Budget threatens customer with lawsuit, garnishment after he questions damage claim

Just in case you thought my recent critique of the car rental industry’s damage claims practices was over the top — and I assure you, it wasn’t — let me introduce you to Jonathan Kiluk.

He rented a late-model, four-door Toyota Camry from Budget Rent-A-Car in Ontario, Calif., earlier this year and is now being pursued by the company in a way that you might find a little troubling.

Kiluk had researched his insurance needs and determined that he’d be covered under his auto policy. So when he picked up his rental on March 11, he decline the optional (and for Budget, highly-profitable) coverage.

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“I signed all of the paperwork, gave them my ID and credit card and was given the key at the counter,” he says. “The man at the counter told me where the car was parked in the lot, and the guard at the gate verified my paperwork.”

That’s it? Weren’t they going to do a walkaround, to inspect the Camry for any pre-existing damage? No.

Kiluk assumed everything was “fine” with the car. After all, it was a 2012 model with 4,659 miles on the odometer — what could possibly be wrong with it? He didn’t conduct an inspection of his own or take any pictures of the vehicle.

That proved to be an expensive mistake.

When we took the car back, the young kid in the parking lot stated that he found a small dent and would have to fill out an incident report.

I was upset at this point because they didn’t check the car before and I know we didn’t have any issues on the trip. I filled out the incident report stating “I believe that the small dents were present at check-out.

We did not hit anything.

Still, Budget sent him a bill for the damage. And it was firm — maybe a little too firm — in its demand. It insisted on being paid $689 to repair the ding (see photo, above) which included a $100 “administrative” fee.

And if he didn’t? The letter seems to suggest something horrible would happen, although I’m not a lawyer. Read it yourself (PDF).

Something didn’t look right to me. I can’t imagine that little ding costing $689 to repair, but beyond that, Budget hadn’t really shown that the damage happened on Kiluk’s watch.

I contacted the company on his behalf. It didn’t respond directly to me, but send him the following letter (PDF).

Here’s an excerpt:

We must demand payment in the above amount. This sum is PAYABLE IMMEDIATELY.

Should this office find it necessary to seek a judgment against you, and same is entered, that judgment will be recorded and a lien on any real property you own may result. Additionally, we will be forced to pursue other legal remedies such a wage garnishment, motor vehicle levies, execution upon your real and personal property wherever located.

Contact this office immediately to make arrangements to pay or arrange for payments on your outstanding debt.

Kiluk just wants a better explanation for this bill. If he makes a claim on his auto insurance, it’ll probably affect his rates. And besides, if he didn’t damage the vehicle, why should he have to pay?

Both parties made mistakes, the way I see it. Kiluk should have inspected the car and if the dent was discovered at the end of his rental, he needed to take responsibility for it. The $100 “administrative” charge — sometimes referred to as a “junk” fee — is negotiable. The rest? Probably not.

Budget’s approach to this customer is so aggressive and borderline hostile, it’s no wonder people have grown to dislike car rental companies. It needs to tone things down if it wants to stay friendly with its own customers.

Update (4:15 p.m.): We have a resolution. Budget has contacted me, and Kiluk confirms the fix.

They had admitted that they were wrong for not completing a walk around and stated that they could not see the dent on video when I left, or returned the car. They still tried to get me to pay a part of the bill, but I did not give in.

I asked the man, “If you were in my shoes and felt like you were not responsible for the damage would you feel it was fair to pay a portion of the bill?”

He replied “No.”

I said, “Okay, there is my answer.” He said he would get back to me at the end of the day.

Budget did get back to him, and has dropped this claim.

102 thoughts on “Budget threatens customer with lawsuit, garnishment after he questions damage claim

  1. While the language is strong, I don’t see what’s so wrong with this case.  The renter clearly indicates he didn’t inspect for damages so has no proof the dents didn’t occur on his watch – as noted it could have been “parking lot damage” not directly caused by him, but still when the car was under his care and responsibility.  Budget appears to have full proof that the car was damaged when returned.  There don’t appear to be allegations of actual fraud either (e.g. the renter isn’t claiming the car was damaged on the rental lot AFTER the return).  The efforts to obtain the estimate, get the repairs made, and collect this judgement will cost Budget in excess of $100 so that administrative fee is reasonable though annoying. But at least they aren’t charging for “loss of use” that sometimes comes up in these claims, and it’s a real estimate from a real body shop.  So I don’t see where the renter has any recourse… and the “threats” that are in the letter are all perfectly valid if Budget takes him to small claims court and wins a judgement.

    The only think I think can be done, Chris, is for you and other consumer advocates to continue to step up efforts to educate travelers on how important it is to record a careful inspection BEFORE leaving the lot.

