Windshield damage on my Avis rental! Do I have to pay $573?

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By Christopher Elliott

When Rohit Nallam returned his Nissan Altima rental to Avis, everything looked fine. There was no visible damage to the car, and a representative waved him through to the terminal. Nallam had no idea he’d receive a $573 bill for damaging the windshield, because there was no damage to the windshield.

If only. Windshields are the most common car rental damage claim, but his claim had a lot of red flags. We’ll get to those in a minute, plus we’ll crack this Avis windshield damage case.

Nallam’s problem also raises some bigger questions:

  • Are you responsible for windshield damage to your rental car?
  • What’s the biggest mistake people make when renting a car?
  • How do you track damage to a rental car?

But before we get to the answers, let’s find out what went wrong with Nallam.

“This is either a huge mistake — or it’s fraud”

Nallam’s problem started with a one-day rental in Nashville back in November. He drove to an appointment and returned the car the next day. 

He didn’t take any “before” photos of the vehicle, and since he didn’t notice any damage to the car, he didn’t take any “after” photos. That proved to be a mistake. (Related: Double-billed by Avis for a van returned after hours.)

Total cost of the rental: $93.

But in February — nearly two months after he returned his car to Avis — Nallam received a bill for $573.

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Avis claimed he had chipped his windshield, and it was charging him for a new windshield plus labor.

“I’m being wrongfully charged,” he says. “This is either a huge mistake — or it’s fraud.”

“The pictures attached by Avis show no damage,” he adds. “Instead, they just show a random picture of a good windshield.”

So what was it? A huge mistake? Fraud? Or maybe even a correct bill?

Are you responsible for windshield damage to your rental car?

Nallam’s case raises the question of the renter’s responsibility, and it’s one that comes up often. 

Are you responsible for damage to your rental car during your rental period?

Yes, you are.

Many renters assume that if they are not at fault, somehow the car rental company’s insurance might cover the damage. But that’s incorrect. 

You are responsible for damage to your vehicle while you’re renting it — no matter who’s at fault.

When you accept the keys to your rental car, you are taking on complete responsibility for that vehicle. Full stop.

Never make these mistakes when you’re renting a car

I already mentioned that failing to take “before” and “after” photos was an error. That may be an understatement.

If Nallam had a photo of the windshield before he rented the car and when he returned it, he would have won this case without any help. (Related: She returned her rental car, but Avis charged her an extra $4,228.)

So before we continue, let’s talk about your close-up shot, Mr. DeMille. Before you rent a car:

Make sure you inspect the vehicle in a well-lighted area 

No dark parking garages! If you can’t inspect the car in good light, ask for help or use the light on your phone to illuminate the surface of your vehicle. I repeat: No. Dark. Photos.

Get exterior shots

Front and back, doors, roof and undercarriage. Yep, under the car. Car rental companies are checking for damage under the car when you return the vehicle.  Also, get a picture of the VIN and the license plate. 

Get interior shots

Turn the car on and get a picture of your vehicle’s odometer and fuel gauge or battery charge indicator. Photograph the seats, the trunk, the panels and the floors.

Pay special attention to the windows and windshields

Car rental companies pay very close attention to the windshield. So should you. Get at least two images of the front and rear windshield. If you see even the smallest anomaly, consider asking for another vehicle. 

But there’s more to it than a few photos.

Frequently asked questions about car rental recordkeeping

Here are a few recordkeeping strategies that will keep you out of trouble.

Should you take still images or video? 

The answer is “yes” to both. If you can take pictures with your phone and a video to show the overall condition of the car, that’s the best.

Can I get an employee to “sign off” on a car to avoid a claim?

Not really. Most car rental returns are automated. You can ask for a manager when you return, but car rental claims are handled by a different department, and they will conduct their own assessment.

How long should you keep images of your rental car? 

At least two years. We routinely receive damage claims that are six months old, but some take longer.

But even if Nallam had done all of these things, there would have still been problems. Here’s the twist.

Too many red flags on this car rental damage case

To underscore the urgency, Avis sent Nallam a collection letter:

In accordance with the terms and conditions of the rental contract, please note that you are responsible for the costs to repair this damage. 

Please be assured that we will only bill actual cost of repair that is necessary to return the vehicle to a safe condition. To do this, a system calibration may be necessary to align the vehicle’s many numerous sensors, cameras, and safety equipment.Therefore, if the calibration charges are not included below, you may receive more than one notification and/or charge, related to the same damage.

We are not billing you twice and this is necessary due to changes in vehicle glass composition and the current limitations in our systems.

Please kindly review the information below that pertains to your rental:

Vehicle Repair Cost: $ 289.77

Calibration Cost: $ 255.00

Administrative Costs: $ 29.00

Total Expense: $ 573.77

Please be advised that the expense listed above will be applied to the credit or debit card that you presented at the time of rental approximately one week after the mailing date of this letter.

Thank you again for choosing Avis Car Rental. We appreciate your business and look forward to another opportunity to serve your rental needs.

In other words, Avis is going to charge you no matter what.

So let’s review the red flags:

  • A late charge for damage.
  • Insufficient evidence.
  • A bill of around $500, which is the standard deductible for many car insurance policies.
  • No mechanism to appeal the damage claim.

That’s a lot of red flags flapping in hurricane-force winds. It’s no wonder Nallam did what he did next.

In this Avis windshield damage dispute, choosing the nuclear option

Instead of sending a polite but firm rebuttal to Avis, Nallam decided to go nuclear. He filed a dispute with his credit card company.

Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, you can dispute the charge on your credit card for charges you didn’t authorize. So if Avis billed him $573 without his consent, he could ask his bank to reverse the charges. Under the law, it would have to consider doing so. (Related: Squirrels destroyed his rental car. Should Avis let him off the hook?)

During the dispute process, Nallam’s bank would ask Avis for evidence that the charges are authorized. It would show the bank the photo of a completely intact windshield and the case would probably be decided in Nallam’s favor. Here’s more information on how to handle a credit card dispute.

I call this the nuclear option because it means you’re going for broke. If the credit card dispute doesn’t work, your only option is to go to small claims court to recover your money.

But Nallam wasn’t done. He also filed a complaint with the Tennessee Attorney General.

He was not going to go quietly.

Will he still have to pay $573

My advocacy team and I were in a bind. We wanted to help Nallam, but we couldn’t do anything until his bank decided on his case. We’ve had some luck with overturning credit card disputes, as we did for this Holiday Inn guest who was charged for a broken TV

In the meantime, the Tennessee Attorney General had gotten involved in the case. No doubt, they saw all the red flags we did. And they were in a position to do something about it. (Here’s our guide to renting a car.)

The authorities contacted Avis on Nallam’s behalf even as we were waiting for the outcome of the dispute.

“The attorney general of Tennessee helped me close this,” Nallam reported. “Avis has refunded me.”

My team and I are happy that this was resolved in Nallam’s favor. I hope the next time he rents a car, he’ll take “before” and “after” photos.

I hope we all 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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