Budget blows damage claim, sends bill to collection agency

Car rental companies are known to unleash collection agencies on their customers, often for no good reason. Don’t believe me? Just pick up a car rental trade magazine to see the full-page ads by companies that handle damage claims, which are just a step removed from a collection agency. Or visit my office, and I’ll share the “collection agency” case file with you. Or read this.

Don’t get me wrong: I think these companies have a place in this world. But not in Dorothy Rice-Lara’s world. She rented a car from Budget recently, and says she was hit by a false damage claim, followed shortly thereafter by an unfriendly note from a collection agency. No amount of begging and pleading with Budget would get it to budge.

Here’s Rice-Lara’s story:

Last May, my husband and I went to Washington state to attend his daughter’s wedding. We arrived in Seattle International Airport and rented a Chevy Aveo from Budget.

It was late, and I noticed scratches on the side of the car. I went to the attendant to tell him and he insisted he was aware of it and didn’t have time to do a report as it was at the end of his shift. He indicated that they had it on record and to be sure to do a a disclaimer report when we return the car.

OK, let me just interrupt her for a second. It was late and he didn’t have time? Come on, Budget. Rice-Lara shouldn’t have left the lot without being allowed to note the damage.

Honest as we are, we did just that and shortly thereafter received a bill for $755. I demanded to have a report sent for all activities on this car. Brad from Budget rudely told me they do not perform that kind of service and that I needed to pay it immediately.

Huh? A car rental company doesn’t justify a damage claim? Since when?

My car insurance, Nationwide, covers car rental therefore I didn’t purchase their insurance — something Brad told me was a “big mistake.” He demanded I pay immediately. I contacted my insurance claims department and made an argument that I was only accountable for the $250 deductible in October and paid them $326 in July and that I’m not liable for any difference, per the agreement between Nationwide and Budget.

Budget sent me to the collection agency in October to collect the $755. Mind you, my insurance already paid them 326. My error was I forgot about the $250, as I never received another billing due to waiting to see what the balance was after the insurance paid.

I have been fighting United Collection Corporation ever since I paid them the $250 on October 16, demanding I pay the difference of $429. I call Budget yesterday, and they refuse to discuss it and the lady refuse to provide her name. She did mention that I still owe $179, which covers the three days of rental and administration fees while the car was being repaired. My insurance company indicated that I’m not responsible for that and that was the agreement with Budget.

None of this should have happened, of course. The damage should have been noted before Rice-Lara drove the car off the lot. When she returned it, an employee should have carefully explained the damage claims process. Budget should have come to an agreement with her insurance agency, and a collections agency should have never, ever been involved in this case.

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I contacted Budget on her behalf. Several days later, I received the following email from her:

I wanted to say thank you. Budget called me yesterday and finally settle the claim and gave me an apology. The women who called me listened to all my issues and kept apologizing in regards to United Collection Agency not closing the case back in October.

When I asked how this got settled she indicated that her boss received an email from you.

Amazing, I said. I had called and left numerous voice messages to individuals with Budget and never received a phone call.

I can not express enough how thankful I am. Never in my dreams did I think anyone would care. You proved me wrong.

Happy to help, Dorothy.

(Photo of random damaged car by Jen ♥/Flickr Creative Commons)

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.

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