    1. Agree with Jeremy. If you don’t have the common sense to look / record yourself, we all know how the system works. I think Budget is looking at his attempt at mediation as a stall tactic. Did he actually write to say he is disputing the charge? Because the two letters are 30 days apart and that seems to be the grace period for lodging a dispute (but even then, without photos or at least a slip marking damage at the time of taking possession of the rental, not much to mediate here, I’m afraid…)

      Spend your time on the wheelchair case. (Did you decide to further mediate that one?)

    2. Personally I would still say Budget is on the hook for showing a photo of the car without the dent before he rented it.  Otherwise there really is no proof he did damage the car.  It would have been nice to take photos beforehand, but even those photos probably don’t count as evidence as far as Budget is concerned.  Wouldn’t Budget just say they the renter probably took those photos after the accident?   

      I would say the fact that Budget did not perform a full inspection as the car was given to the renter sufficient evidence to reject the damage claim.  For all Budget knows this could have been a door ding caused by a Budget employee (or the renter of the car in the adjacent spot)  while the car was in the parking lot.

      1. I absolute agree with you.  In my opinion, if a car rental place wants to charge for damage, it is their responsiblity to do a walk around when renting the car.  It is in the renter’s best interest to also take photos, but I feel that if the rental company wants to charge a renter for damage, they have to have proof that the damage was done while the renter had the car.

        1. In a truly decent world, what you are saying is what should happen. Customers do not expect their vendors to prey on them. And, vendors do not expect customers to be cheats either. Unfortunately, because transactions have become so impersonal, there is so much mistrust in common day to day dealings. Twenty years ago I would never have believed you if you told me I had to take pictures of my rental before I leave the lot and when I return it. Now, people are telling me I am fool if I don’t do it. So much for common decency and honesty. Looks like the bad genes are winning.

        2. I agree.  In 30 years of car rentals I have rarely inspected the car before, and I should not need to and have not needed to.  When renting a car there is a mutual trust between the supplier and the user.  If the car company does not bother to check the car when it goes out then they are displaying either that they trust the customer to tell the truth or that they don’t care about damage. Either way, it’s not the customer’s responsibility to pay for damage that can’t be proven to be done by them.

  2. The answer if clear–bring a sony bloggie or similar with you and video the entire car everytime in the lot before you leave. In fact I start the video at the counter so the timeline is established. 

    1. Starting the video at the counter is brilliant!  It covers your butt from the get-go AND puts the rental agency on notice that you’re wise to their games.

    2.  Wonderful idea!  Also, it lets the agent(s) know that you’re not “playing” their game.  You can be sure a notation will be made on your folio.

  3. I have to side with Budget on this one.  First, Budget is correct, the OP is liable.  He had no defenses legally, ethically or morally.  By failing to inspect the car prior to renting it, he abdicated his responsibility.  Whether the OP was negligent or not isn’t germane.  He was responsible for the car.

    As far as the letters go, Budget was absolutely correct in the way it proceeded.  First you send a even toned letter, then if that doesn’t get the desired result, then you escalate it. 

    The only issue would be if the OP could show that the repair was inflated.  Also, I agree the $100 Administrative fee is almost certainly negotiable.

    1. Yes, I was going to say basically this. I HATE collection letters, but these are standard for debt collection.  While they are scary sounding to the layperson, the language doesn’t actually imply anything drastically bad will happen.  In fact, the first letter is just a standard “verification” letter, which says that you have 30 days to dispute the debt.  Budget doing in house collection isn’t covered by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (that only covers 3rd party collectors), but the letters basically comply with the FDCPA requirements anyway.  A third party collector isn’t allowed to threaten to take acts they don’t intend to take, but they all threaten to “get a judgment”.  I will say that generally this amount of money isn’t worth pursuing in court, but Budget may have people doing small claims suits, in which case, they very well might pursue this.  For whatever reason, Budget has decided to just go straight to “collections” instead of being “nice” about it.  I think it sucks… but legally they didn’t do anything wrong. But I do agree that the amount seems ridiculous… I would want to know the ACTUAL repair cost and want to see that my money, if I paid anything, ACTUALLY went to the repair.

      1. Actually, I think this is coming from a third party collector and if that is true they are in violation of FDCPA. The address and phone number at the bottom of the letter is for a law firm in San Diego that collects debts on a contingency basis. They have sent the letter on Budget letterhead and signed as “claims adjustors”. This is a mis-representation of who they are and violates the FDCPA.

        Although I believe the OP is responsible, the letters may provide him the opportunity to negotiate a reasonable settlement.

    2. Carver, I’m not sure if the update sways you any, but apparently Budget claimed that they couldn’t see the dent upon departure OR arrival from their video. Since the company provided no walk around prior, how could they possibly establish that the renter was the one who had the car in their posession at the time of damage?

