experience as I worked for a rental agency for a short time out of undergrad, customers frequently lie or are completely unaware about vehicle damage.

    I can also say with confidence that no corporately owned major rental company in the US (Hertz, Avis, Budget, Alamo, National) rewards their employees for finding vehicle damage.

  • LeeAnneClark

    The photo in the article shows someone’s hand PULLING on the bumper, separating one side from the other. That photo shows someone actually CAUSING damage! Maybe the crack was already there, maybe it wasn’t…but pulling on the bumper like that is damaging it.

    As for my view…yup. If rental car agencies want to charge someone for damage, they need to be able to prove that the person caused the damage. If they can’t, then too bad. It’s the cost of doing business. Charging innocent customers for damage they didn’t cause is fraudulent.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    No, it shows someone illustrating the damage. That kind of crack in the bumper is easy to see when walking around the car, but photgraphing it is more difficult. Also, remember that the damage to the car was promptly documented upon the return of the vehicle-it isn’t like they came after her weeks later.

    Also, your second statement illustrates a great lack of understanding/knowledge of how rental car companies actually work. When you decline CDW, you agree to be held responsible for all damage that happens to the rental car (excluding mileage and normal wear and tear, as defined by the rental company). Photographing all cars from all angles is a great idea; however, in many instances it is cost prohibitive and by no means is it a current industry standard. Hence, the reason that contracts exist. Pre-existing damage can be noted on the rental agreement, and rental companies can track all damage reports filed on a vehicle, as well as damage noted on past rental agreements. It would be extremely stupid of rental agencies to just take customers at their word when it came to damage. Sorry to deliver bad news, but when it comes to damage, rental car customers lie all the time. I should know. I saw it happen over and over again.

    While it is fraudulent for rental companies to charge customers for damage that didn’t happen while the car was in their care, it is just as fraudulent for renters to have damage occur and then refuse to own up to it claiming to be a victim. The pendulum swings both ways.

  • Justin

    Damage “appears” later on for careless or rushed travelers that sign off on the rental form without properly reading. Consider the scenario someone posted here where the agent handed the form and said “Sign”. Agent then “fills in the blank”. People are careless when in a hurry. At least, the photos can help prove one’s case when mistakes are made.

    P.S. How many people save the carbon copy for long? So unless a copy is kept, unscrupulous activities happen.

    99% of the time, one can go about their day, never referencing the photos again. It’s that rare 1% you’ll be glad the pictures exist.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Once again, that’s not the scenario I asked about.

    1. Rent an undamaged car
    2. Return car, undamaged
    3. Take photos at return showing undamaged car.

    Even if damage “appears” later, you have your photos showing that at the time of the return, there was no damage.

    I submit that pre-rental photos are wholly irrelevant in such a senario. As your photos upon return are the proof.

    The question was straightforward and devoid of any lawyer “gotchas”. I still have not heard one reason showing why a pre-rental photo of an undamaged car can every be of use to a renter.

    I want to be clear, I ask only to see if I should change my rental habits. Not to “win” or be “right” or any other such juvenile issue. Its a legit question. Given how long this post has been and the lack of a good response, I must conclude that the practice has no value if the rental car was undamaged at the time of the rental.

  • Justin

    Ok Carver.

    I’m going to CONCISELY answer your question.

    Why photograph an undamaged car at pick up?

    A. Travelers are often less weary at the time of pickup. Chances are greater that you’re rested and devoid from travel fatigued. Now is the opportune moment to do a thorough inspection whilst fully alert. – Take Photos.

    B. How many rental cars are completely free of defect? People run rentals hard. I’ve yet to come across any car completely absent of dings, dents, burn marks, some cosmetic blemish, or even a mechanical fault. Pristine cars do exist, but they are generally the exception, unless the vehicle is fresh off the lot.

    C. Upon return, you’ve had a long vacation. Maybe you did a pre check and didn’t notice anything. Great! Maybe you did and had it written down. None the less, it’s a cover your ass scenario. People are ready to get back home once their vacation ends and tend to rush. Easy to blow through a “Return Inspection” when travel fatigued.

    Ultimately, two or three weeks down the road, you’ve forgotten where the rental paperwork went. Pictures remain on the camera and are worth 1000 words. You know how the car looked before and after it was handed back.

    My rationale. Good or bad.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    At least I understand your rationale ( I think).

    Effectively, you’re changing the premise. The car that I believe is unblemished when I rent it, might not actually be unblemished and you miss something. That way, when that same something(s) are noticed upon the return or later, you can reference your pictures from the pre-rental inspection to prove that the damage pre-existed the rental.

    Would that be a correct summation?

  • Justin


    Happy Thanksgiving, too.

  • Christopher Jacob

    If this happens to you, your first call should be directly to the credit card company your rented the car with. You should open up a dispute right away. The credit card company does have the power to reverse the charge and it is in there best interest to side with you if you are a good customer. Unfortunately this is not consider a crime on the car companies side even though they are blatantly trying to steal from you because you have previously authorized them to charge your account. Might be a good Idea to cancel your card and get a new one, instead of checking your account a month later and having new charges from the same company.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I don’t think cancelling your card would be effective. With the authorization, I believe that they can still charge the account leaving you liable.

We want your feedback. Your opinion is important to us. Here's how you can share your thoughts:
  • Send us a letter to the editor. We'll publish your most thoughtful missives in our daily newsletter or in an upcoming post.
  • Leave a message on one of our social networks. We have an active Facebook page, a LinkedIn presence and a Twitter account. Every story on this site is posted on those channels. The conversation ranges from completely unmoderated (Twitter) to moderated (Facebook and LinkedIn).
  • Post a question to our help forums or ask our advocates for a hand through our assistance intake form. Please note that our help forum is not a place for debate. It's there primarily to assist readers with a consumer problem.
  • If you have a news tip or want to report an error or omission, you can email the site publisher directly. You may also contact the post's author directly. Contact information is in the author tagline.