Did Hertz overbill me for my fender-bender?

This is the “after” picture of Christy Nidle’s Hertz rental last year in Perugia, Italy. “I changed lanes and scraped a car passing me from behind,” she says.

Oops. But what should have been a routine damage claim, wasn’t.

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“I’m going to leave out the colorful account of the scene in the rental office,” she told me. “Suffice to say there was much arm-waving and yelling in Italian.”

And then there was the matter of the final bill. Between the Hertz location, the repair shop and her credit card, no one could seem to agree on how much she should pay for the damage.

Hertz insisted that she authorize a 900 euro charge before she left the location, which she did. She adds,

Providing the necessary documents to MasterCard has been the problem.

I sent them everything I had, and as Hertz seems to be ignoring their requests, I managed to get one important document by emailing the agent in Perugia directly.

Today, MasterCard cc’d me another email to Hertz, questioning 950 euros for scrapes.

Don’t blame them for that, but the way Hertz has responded so far I can see how this will end.

Well, it sure looks like Hertz just wants to keep her 950 euros. Or is it 900 euros? I guess they can’t even agree on that.

But should it? I suggested she send another email to Hertz, asking for details on her repair bill. It’s highly unlikely that a Hertz agent in Perugia, Italy, could guess the exact repair bill. She deserved to see documentation. Her credit card company needed to review it, too.

Hertz finally sent her a response.

Attached is the documentation for the 900.00 EURO Non-Waivable Excess Fee billed.

According to our records, the actual repair cost for this vehicle totaled 510.63 EURO as illustrated in the attached information.

Therefore, our location is crediting the MasterCard account billed for 389.37 EURO.

The adjustment is being made at this time, but may not appear on the next monthly statement due to billing cut-off dates.

We sincerely apologize for the overcharge which occurred.

Hmm. It took Hertz almost a whole year to make that “adjustment”? I checked with my Hertz contact, it admitted that its European operation is sometimes slow, when it comes to handling claims.

I’ve seen a few cases like this, where car rental companies estimate the damage to one of their vehicles and then charge your credit card for damage or loss of use.

But here’s the problem: The accident hasn’t cost it anything — yet.

Why not wait until they get a bill from the repair shop before charging her credit card a “non-waivable excess fee”?

I can understand a car rental company’s perspective. It doesn’t want to have to wait to deal with a rental customer who may or may not pay up, or worse, with an insurance company asking a million questions. (Who would?)

But a customer might see things differently.

Maybe drivers like Nidle should stand their ground when they’re being asked to pay for a damage estimate. She had insurance coverage through her credit card (it’s unclear if it was primary insurance, which would have covered most of the damage, or secondary coverage that kicks in after her car insurance) but the point is, fees like this seem to circumvent the correct order of things.

In the end, the Hertz location in Perugia and Hertz Europe had virtually no incentive to help Nidle. After all, they had her money. They had more of her money than they should. But they were also far away, beyond the reach of an American court.

And were it not for the help of Hertz in the United States, I’m pretty sure the company would still have most of Nidle’s money.

43 thoughts on “Did Hertz overbill me for my fender-bender?

  1. Firstly, at any US body shop the damage would have been $1000, easy.  It costs nearly $500 to do any paint work on a car at all, due to the prep work involved.  Once you work in the cost of a new fender and the labor to install it, the bill seems reasonable.

    If I’m a car rental place and my customer lives an ocean away, you can bet I’m going to get paid before the customer walks out the door.  Why?  It becomes about 100x more difficult to collect once the customer is thousands of miles away; all the consumer would have to do would be to cancel their credit card, and now I have to go through a US collection agency to get my money.  Eventually.  Maybe.

    This applies (to a lesser extent) even in the US.  Charging you up-front for a rough damage estimate is reasonable.  The rental car company would rather you argue with your insurance about damage you caused; they’d prefer not to have to do this on your behalf for free.

    Naturally, the estimate should be resolved one way or another into an actual bill, and a further bill or a refund should be sent accordingly, and done so promptly.

  2. To as Chris points out, the question here really is who should take the risk here..

    Should it be the rental company by virtue of “… It doesn’t want to have to wait to deal with a rental customer who may
    or may not pay up, or worse, with an insurance company asking a million
    questions…”

    Or should it be the renter?