  4. I have zero doubt that this is yet another rental car damage scam being perpetrated by yet another sleazy car rental company.  The dollar figure bears that out:  most of these hover right around the $500 range, making it unlikely that the renter will file a claim with their own insurance because it’s about the same as their deductible so they’d have to pay it anyway, and filing the claim would cause their insurance rates to increase.  So the scammed customers shell out, because they feel they have no recourse.

    But they do.  Just don’t pay it.  Demand that they prove it.  Budget has NO PROOF that the damage happened on Mr. Kiluk’s watch.  It could have happened during a previous rental, or on the lot.  Only if they could come up with time-stamped photos showing that vehicle with no damage right before he took possession, could they claim that they have proof.  They don’t. 

    Don’t pay it.  You’re just allowing another dishonest rental company to perpetuate this highly profitable scam.  Think of all the other renters are going to get hit up for that exact same “ding”, which they have no incentive to repair.  And why should they?  It’s a profit center!

    Of course Mr. Kiluk SHOULD have protected himself by taking pictures.  I really wish he had – catching them in their scam (e.g. having photos of the already existing damage to submit after they attempted to scam him) would have been priceless, and would make for an excellent scam-busting article on Christopher’s blog.

    1.  You know, it’s interesting you mention pictures… if they sued me in small claims court, I would ask to see the videos of when I left.  You can almost bet there are cameras all over that lot….

      1. Sure, for California attorneys like us, sending out a  Deposition subpoena only costs about $100.  But which camera records do you want.  I  concur that there are probably alot of cameras at an airport location. The duplication cost will run several hundred dollars. Which is unlikely to be reimbursed even if you win.

      2. @facebook-727596077:disqus I used to work for GM. The odds are that you won’t be able to pick up a small in ding / crease like that on a low res security camera. I’m actually surprised they were able to get such a good picture. Especially on White vehicles, we always had issues getting dings to show up in close pictures like the one above. Always ended up move light sources etc. to get is to stand out.

    2.  Don’t pay it.
      That’s terribly misguided advice.  If the OP were my client I’d recommend that he settle this matter at the best terms that he can.

      The OP doesn’t have a prayer of winning if this went to court.  Budget will probably hire some low rent attorney to handle this and all the other similar  cases in the Superior Court – Limited jurisdiction.

      Budget would allege and demonstrate through their business records that there was no record of damage prior to the OPs rental.  This would be bolstered by the relatively low mileage on the car.  Budget would then present the evidence that the car was returned by the OP with damage.  The burden of production and the burden of proof would be with the OP to show that the damage pre-existed his rental.  This is possible but he would spend some good money to do so.  Basically, subpoenaing the camera records.

      The OPs position is further complicated by the fact that he lives near the airport where he rented the car, making litigation that much easier for Budget.

      And finally, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was an attorneys fees provisions in Budget’s contract.  Not resolving this might have some serious financial consequences.

      1. Budget has already given this to attorneys. The address and phone number at the bottom of the “Budget” letters are for a contingency law firm in San Diego. A little bit of mis-representation of who is corresponding with the OP.

        Regardless, I agree with you that the OP should try to negotiate a settlement amount.

        1. I doubt that attorneys take these cases on a contingency basis. Even a “low rent” attorney will cost Budget more than the amount of the claim. I agree with LeeAnne Clark that if the car rental company can’t show proof that the car was undamaged when you rented it and damaged at the time of return, you’re better off not paying and seeing if they are willing to pursue the matter in court. Chances are very good that the case will never make it to the schedule at your local court house.

          1. The attorney website says they handle collection matters on “contingency”. The letter is from the attorney firm not Budget.

          2. That’s “collection matters on contingency”. It does not say whether they charge their client if they have to go to court. Usually, these suits are filed in the defendant’s home jurisdiction. That could mean that the plaintiff’s attorney might have to fly all the way across the country to participate in the trial or else hire an attorney who is local to the proceeding to handle the case. Either way, the cost of bringing the case to court will never justify the amount that the plaintiff might recover.

          3. Maybe, maybe not. Filing fees are nominal and if defendant fails to file an answer, which is common, they file for summary judgment. Result, no trial game over. If it does go to trial and plaintiff wins than the plaintiff prays for court costs & attorney fees. Contingency cases can be lucrative for attorneys as they usually get 60% plus.
            The problem here is it appears the attorney is acting as a collection agency and if that is the case they are prohibited under FDCPA to litigate matter. Litigation would have to be handled by another firm.

      2. Well then it’s a good thing I’m not an attorney.  And anybody who takes legal advice from a stranger on the internet is a fool anyway.

        I still think he shouldn’t pay it.  I wouldn’t.  I would fight it.  I’m tired of watching these scammy companies get away with scams.

        But everyone has to decide on their own level of tolerance to being a scam victim.

