A bizarre Thrifty car rental damage bribe: $35 to make this chipped windshield go away!

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By Christopher Elliott

When Cameron Colletti returned her rental car to Thrifty in Tulsa, Okla., a customer service representative gave her bad news: She’d put a chip in the windshield of her car.

She looked at the chip.

“It was the size of a grain of rice,” she says.

But there was an easy fix.

“The employee told me I could give him $35 right then and there to repair the chip,” she says. “Or they could let their claims department handle it. I declined because I did not cause the chip.”

A few weeks later, Thrifty sent Colletti an $898 invoice to replace the entire windshield.

It gets worse — much worse.

Thrifty then charged her another $437 because it claimed she hadn’t returned the car on time. But she had.

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No question about it, this is a bizarre Thrifty case. One of the strangest I’ve seen in a while. And it raises a lot of questions:

  • What should you do if you chipped the windshield on your rental car?
  • Can a car rental employee demand a cash settlement for damage without an estimate?
  • How do you avoid a charge for a chipped windshield on a rental car?

First, let’s figure out what happened to Colletti’s windshield.

“This is excessive”

Colletti says she was stunned when she returned her car to Thrifty for two reasons. First, that an associate would point out the tiny chip on the windshield. And second, he would ask her for money to fix it.

“I thought, ‘This is excessive,'” she says.

But was it?

Windshield chips are the most common type of damage on a rental car. And, although it’s common practice to replace a windshield, a chip smaller than a quarter and a crack shorter than three inches can be easily patched with an epoxy repair kit.

Still, this is the first case I’ve ever encountered where a car rental employee solicited cash from a customer to make a damage claim go away. 

Something was definitely off. 

“I was baffled when a $35 chip repair turned into an invoice for an entirely new windshield,” she says. 

The charges included:

  • A $200 administrative charge.
  • A $378 charge for labor.
  • And $225 for the actual windshield.

Thrifty, apparently living up to its name, immediately offered to settle the bill for half the price. But that made Colletti even more suspicious.

And that’s not all. Thrifty then charged her $437 for a late return, even though she had brought back her car on time.

Colletti wanted Thrifty to drop the entire bill. After all, a Thrifty employee had tried to get $35 under the table, then billed her $898, then cut the bill in half, and then charged her credit card $437 for a late return.

So she tried to call Thrifty. 

The call to Thrifty did not go well

After speaking with several people, she eventually got through to the right department: Thrifty’s Damage Recovery Team. She was connected with a damage recovery specialist named Virginia.

“She was extremely unprofessional,” says Colletti. “The representative spoke over me, interrupted me, and as her interruptions became more and more aggressive, I heard her snickering when she allowed me to respond.”

Virginia said there was nothing to discuss. The windshield had to be replaced and Colletti had to pay.

What’s more, the previous offer to cut the bill in half was no longer on the table. Thrifty had now rounded it up to $800.

“She also threatened to contact my insurance company to handle it without me,” she says. “I told her she did not have permission to contact my insurance. She told me it didn’t matter and continued to threaten me.”

Colletti asked Virginia for proof that she had damaged the car. In response, Virginia sent her a copy of the rental agreement and a repair invoice but no photo of the car before she rented it showing a windshield without a chip. Not that you would have been able to see it, but it didn’t matter. Thrifty didn’t send it.

What should you do if you chipped the windshield on your rental car?

Chips happen. In fact, cracked windshields are the number-one auto insurance claim by far. Multiple surveys suggest more than 10 percent of vehicles in the United States are driving with a cracked windshield. Your rental car could be one of them.

So you’re driving along the road and you see a pebble flying toward you. Then you hear a pop and see a tiny indentation in your windshield.

What now?

Pull over and assess the damage

Take photos of the chipped windshield from multiple angles so you have visual evidence of the condition at the time of the incident.

Report the chipped windshield

Reach out to the rental company immediately to report the damage. Follow the company’s instructions on how to proceed. If it’s a serious break, you may need to bring it back to the location.

Weigh your repair options

Even though car rental companies insist they have the absolute right to repair their car, you may still want to carefully evaluate all of your options. Can you fix the windshield yourself? If you think you can, and if your car rental company allows it, maybe that’s the most cost-effective option.

Review your rental agreement and insurance

Some car rental insurance covers minor damage like windshield chips. You’ll want to review the contract and your insurance to see if you’re covered. If you are, you can continue driving the vehicle without worry. If not … well, keep reading to see what happened to Colletti.

