Can this trip be saved? A chipped windshield and a surprise bill

It’s been a while since we’ve had a chipped-windshield story. This one comes to us by way of Kenneth Ross, whose wife recently rented a Toyota Corolla through Payless Car Rental in Toronto via Expedia.

“It was dark out and she walked around the car with the agent but didn’t notice the chip in the windshield,” he told me. “It was hidden behind the rear view mirror. She noticed it an hour later but didn’t think to call Payless because it was so small and the car she rented had lots more damage than that.”

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal. Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

You can guess what happened next, right?

A bill for the full amount is inevitable. And that’s exactly what she got.

When she returned it, she told the agent that it was there when she rented the car but she didn’t notice it.

He made her sign something acknowledging the chip and would not let her say that it was there at the time she picked up the car.

I spoke with the manager the next day and told him that it was not my wife’s fault for this little chip and that I would dispute any charges. I asked him to have his claims department talk to me before they did anything. They didn’t.

Payless charged us $815 Canadian for replacement of the windshield.

That seemed a little high to Ross, so he made a few calls.

I spoke with Auto Glass Canada in Toronto. The maximum charge to fix a chip in the windshield is $95 for a crack up to 10 inches.

For an entire windshield replacement on a 2010 Toyota Corolla, their total charge including labor is $345.

So, under any scenario, the charges are ridiculous and amount to fraud.

Looks that way from here, too. Except that the $815 bill probably includes some kind of “loss of use” fee to cover the company’s lost revenues from having the car in the shop. (However, these fees assume the car would be rented at a certain rate, which is not always true.)

Ross did some more digging. Turns out the Payless location his wife rented the far from has drawn the ire of other customers in the past. Here’s one standout:

Dirty vehicles, bad service, and the vehicle that was given to me was on then edge of having no brakes. These people should be blacklisted!

And another:

PLEASE spare yourself the aggravation, DO NOT rent a car. The prices seem too good to be true, and they are. Any savings you may think you are getting are eaten up with hidden fees/insurance requirements.

So what, if anything, can be done about this?

I think Ross needs to contact Expedia to let it know about this substandard experience. The online travel agencies offer Payless cars because they’re cheap, and consumers want cheap cars. But customers don’t want to get ripped off. If enough people complain, Expedia would refuse to list cars from this Payless franchise, or it could block all Payless cars.

I also think a credit card dispute might work. Payless has some explaining to do, and I imagine it will have a little trouble justifying an $815 bill for a chipped windshield. The Canadian Office of Consumer Affairs might be helpful in connecting him with an agency that can investigate.

But here’s the problem I have. Although I believe the Payless bill is too high, and needs to be adjusted, I’m not sure if Ross’ wife isn’t responsible.

If damage to a rental car, however small, isn’t noted when you pick up the vehicle, then you’re on the hook. That’s why it’s so important to photograph or videotape the whole car — inside and out — before you accept the keys. And it’s why you have to get an employee to sign that little ticket, where the pre-existing damage is noted.

(Photo: Casey/Flickr Creative Commons)