    3. Don’t pay it?  Wow, that’s easy advice to give somebody else. When it is THEIR credit score that will take the hit.  

      And as for other renters getting hit up for this same ding…it’ll only be the ones who don’t bother to inspect the car beforehand.  He didn’t even need to take pictures–just note the ding to the attendant and have it recorded. A walkaround was all he needed to do.  

      1. Having a pending case for a small amount of money against you should not affect your credit score. It doesn’t hit the credit bureau’s files until a judgement is issued by a court and the amount remains unpaid.

  5. ” And besides, if he didn’t damage the vehicle, why should he have to pay?”

    That’s a good question.  Their is a belief that one is only liable for one’s negligent acts.  That is of course not true. Negligence is the probably the most common form of liability for most.  However, there are other ways that one might liable.

    Consider leaving your car with a valet.  The car is returned with damage. You don’t care how the damage happened. Whether the valet caused the damage doesn’t matter. All you care about is that you gave possession of your undamaged car to a valet and it was returned with damage.

    Same scenario here. That’s why the OP needed to check for damage before leaving.

    1. Here is my issue with rental companies, though… where is the proof that they didn’t send this same letter to the previous renter?  They can’t double, triple, etc. dip, and I’m really suspicious that they do that.  So, yeah, I agree with your hypothetical about the car being “damaged on your watch” and the only way to prove it wasn’t is to take pictures, but I would want to make sure they fixed the car with my money.  I would at least feel sure that they wouldn’t be sending the same letter to the next renter.  That would be a major class action lawsuit.  But I seriously wouldn’t put it past them.  Maybe I’m just being overly suspicious.

      1. Unfortunately, they have no obligation to fix the car.  There wouldn’t be a class action unless someone had proof that Budget was systematically double dipping.

        Also, where’s the proof that Budget sent the letter to others. Given the low mileage of the vehicle, the OP has serious difficulties.

    2. Per your example above, how does either the valet prove he didn’t damage the car – by showing proof that the car was damaged beforehand (a virtual impossibility) – or how does the car owner prove that the valet damaged the car – by proving the car wasn’t damaged beforehand? Seems that regardless of the burden of proof, no one can satisfy it.

  6. This is independently owned and operated licensee of Budget.  Did anyone contact Budget corporate?  Sounds like to me a licensee going way outside of the corporate playbook. 

    1. Their letter might be a bit more forceful, but no matter who owns the place, they’re going to come a calling for their money.  The administration fees are the only place where he might get some relief.

  7. I worked in A/R for many years, and hired many a collection agency.  The letters from Budget, are not actually from Budget, this is clear collection agency boilerplate and is perfectly aligned with the FDCPA rules.  This is a collection agency acting on Budgets behalf. He needs to contact the collection agency himself and dispute the validity of the debt.  They will go back to budget who will decide to peruse or drop the claim.  If they decide to peruse, he can negotiate.  He only has 30 days to dispute the validity after they first contact him, and he must do so himself.  Unfortunately, Chris contact doesn’t count as disputing it.  I hope it’s not too late for him.  After the have verified the contact, if he refuses to negotiate, they can sue him and/or do everything in the letter if they get judgment.  Threatening to sue someone who owes a balance is not illegal if the agency or client intends to follow through.
    It is unfortunate that he didn’t check the car first. If the damage was there, he would have reported it then, and been covered.  However he didn’t, and now has to deal with the collection agency.  The only evidence is he returned a damaged car.  He could, if sued, subpoena copies of the prior renters return statements as part of discovery for a hefty fee.  If there is evidence the damage was already reported he could be let off the hook, but may still be out more in legal fees than he is being billed for.
    His best bet is to contact the collection agency himself, dispute the debt, wait, and if Budget peruses, try to negotiate a settlement.

    1. His best bet is to pay it and get on with his life.  (Actually, he should have his insurance company pay it.)  He doesn’t have anything to dispute–there’s zero evidence he didn’t cause the damages and the car only had 4K miles on it so the odds of catching Budget in a scam are small.  If he waits until a collection agency gets involved, his credit will take a hit.  It’s just not worth it for him to tilt at windmills on this.  He needs to look at this as a life lesson and learn to do walkarounds in the future.

  8. Ok so the horse is basically dead on this one and I won’t kick it again. OP messed up not looking at the vehicle before he drove off. He owns any damage found after that point. They found damage he has to pay for it.

    Too bad that his decision not to take 5 minutes to walk the vehicle cost him $689

  9. If he did not check for dmage beforehand he cannot say for sure that he isn’t responsible(sigh…). I am not certain that the photo in the article is the damage referred to so it would be hard to say that the cost is out of line.

    I don’t want to come across as siding with the car rentals companies but this seems to be a bi-weekly occurrence. Client fails to inspect car, damage is found, client insists he did not cause the damage, contacts the TT to fix his problem, car rental company gets slammed on blog.

    I will not say what most are thinking.