    To me, as I see it, the moving (no pun intended) here is the renter.. It was their actions (or inaction) that resulted in the damage– not the rental company.. Under that premise I see no reason why the aggrieved party should have to bear any risks to be made whole due to the actions of the renter.

    Does this leave the renter in a tenuous position?  In some cases yes.. but in the end, I cannot escape the fact that the damage occurred by and was under the responsibility of the renter and as such the renter should bear all risks and costs with making the aggrieved party whole…

    I cannot see it as being correct to now place the aggrieved party at risk– however large or small that may be– to be made whole.

    Bottom line as I see it… You borrow someone else’s stuff and damage it– due to your fault or someone elses– so long as the property owner wasn’t a contributing party to the loss, then you bear all the risks, logistics and costs to restore them to whole.

  3. As the other two posters posted, I see no issue on international customers charging this fee prior to them leaving the premises.
    What is at issue here is the amount of time it took to process this.  This should have been resolved within a couple of weeks at most. 
    There has to be some sort of EU Law about processing claims in a timely manner or something like that which could apply here…

  4. I can understand a car rental company wanting a deposit on the repairs from a customer from another country.  Lets face it once they walked out the door they may not have heard from them again. I’ve had similar damage to my car and it cost at least a $1000 to repair.  But the car rental company should be giving proff of the costs.

  5. Whenever a rental car insurance claim occurs, call the credit card company and dispute the charges. I don’t know about Mastercard, but the way American Express works is this: they will put a hold on the funds until the rental car insurance claim has been resolved. Effectively, the rental car company does not get their funds (the repair costs, not the rental costs) until they do their part: providing the necessary documentation to support the claim. The dispute is a special type that holds the funds pending resolution of a rental car insurance claim. We did this in St. Martin when we damaged a tire. I’m sure they could have cared less about providing all of the documentation American Express wanted, but since they would not get paid, they got right on it and the claim was resolved in weeks. Remember, Mastercard doesn’t have to get the money back, they can just withhold it from the next payments and Hertz in Italy surely will have someone else use a Mastercard at some point in time, right?

    I don’t think many people realize the insurance they have from credit card companies or how it works. I knew about the insurance, but I didn’t know the process until I made a claim. I wonder how many people are paying for rental car damages that were less than their deductible because they don’t realize they have this free perk from their credit card.

  6. I’m not sure I understand this.  The article states “Hertz insisted that she authorize a 900 euro charge before she left the location, which she did.”  How did they insist upon this?  Couldn’t she have just walked out without signing anything?  Then when she got home, I’m sure something would’ve been charged to her credit card, but she could have disputed it until she got an actual damage repair bill and dealt more easily with Hertz USA. 

    While this is slightly different, this past year I had rented a car from a Hertz in Venice and after I got home, there was a charge of 18 Euros put on my card by them. I called up Hertz and the only thing in the account next to the bill was for “oneri”, which just meant charges, so they completely wiped it off my account and refunded me the money since they couldn’t prove what the charge was for.

  7. Granted this should have been settled quicker, but I agree with most of the comments.  A rental anyplace expects to get paid and has no idea whether you are going home and disputing or what will happen.  Other than the timing, I think they did exactly the right thing, and boy did she bang up that car.

  8. I can give you the address of a body shop I have used.  A front fender fixed and painted: $250.  Full fix after a frontal collision at about 25 mph: $900 (insurance estimate: $2100).  Both jobs done perfectly.

  9. The rental company has your credit card when you checked in. You denied their rental insurance coverage which you have to do to qualify on your credit card and you have to pay for the rental with the credit card that you will claim the insurance on. No need to hurry. Let the estimate come in fix the car and then bill the credit card. A courtesy would be to let the customer know how much the credit card is being charged.

  10. Really?  A layman standing at a rental agency counter can declare the amount of damage to a car?  What’s to stop them from saying it’s 1000 euro or 1500 euro or 2000 euro or even more?  When did insurance repair estimation become a skill necessary to work at an auto rental agency?

    Sorry, but I don’t hand money over willy-nilly just because someone says I “have to”.  If life worked that way, there’d be no need for insurance companies or LEOs present at the scene of minor accidents.  “Oh, just a fender bender?  Write them a check for about $1,000 and go on your way.”

