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.