  10. Is this a franchise office? They tend to be more scammy than the rest. 

    Anyway, if he decides to pay, he should do it the way I did it with some podunk South Carolina town that gave me a $75 ticket for “speeding.” I would more accurately call it, “Driving in a redneck town with out of state plates fee.”

    I paid them in person, in their office*, in CHANGE–mostly pennies, but the local bank didn’t have enough rolls, so they did get some quarters, dimes, and nickels.

    They tried to refuse and I pointed out it was legal tender in the US. So sit there and count it, losers.

    *Where “office” is actually a single wide trailer that stunk like feet.

      1. I believe this statement to be false. 
        I worked in A/R for many years and went through much training on payment legality.  While cons are legal tender, there is no law requiring a business to accept all forms of currency.  After all, I could go to a restaurant and only have a $50 and when they tell me they don’t accept any bills over $20, I could simply walk out and say my debt is discharged; they refused my money which was legal tender.  I was trained that we could refuse payment if accepting it would cause undue hardship (such as the cost of sorting and a courier service for all the pennies, or not being able to make change for other customers after breaking a $50) or if we suspected criminal activity (Payments just under $10,000 to avoid a Form 8300 or refusal to accept form 8300 on a payment over 10,000).
        I’m curious as to what Carvers stance is as an attorney, this was all at training courses run through the US Department of treasury, which conform to policy, but not actual law. 
        And in Ravens case, Good for you!  I hate trailers that stink like feet and I hate the out-of-towners tax.

        1. Yup. I was going to pay, but I wasn’t going to make it easy on them.

          The two women working in the trailer as “dispatch” or “reception” or whatever they were had less teeth than they had brain cells. They counted the coins and signed off on the ticket as soon as I threatened to call the state cops.

          Lesson of the day kids: Don’t get pushed around by redneck police forces in towns of less than 300 people where everyone is related.

          1.  A fine for a traffic ticket is a debt, not a product or service.  Thus, it can be paid by the use of legal tender.  The refusal of legal tender to settle a debt removes the obligation.

        2. You can indeed offer to pay with a $50-dollar bill, and when they refuse, you can indeed walk out. Assuming that they don’t have a sign posted, you offered payment in  legal tender. The key being that you’re paying for a service/product that you’ve already used/ate/pumped into your gas tank. When the service/product supplier can refuse is BEFORE the actual exchange of said service/product. They are then perfectly within their rights to refuse “weird” payment methods.

  11. You don’t have to hit something to get a dent.  it could have been hit in a parking lot.  Life happens.

  12. That absolutely looks like shopping cart, luggage cart, bicycle, etc. damage.  I’ll agree with the OP that he didn’t hit anything with the car, but the damage is quite consistent with something smaller than the car hitting it.

    But this Budget seriously needs to look into paintless dent repair; that ding doesn’t look like it broke the paint.  Those can usually be fixed for under a hundred bucks.  The bill they want to charge looks like a whole fender replacement.

    I agree with the others… while they need to find a new agency that sends out something a little less harsh for the first contact, everything else appears to be in order, even the administrative fee.

    1. @sirwired:disqus not disagreeing with you on the paintless but the issue here is that the ding crosses a body line. In the plant I worked in, those required a panel replacement due to the number of hours of metal smithing otherwise. You couldn’t pop the ding back out and not have it show on the body line like you can on a flat part of the panel.

  13. Re:

    Budget’s approach to this customer is so aggressive and borderline
    hostile, it’s no wonder people have grown to dislike car rental
    companies. It needs to tone things down if it wants to stay friendly
    with its own customers.

    Oh, I’ve got the perfect solution. Maybe, Budget should a Nigerian scam letter writer to craft all their collection demand letters. With customers like this, they might recover a lot, lot more money. 🙂

  14. I gave up on Car-rent for 6 years now. I took Metro, U-Ground, Trains, Air Shuttle, Taxis and rarely limousine (when paid by my boss). It cost less overall and much less headache and more reliable (avoiding trafic jam too).

    1. We use a private car or van or even bus (when we have large group) service. The hassle of driving yourself (missing the sights and not drinking great wine) and navigating while overseas is not worth it. Last time in Tuscany, we had a driver (and van) from Naples. Absolutely no one touched his van no matter where we parked! He even stops in the middle of the road blocking it while asking the locals for direction. Very funny. I found out from my local NYC Italians that many folks in Italy don’t mess with Napoli cars and drivers (may result in a short path to heaven). I would use him again. Very, helpful and polite old man. The best we ever had (and we do this large travel thing about twice a year so we have had horror stories, too).

  15. Sigh.  Seriously, another in the “we didn’t inspect the car beforehand” files? Why is it that all these OPs seem to have read enough of Chris’s work to write him when they have an issue, but they don’t seem to have embaced the concept he espouses over and over to car renters of taking responsibility BEFORE something happens?