    The OP being in a foreign country where, it seems, the person with whom she was trying to conduct business couldn’t be bothered to speak in English, was definitely at a disadvantage.

  11. I had a similar incident with a rental car from Hertz. 

    They confirmed that my credit card provided rental insurance, then told me all was taken care of.  I assumed they would bill the insurance, until I got the $460 repair on my credit card bill.  Of course I disputed it, and then found out that I had to initiate the claim on the card’s insurance carrier. 

    It’s now about 4 months since the incident, the charges are still in dispute, the claim is somewhere out there, and the card company is calling ME to find out what’s happening. 

    What’s wrong with this picture?

  12. For starters, be aware that here in Italy, where I live, mechanics make NOWHERE NEAR what they earn in the US, and so they don’t charge anywhere near the same prices either.  This is true in super-expensive Rome, where I live; in Perugia, where life is much cheaper in general, it’s even more so! 900 Euros is absolutely, totally absurd–that’s more than a month’s salary for blue-collar types.

    Secondly, even if this were legit, I don’t understand why the OP would have to pay anything upfront anyway, since Mastercard has rental-car insurance.  In the past, they paid the first 600 Euros’ worth of damage.  This is, unfortunately, something I know only too well, after renting from Hertz in Ireland.  The Irish-professional-thieves-masquerading-as-Hertz-employees invented unspecified “damage” on my rental car and wrongly presumed that I had charged it w/ Mastercard, so they conveniently totalled the imaginary damage to almost EXACTLY 600 Euros.  How convenient!  But I had used my Visa, and Visa saw so much fraud from Ireland that they now refuse to cover rental cars there (so they explained their policy to me). 

    I guess the big difference between the OP’s experience and mine is that Chris got Hertz in the USA to intervene.  I tried repeatedly to find a live Hertz-person back home to help me resolve the Ireland debacle… and they never even acknowledged my request. 

    When I rent a car now, guess which company DOESN’T get my business?

  13. People, problems happen and you just have to fight them out. Anytime that you travel to a foreign destination, you have to deal with thier rules. If you have a problem, deal with it.

  14. Hey! This is Christy, I appreciate all your comments. 

    I don’t have a problem with an appraisal fee, since I take responsibility for the damage and surely a major brand like Hertz will refund me whatever the unused money is. Hmmmmm guess I was wrong about that.

    Nevertheless…..Hertz owes me the unused money from the 950 euros I paid. Two billing cycles have passed since they admitted the overcharge, and I still don’t have it.  This accident occured in May 2010, surely that car is fixed?

    I can only hope that MasterCard now has everything they need to make a determination.  I realize that rental car coverage is a perk, not a given, so any money I recover through MC I’ll be grateful for.

    The comment “couldn’t she just walk out” makes me want to tell the parts I left out.  There is one door into this tiny office and it is blocked.  The other driver has called his parents, friends, and other family; they have all converged on the office.  The yelling
    is loud and in Italian, but the tone is unmistakable….the drivers people are angry. The office manager does her best, shouting “This is MY house” in English, and has to be calmed by another agent.

    Apparently calling the police is not what’s done there, but I’m suprised some passer-by didn’t!  In any case, I was mindful of being in Perugia and did not care to be another American in their jail.

    So I believe paying my way out of there is what many of you would have done. 

    My last comment is to thank Chris Elliott and his contacts, also the agents at the Perugia office who were just doing their job during a small riot.  Luigi especially, who later personally emailed me one of the documents.

    Wish me luck!

  15. Except that’s not how the law at least the US law works.  If you damage something, the aggrieved party generally is not entitled to immediate restitution.  That’s what the court’s are for.

  16. I’d be careful about recommending credit card disputes if not warranted.  In general, whenever a dispute is placed the vendor is automatically hit with a fee ($25 in my experience), regardless of if they win or lose the dispute.  This is not fair to the vendor if you do not have a true dispute of the charges they have placed.  If this practice becomes too common, the vendor will either risk losing their credit card service, or they will raise their rates to accommodate these charges they are hit with.

  17. Every car rental contract has language that gives the rental company the right to charge your card for damages.  So they really shouldn’t need to ask you to “authorize” any damage charges after the fact (even though they often do so in practice).