Can a car rental employee demand a cash settlement for damage without an estimate?

Strictly speaking, a car rental company could ask for up-front payment without an estimate. But it’s considered an ethically problematic practice, and most legitimate car rental companies wait until there’s a formal written estimate before presenting a customer with a bill.

But this situation was a little different. A Thrifty employee was asking for $35 to make a damage claim go away. Is that wrong?

Maybe. Thrifty, which is owned by Hertz, publishes a detailed document on its standards of business conduct. It devotes an entire section to bribery and corruption. (Related: Dollar didn’t have my rental car — but it still charged me $82!)

“In all of our business dealings, we must avoid engaging in bribery and corruption, in order to uphold our commitment to integrity,” it says. 

The Hertz code of conduct does not specifically address Colletti’s situation. But it seems a few lines may have been crossed. Specifically:

  • Asking for $35 to avoid a damage bill is a little bit like paying off a police officer when you’ve been pulled over for speeding: “Here’s 35 bucks to look the other way.” It feels corrupt. 
  • Slamming Colletti with a $898 bill — then halving it — and then jacking it back up to $800 feels even more corrupt.
  • And don’t even get me started on the $437 bill for a late return when Colletti actually returned the car on time. 

Bottom line: This case is troubling on many levels. Thrifty may not have broken any laws with this case, but it certainly crossed some lines.

By the way, if you see a Thrifty employee doing something questionable, report it to a supervisor immediately. If necessary, appeal to one of the Hertz executives on this site.

How do you avoid a charge for a chipped windshield on a rental car?

Avoiding a chipped windshield bill is easy. First, Colletti was probably renting with the wrong company. Thrifty has something of a reputation for hitting customers with chipped windshield damage. 

Just say no

Don’t accept a car with a chipped windshield. Just don’t.

Take before and after photos of your rental

In addition to the windshield, focus on the other problem areas such as the bumper, doors and hood. (Related: Oh no! Thrifty charged me an extra $250 for a car rental upgrade. Can I get a refund?)

No offroading

Most car rental companies specifically forbid using unpaved roads. But plenty of paved roads have pebbles that can get kicked up into your windshield. 

Drive carefully

Most of my chipped windshield incidents have happened when I followed a truck too closely or drove too fast near road construction. There are good reasons to avoid that type of driving, beyond avoiding a chipped windshield. Please drive your rental car with care. (Here’s our guide to renting a car.)

So to sum up: Screen your vehicle carefully for pre-existing damage and drive like the Church Lady and you will avoid the aggravation of having to pay your car rental company for a chipped windshield. 

And if you can’t? Make sure you have really good auto insurance that covers car rentals.

Should she pay for this windshield?

This is a hard case. Colletti could have easily prevented this by taking before and after photos. 

Her statements to Thrifty seem to suggest that if the windshield was damaged during her rental, then she wasn’t responsible for it because she wasn’t driving at the time.

That’s incorrect. The car is your responsibility from the time you get the keys to when you return it.

But Thrifty really screwed this one up, too The initial $35 offer, the wild fluctuations in Colletti’s repair bill, not to mention the unprofessional behavior of the Thrifty claim specialist.

Everyone messed up.

I was really worried about the initial offer to Colletti. Soliciting a payment from a customer is highly unusual, and that alone made the case worth bringing to Hertz’s attention.

So I did.

“This is no more acceptable to us than it is to you”

A few days later, Hertz responded directly to Colletti.

I am corresponding with you on behalf of Hertz Senior Leadership regarding your recent rental from Tulsa, OK. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to review this matter and respond to you directly.

Upon reviewing your email, we immediately reached out to our Claims Management Offices for their further review and assistance. We have since received their response and confirmation that the damage claim is being closed at this time and you will not be held liable for the damage claim. With this in mind, you should not receive any further correspondence related to this matter.

In regards to the cash settlement requested by the employee, please rest assured this is no more acceptable to us than it is to you, and certainly not a practice of our company. Your feedback was shared with the local manager for review with the employee and immediate corrective action. 

I sincerely regret your rental experience with Hertz did not meet with the high standards of service we strive to maintain. As a service oriented company, we rely on customer feedback to help us maintain and improve our service performance standards. Thank you again for allowing me to assist. 

I’m relieved that the cash settlement offer is unacceptable to Hertz. Closing the case may seem like a generous thing to do, but after all the different bills Thrifty had presented Colletti, I think it was the right thing to do.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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