    1. THANKS for posting the link!  I sent them an email saying much the same thing as you this afternoon, and within just 3 hrs had a response–about an hour before Chris added his update, indicating that Budget had finally seen the light:

      “Thank you for contacting Budget Customer Service.”I have read the article
      that you referred to and it is very disturbing, but you are only getting the
      customer’s side of the story. We are a large business and we have to protect
      our fleet of vehicles, these are our assets. You would not believe what some
      of our customer’s (sic) do to, leave in or use our vehicles for. We have a clause
      in our contracts that states the renter is responsible for returning our
      vehicles in the same condition that they rented them in or we will access
      further charges for repair or detailing.”You are definitely entitled
      to your opinion and it is your choice weather to ever rent from us again,
      but also be aware that there are two sides to every
      story.”Sincerely,Susan VelascoCustomer Service

      Well, Chris does tell us the customer’s side of the story, it’s true.  But the OP asked Budget for THEIR side of the story, and we can see in b&w what they told him.  Then Chris asked Budget for THEIR side, and he printed here what they told him.  It’s not as if they have never been contacted and given the opportunity to explain themselves–the whole problem is, they were, and they did!  And it’s precisely in giving us their side of the story that Budget has shown us how sleazy they are! 

      1. I am quite shocked Ms.Velasco did not use a form letter. You know you are talking to a real person when she wrote ACCESS instead of ASSESS and WEATHER instead of WHETHER. Maybe calling India would have resulted in better service.

  16. Just last night I was reading car rental horror stories here and patting myself on the back for renting from Budget because they hadn’t appeared in any of the disputes.  Having said that, follow Christopher’s advice and inspect, photograph, video, and get personnel to sign-off on existing damage.  

  17. I’m rather a conservative who generally believes we have too many laws already, but I’ve reluctantly concluded that a Federal law to regulate car rental agency behavior is needed.  There need to be standard procedures, insurance policies, and fees for damages, and no damage claim should be able to move forward unless company personnel inspect the vehicle with the customer before it leaves.

      1. But why is it only the customer’s responsibility to inspect the car?  Shouldn’t the rental agency also have a responsbility? It seems to me that if they choose not to inspect, that should mean they are waiving their right to claim damage when the car is returned.  I absolutely understand why the consumer should do a walk around and take photos, but I feel that it is very one sided and neglegent on the side of the rental agency to expect that they can forgo a walk around, then charge a customer for damage that might already be there.

        1.  But why is it only the customer’s responsibility to inspect the car?  Shouldn’t the rental agency also have a responsbility?

          That’s an easy one.  Just flip it around.  It’s the same as when you give your car to a valet.  Since the valet is liable for any damages, the valet, not you, inspects your car to make sure that he notes any damages. 

          If neither of you inspect the car, and the car is returned with damage, you’re going to want that fixed, and rightfully so.

    1. Be careful what you ask for. The TSA might just grab the chance to inspect the car before you can get and return it. That would be a grand waste of time.

  18. I’m not agreeing or disagreeing with either party here, but there is a reason that Car rental companies offer the extra insurance.  Sure, it may be another way to get money from you, BUT, I always opt FOR it, because it indemnifies me should something happen.  The insurance is a small price to pay to keep me from getting letters like he got.  HOWEVER, if I were to get the extra insurance, and they STILL send me a bill, then there would be some “words” exchanged.  Not only that, but I will only rent from Hertz anyway.  Yeah, they all suck equally, but I like Hertz

    1. Paying for something you don’t need to “indemnify” yourself would be considered agreeing to extortion in many circles.

      1.  Sounds like “protection money,” doesn’t it?  I have auto insurance and use a credit card that provides primary coverage as well.  I would advise my credit card  company and insurer about my doubts and let them handle it as they see fit.  I don’t need to give more money to the rental agency. 

  19. Why would I find this case troubling?  The guy either damaged the car or  didn’t protect himself from them claiming he did.  So, he got a form letter with a lot of legal threats telling him to pay.  If the letter had been more polite, he’d still be on the hook for the damages.

    Take the extra couple minutes to look the car over before driving away!

  20. How close is this amount to the OP’s deductible? It seems that the amount of the damage claim in many of these cases is an odd number just short of the renter’s own deductible — perhaps so that the insurance companies don’t get involved?  Budget probably wouldn’t want to get into a legal hassle with Allstate or some other major insurance player.

  21. Hey did anybody notice the car has 8767miles, 4108 miles more than when he rented the car and there is no date on the estimate, just the fax date on the bottom.  This seems like a SCAM

    1. Interesting.  I’m not sure I can blame them for continuing to rent out the car with minor damage.

      But I’d love to see all the rental agreements after the OP’s and before any repairs were made.  If any of those rentals didn’t notate the damage either, then that would be evidence of a systemically broken process.