    A few years ago, I had damage to my Enterprise rental car that was covered by my Amex card insurance.  The Amex claims representative specifically instructed me to refuse to sign any separate invoice or authorization for damage charges.  She explained to me that doing so would be a headache for their claims processors and could also be a headache for me — because my signature would constitute authorization for a separate transaction which would be much more difficult to dispute and resolve.

    Sure enough, moments after I got off the phone with Amex, the Enterprise agent asked me to sign a $500 invoice for estimated damages.  They said this was their standard procedure.  I explained to them that this conflicted with Amex’s SOP.  They pushed me a little bit, but eventually relented when I advised them to exercise the rental contract clause on damage charges without getting my signature if they saw fit.

  18. This depends on several factors: if there is a pending authorization, whether the card was closed or reissued, etc. If Hertz didn’t run an authorization for the additional amount and the card was closed (not reissued with a new number – in which case it can be transferred to the new card after reissue), Hertz ends up SOL. They can’t force an additional charge to a closed account; once the rental amount is posted, they can’t collect anymore unless they had that 900 euros.  

  19. Do you really think rental car customers will allow a post-rental charge for repairs to proceed without a challenge?  I bet every bill three months later would be challenged, causing the credit card company and the rental car company a lot of unnecessary work.

    The renter assumed liability if the customer did not accept insurance when the rental contract was signed, and their credit card company does not cover it.  (Most do cover it, check yours.)

    So if you are not insured and do not accept insurance from the car rental company, then suffer the consequences of the preliminary charge pending actual expenses.

  20. The fact that the agent *estimated* the cost to repair at 900 euros, proves that the agents are not qualified to give estimates. Unless they have a professional body and paint man on staff to perform professional estimates, the agent has no right to do so. If the facility doesn’t want to spend the money to keep someone like that on staff, then it doesn’t deserve to make estimates! Because otherwise, anything the agent says is just BS and most certainly would not hold up in a court of law!

  21. I would definitely agree that it isn’t wise for a buisness to take this risk when dealing with an individual.  However that really wasn’t the case in this situation.  The Renter’s credit card (as many credit cards do) had a feature that provides insurance to the renter.  So Hertz’s billing dispute was strictly between them and Visa.  I would tend to think Visa honor’s its bills and should be trusted to pay their bills.  After all Hertz is ALREADY trusting Visa to pay its bills otherwise it wouldn’t be accepting Visa as a form of payment.  

    Visa in turn may add charge to the Renter for any deductible later on but that is a separate issue.  

  22. Like the car rental employees in the U.S. can’t be bothered learning Italian for Italian travelers?

  23. CDW is required in Italy with a 900 Euro deductible.  USA Today even had an article on it in 2011:
    Hertz’s CDW reduces a renter’s responsibility in case of damage or loss, but most international locations charge a deductible. In Italy, the deductible is 900 euros,

  24. “Hertz insisted that she authorize a 900 euro charge before she left the location, which she did.”

    They could insist all they wanted for me.  Short of a firearm I wouldn’t.

  25. What hasn’t been addressed in this complaint was the rules of the rate booked by the OP with Hertz.  Just like airline fares, the price you book is regulated by the rules.  Was this prebooked, a walkup rate? Was the deductible noted on the contract if it was prebooked?  I book cars in Europe and many of the rates have a noted deductible when insurance is taken out or if the CDW is included in the rate, as in Italy.

  26. That is interesting, I didn’t know that 900 euros is a standard.  Curious then why was I charged 948.64. Thank you for the input.

  27. Um, English is the most widely spoken language in the world.  It’s a pretty safe bet that no matter the nationality of the person standing in front of you, if you don’t speak each other’s native tongue both of you surely speak even a little English.  (In  most European countries, learning two years of English is compulsory)

    Using car rental employees as an example in the US is an attempt on your part to cloud the issue.  Expecting US employees to learn 20 or more languages is arrogant and narcissistic on your part.

    Odds are great the Italian car rental agency could have found even ONE person who spoke just enough English to make this a much less stressful experience for the OP, even if the only English they spoke were curse words.

  28. Italy requires insurance and it usually is part of the rate, making it primary so the credit card coverage usually then doesn’t work as you have to decline coverage to activate the card’s policy.

