A smashed window on my rental car — and a surprise bill

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By Christopher Elliott

When you return your rental car, your liability for the vehicle ends, right? Wrong. Jessica Siegel brought her sedan back to Avis in London recently. A few weeks later, she got a bill for triple the amount she’d expected.

What happened? She’d dropped off the car after hours, and during the night, someone broke a window on the car. The Avis rental agreement says Siegel was responsible for the car until it could be checked in during business hours.

Is that right?

Siegel filled in the details:

When we inquired at the rental office, we were told that the passenger window was broken and our rental agreement states that we are responsible for the vehicle until the office opens in the morning at 7 a.m. When the Avis employees came at 7 a.m., apparently they discovered the broken window.

The situation is irritating because we returned the vehicle in the condition in which we rented it, and a vandal then broke the window sometime during the night.

When I asked if there are security cameras in their parking lot, the customer service people told me “no” but they were working on it. I then asked if other break-ins had occurred in their lot due to an absence of security cameras (and a proximity to King’s Cross train station, not the best of neighborhoods in London) and they replied “it doesn’t happen too often” which to me, means that even once is one time too many!

The ironic part is that when I was at the office discussing the charge, there was a CCTV camera on me the entire time, yet they fail to have CCTV cameras watching their vehicles!

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I understand that car rental companies won’t assume responsibility for the vehicle until they can examine the returned car. My disappointment with the situation more lies with the fact that the Avis parking lot was not secured in the first place. My argument is that a vandal would be much less likely to break car windows if there were security cameras present.

Siegel wrote to Avis with her problem, but it didn’t respond. “British customer service,” she told me, “does not exist.”

I agree with her that after-hours check-in should be in a secure area, at a minimum. Better yet, the Avis location should have someone on hand around the clock for car rental returns. (Here’s what you need to know before you rent your next car.)

We are familiar with Avis’ poor customer service. I felt that the company should have at least responded to Siegel’s inquiries, so my advocacy team and I contacted the company on her behalf.

A few weeks later, Siegel wrote to me with an update.

“I just checked my credit card activity and Avis has credited the disputed amount back to my card,” she said. “I did not hear from anyone from Avis officially to give an explanation, but the money has indeed been credited back.”

Siegel says she’s grateful for the help.

“A big thank you, I really appreciate you contacting them on my behalf. It was a very frustrating situation and I can now let go of some of my bitter feelings towards that car rental company,” she added.

Thank you, Avis.

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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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