  22. No matter how tired I am, or how dark the rental garage is, I always, always take your advice, Chris:  walk around the car, and insist that any marks, dings, etc., are recorded and signed.  It’s sooooo easy!

  23. You’ve posted so many of these in the past, shame on him for not checking out the car before taking it off the lot.

    But, don’t many credit card companies offer rental insurance as part of their service?  I would check into that, so it wouldn’t be a ding on his personal auto insurance.

  24. My new system is to do a quick walk-around to see if there’s anything egregious.  Then, on the form they give you, I put a big X on each and every body panel, and a note saying “minor damage — ding or dent or scratch or mark  — on each body panel”.  The poor underpaid person at the security kiosk — the one who checks your ID — takes the form and NEVER checks what you’ve written.  So, no matter what happens later, you have a form saying that there was prior damage.

    1.  LOL. Sounds like you used to work for a car rental place. You know the ropes. Anyway I saved the note “minor damage — ding or dent or scratch or mark  — on each body panel” on my phone. I will use it next time.

  25. Having just rented a car from Alamo, I’m still waiting for the “other shoe to drop”. Was told “go pick any car in row 2. Great there was only 1
    car there. Could not get anyone to come out to check the car OR to show me some basics about the car.It was late evening.
    My big problem was the fact I was the only customer there. I almost forgot my GPS unit ran back to the car & it was gone already (maybe 5 minute interval). A guy came out of his hut & showed it to me asking “is this what your looking for”?. I guess he was hoping we would leave & forget it instead of bringing into the office where we were filing out the forms & waiting for the shuttle. He must have watched us unpack the car & enter the office, maybe 15 feet away with no other Alamo customer there. CHARMING!
    The 1 thing I did do (thanks Chris) is take photos of the car on my return – Front, Back & Sides!

  26. I’d say that Budget’s approach to the situation has cost them more than $689 in goodwill.  Furthermore, the burden should be on the car rental agency to prove that the damage did not exist at the time of rental, rather than requiring the customer to produce evidence that it did.  

    1. It wouldn’t matter.  They would simply introduce their business records and state that its their policy to note and damage found on the cars on into the records.  The lack of any notations would shift the burden to the OP.

  27. Even after reading your site, I cannot guarantee that I would think of walking around or taking pictures, either.
    Maybe rental agencies need to have paperwork where the client signs after *both* the agent and the client do a check of the car.

  28. How anybody can blame the OP in this case is beyond me.  If Budget KNOWS that the “damage did not exist at time of rental,” PROVE IT!  Show the OP that the damage was NOT there when he rented the car!  And if you can’t prove it, Budget, shut up and leave this poor guy alone!

    Fact is, they DON’T know, and to hide their own incompetence (because they should have done an inspection with the OP before he took the car), they are blustering in order to intimidate the OP into paying.  They’re acting just like my Italian cousins in NYC.  All that they’re missing here is a baseball bat and a Brooklyn accent.  Kapeesh?

    The burden is on Budget to prove that the OP did the damage.  It’s NOT on the OP to prove that he didn’t!  This is a shameless scam, pure and simple.  Thank you Chris, for linking to the PDF of the letter, so the whole world can see the sleaze-bags that call themselves a rental-car company.  You’re shining a light on slime that normally prefers to hide its activity under rocks. 

      1. I would call that one piece of evidence, not proof.

        Chances are he had to initial that before he ever had access to inspect the car.

        1. If he initialed it before he inspected the car that’s his fault.  Besides don’t most places do that at the guard shack?

          But John Baker is more or less correct.  By signing the document and failing to note any damage, he’s sunk as far as any visible damage is concerned. 

          He might stand a chance against the type of damage that a regular inspection wouldn’t reveal such as damage to an SUV roof, or something that required you to crawl underneath the car.

          1. I’ve rented from several locations where they won’t give you the keys until you initial– even if you specifically request to see the car first.

            The “guard shack” method is generally used at large (usually airport) locations.  Not at tiny airports, small suburban locations, or urban locations with shared-public parking.

            Added: Specific example– in Tel Aviv, the parking was 2-3 blocks from the rental office. The parking lot attendant was not affiliated with the rental company. He only delivers the vehicle that you have a contract for. When I found that I had 5/8 of a tank instead of a full tank, I had to ask him to take the car back inside while I walked 2-3 blocks each way to the office and back to straighten it out.

          2. This is my experience, too.  Now HNL no longer staffs the guard houses.  Hertz in HNL doesn’t worry about dents…even heard them say it a few weeks ago.  Also, with Hertz Gold, you don’t have to worry, but if there is a damage report paper in the glovebox, I fill it out and if there is a guard, have them sign it.  In PHL the guard actually filled it out and put an x everywhere on the diagram just to make me feel better 🙂

          3. The guard shack was used at Ontario airport Hertz. I’ve never been somewhere where I had to initial before I rented except at a little crappy off-brand that had the only cars left in all of Los Angeles.