  29. Um, it is your obvious contempt for people, who don’t speak English, especially in their own country, that clouds the issue for me. Perhaps you could state your opinion without being insulting. Just a suggestion…

  30. My obvious contempt?  Where?

    And as a writer you’re posting failed to have much of an impact due to the following edits needing to be made:

    The first line- …for people who don’t speak..which clouds…

    Just a side note:  No where did I state I had contempt for people who don’t speak English.  Perhaps your postings are being jaded by those who do?  Remember, when one points a finger at another, there are three more (plus the thumb) pointing back at them.  Methinks you are projecting…

  31. I know you can’t recognize it, but phrases like, “Um,” which I mirrored back to you, and “couldn’t be bothered to speak…” illustrate your comtempt. And that is my last word on the subject, which we have beaten to death.

  32. Perhaps the use of sarcasm escapes you.  (Your not being a writer gives me the latitude to accept your contempt for the use of the written word in any form other than formal – your unwillingness to accept you don’t understand a particular writing style takes away any latitude I might have given you)

    And I wasn’t the one who began this whole conversation, I merely expressed an opinion – you are the one who “beat it to death”.And THAT is the last word on the subject.

  33. I’m about to throw a wrench into the machine here…the rental was part of a rail-n-drive package from Rail Europe.  CDW coverage is clearly included in the documents. 

  34. Did you book it directly with Rail Europe or with a travel agency?  Did Chris know this?  As the rules are right on Rail Europe’s website:
    Car Terms and Conditions

    Car Rental
    Responsibility of Avis/Hertz is subject to the Terms and Conditions in the Avis/Hertz Rental Agreement. Standard rental requirements apply. Car rental vouchers must be used by date noted on the vouchers. Basic car rental is for Economy Car with manual transmission, including unlimited mileage, local taxes (VAT). Drop off fee is applicable for car rentals picked up in one country and dropped off in another. Free drop-off is permitted at select locations within country of rental. A service charge is due on rentals picked up at airport locations and a few railway stations. Certain restrictions may apply. All drop-off conditions are subject to change and should be confirmed at time of reservation.
    Rail ‘n Drive programs (excluding Eurail Italy Rail ‘n Drive):
    include unlimited mileage and local tax (VAT)
    Eurail Italy Rail ‘n Drive:
    includes unlimited mileage, Collision Damage Waiver, Theft Protection and local tax (VAT).
    RATES DON’T INCLUDE:
    Gas, Collision Damage Waiver, Theft Protection and/or Personal Accident Insurance (unless stated otherwise), fees for an additional and/or young driver, airport surcharges, registration tax or car group upgrades made locally. In some countries, or for a few car groups, a service charge is due on one-way rentals.
    Collision Damage Waiver (“CDW”) and Theft Protection (“TP”) Insurance:
    CDW and TP, where available may vary by car group and country. These options limit the renter from responsibility for damage to or loss of the rental car, unless it results from use as prohibited by the rental agreement. A nonwaivable excess will remain on the charge of the customers in case of damage to or loss of the car even if the CDW/TP has been accepted. This nonwaivable excess varies by country and car group.

  35. Bodega3 posts something from Rail Europe’s website, please scroll down to read it. 
    Notice the last section “RATES DON’T INCLUDE” clearly mentions Collision Damage Waiver. Now look at the sentence just before that section…..”Eurail Italy Rail ‘n Drive:includes unlimited mileage, Collision Damage Waiver, Theft Protection and local tax (VAT).”

    THAT is the language used in my sheet of benefits and features of the package. 

    I crunched the car, I pay to fix.  I HAVE NO ISSUE WITH THAT.
    My problem is
    A) Hertz does not respond to my or MC’s requests for documents and
    B) The car was repaired on June 21 2010 and I still have not been refunded the balance.

    As an aside, the 900 euros for the damage fee is a base cost. There is also…
    ONERI AUTOMOBILISTICI           7.20
    ADDEBITO CARBURANTE            16.83
    ADDEBITO SERV. CARBURANTE   15.00
    I.V.A./T.V.A.                            7.81

    For a total of 946.84. I get that the last one is tax and at this point I don’t remember what I planned to do about refilling the tank. There was no additional driver. 

    Can anyone spare me a trip to the Italian dictionary?

      

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