          4. I defer to your knowledge of ONT (do you know if the other companies like Budget have adjacent lots with similar setups?)

            If memory serves, TYS and MCO (Avis) are examples of airports where I needed to sign to get the keys (though I probably could have asked for the plate and hiked to the locked car first if I insisted)

            Also had this experience a few months ago at a hotel/resort (in Nevada) that had a rental desk on site (there’s often only one person on duty and they are loathe to leave the desk).


      2. This like a 1000 times over.  The fact that some people can’t grasp that simple fact shows why some people blindly sign any piece of paper they’re handed and drive away without looking at the car.

  29. A checkout process like the OP describes is unfortunately too common.

    You’re told authoratatively (before you’ve seen the keys or the car) that you’re receiving a car with a full tank and no damage and asked to put your iniitials in 5 or 8 places.   If you’re lucky, the rental agent advises you to double check the condition of the car, but they may not even do that.

    If when you reach the car you do notice a discrepancy (and in my experience, it’s more often a discrepancy with the fuel level) there is no penalty or deterrent to the car company for their sloppiness.  And it’s often clear that they KNOW they were being (at least) sloppy because they often don’t even bother to double check the fuel or damage discrepancy when you come back and report it to them.

    I’m all in favor of cameras at checkin and checkout.  But there’s a low-tech solution that I believe would greatly reduce this problem real fast: if they make you sign first, and you find a blatant discrepancy when you check for yourself, they should owe you a little cash back for their mistake.

    1. My experiences are very different.   The damage report, full gas, etc. all occur at the gate, after I am in the car, having had a chance to inspect for damage, etc. I’ve rented cars all over the country from Hertz, Budget, Dollar, and Alamo.

      The one exception was at on of the low rent places in Los Angeles.  They were the only people with cars.  The cars were in a dark alley without a guard gate. I couldn’t see the car enough to inspect it.  I drove to a gas station and did the inspection there.

      1. Sounds like most of your experiences have been at major airports. 

        I’ve sometimes rented weekly or monthly at small “lower rent” (or at least lower-taxed) hotel, suburban and urban locations.  Those hardly ever have gate attendants.

  30. I had a couple of rental car damages in the past. However, I immediately notified my insurance company and credit card company. Both have highly trained professionals dealing with rental car damages on daily basis. I didn’t have to deal with rental car company, the insurance company and/or credit card were able to solve all the issues and remove all administrative and loss of use fees, they also send payments directly and between both coverages there were any out of pocket expenses.

  31. STUPID.  These companies are behaving STUPIDLY.  They’re getting away with this stupid behaviour because they don’t have to deal with their customer face to face. I have probably rented 500 cars in my lifetime and I’ve never checked one of them before I left the lot; I counted on the integrity of the company I rented from.  Never have I had a single problem.  From now on, I’m going to print up a form and have the agent sign it before I leave the lot.  Grasping morons.

    1. I’ve ran across the street blindfolded 500 times before and never been struck by a car. Thus, I highly recommend you do the same.

  32. While unfortunate that it took a while to get to this point, that the uncalled-for threats were issued and Chris had to get involved, the actual final answer is how *all* of these should be handled — rental company responsible for showing photo/video evidence that there A) is damage at return time (and not hours later after employees have driven it), and B) was not the same damage at checkout.  The surveillance video at checkout and checkin serves this purpose fine — anything not visible from a normal 5-10 foot distance on a good video camera really isn’t “damage” to begin with, in my book.

    That’s not to say you shouldn’t also take your own pictures as evidence, which I do, just that the rental company should have the primary burden of proof before they make their claim.

  33. I rent cars for work through Avis all the time, and I never check the car for damage.  At my most frequent hant, RIC, the Avis is located in a parking deck, where the lighting for checking for damage both on rental and on return in completely insufficient.  However, in seven years of rentals, I’ve never been dinged for damage, with the exception of the one time I actually caused it.

  34. I had a similar problem with Hertz, however the supervisor at the location stopped the nonsense before it got out of hand. I picked up the car in a dark garage at John Wayne airport and upon returning the car, the 18 year old agent took out a flashlight and started marking every single little scratch and nick she found, real and imagined. I was LIVID! I rent from them weekly and had never experienced such treatment. Finally a supervisor saw what was going on and told her to sign in the car with no damage at once. 

  35. I don’t understand why we hear about these cases. My experience is that you are ALWAYS given a piece of paper with an outline of a vehicle for you to mark any preexisting marks. I mark the hell out of every little nick and ding I see. I also take pictures no matter how much of a rush I am using my camera or phone. You are also required to sign to indicate that you checked the vehicle prior to leaving their lots. This could’ve gone either way s in my opinion.

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