Do I really have to pay for this chip on my hood?

1-chip on hood (bonnet)Do you see the chip on Peter Wade’s rental car? Neither do I. But that isn’t stopping Thrifty Car Rental from charging him $165 for damage to the Ford Focus he rented in Glasgow, Scotland.

“The damages were unreasonable,” he told me. “Even comical.”

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb. Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Comical?

I’ll let him explain.

Wade took every precaution he could. Or at least, he thought he had.

“When we were taking the pictures at the start of the rental, the Thrifty employee checking us out asked, ‘Why are you doing that? They won’t show anything’,” he remembers.

When he returned the vehicle at the end of the week, the same employee greeted him.

He claimed two items of damage: a minute rock chip of less than one square millimeter on the hood and a ¼ inch scratch on the passenger side front hubcap.

I was flabbergasted. These are items no reasonable car rental company would normally assess.

Wade’s credit card was charged $165 on the spot. Thrifty didn’t bother to show him a repair bill.

“I do not feel anyone should be obligated to pay this bill,” he told me. “I know I’m responsible for the vehicle when it is in my possession. However, there has to be a limit of what is reasonable to charge to a customer.”

Wade appealed the charge, but Thrifty repeated its claim that he was responsible, no matter how small he thought the damage was, and that it really didn’t have to show him anything else.

This looked suspicious to me. Shouldn’t the car rental company have sent him a bill after it knew how much the “damage” to its hood and tire would cost? And a car rental company actively discouraging customers from photographing its vehicles makes me even more suspicious.

Here’s how Thrifty responded to my request for a review.

Please again accept our sincere apologies for your continued dissatisfaction with the handling of your rental and damage charges.

Please again understand that our locations work to maintain their respective fleet based on the restrictions of the provider agreements including condition on return.

The specific response from our location to your original case is below, and explains the process utilized for smaller damage issues. Any other damage that may have been present at the beginning of your rental was, likewise, handled with this process.

Although you convey the areas of damage assessed to you as small, they are nonetheless valid as assessed.

I was impressed with how quickly they responded to Wade. It’s unlikely Thrifty contacted the Glasgow location to ask for its side of the story.

Unfortunately, this one is a “case dismissed” file. But there are a few important takeaways for all of us. First, if a car rental employee tells you there’s no point in taking a picture of the car, don’t walk away — run. It could be a sign that it really doesn’t matter what your pictures show, and that the company is running a ding-and-dent scam.

And second, never pay a repair bill without an invoice. Thrifty should have shown Wade an itemized bill before charging him for the repairs. If it didn’t, he should have disputed the charge with his credit card.

Should car rental companies charge a customer for damage on the spot, even without a repair bill?

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52 thoughts on “Do I really have to pay for this chip on my hood?

  1. For “damage” like a small paint chip, or small ding, the rental car company likely knows even without a formal estimate what it is going to cost, as those are flat-rate repairs.
    That doesn’t mean it’s not a scam, or that they are going to actually get it fixed, just that on-the-spot estimates are not inherently faulty.

    1. The point, I believe, is that if the rental company is going to get it fixed, fine,. But, the scam is they DON’T fix it, and keep hitting up customers for the same “damage”.

  2. From all the car rental complaints I’ve read on this site, my takeaway is to avoid renting outside the country whenever possible. Why do those rentals always seem the most greedy (and scammy)? I’m curious if the Scottish Thrifty rental offered insurance that would have protected him and wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg. What about other countries? Because it sounds like international rentals should always be purchased with insurance added for damage complaints that customers have a hard time disputing when they’re so far from home.

    1. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Get the AMEX insurance. It’s about $20.00 per RENTAL, not per day, per RENTAL. And it’s PRIMARY. See if Thrifty would try to ding Amex for this bogus claim. The OP could just say, “Cool, I’ll file a claim with Amex and see what they have to say about it.” Happened to me once for a much larger scratch (in all honesty, I have no idea if it was there when I rented it), but when they found out Amex was getting the claim, it was suddenly ‘resolved.’

      1. Out of curiosity as a non AMEX holder, how do you invoke that insurance? Is this something you opt-in for that gets tacked on every time you rent or do you have to call AMEX each time you rent?

        1. I have AMEX cards. It is your choice. You can opt in so
          that each time you rent, you will be charged and the rental automatically
          covered (except in countries where AMEX does not offer insurance), or you can
          buy it as you go. You just have to call and tell them that you want to get
          covered for the rental you are getting on your AMEX card. Of course, AMEX would
          like you to have it on your account so it is automatically charged each time
          you rent a vehicle. It is easier on you and them. But, it is your choice. I have
          never had a problem with it and have never been charged twice or anything like
          that. It is cheaper than the rental company charge and if you do not have a
          credit card that provides primary coverage (like the United Mileage Plus
          Explorer VISA – most cards provide
          secondary secondary), I find it worthwhile.

        1. It’s possible, but I’d say unlikely. After all, if the rental car company couldn’t provide sufficient evidence to get the credit card’s insurance to pay up, I’m pretty sure they would lose quickly in a credit card dispute.

        2. Actually, that’s not true. The Amex insurance is PRIMARY — before you and you’re insurance. If Amex doesn’t pay up it’s because the claim is bogus. And if Amex insurance won’t pay, I’m pretty sure you’ve got a good dispute on the Amex card you used to pay for the rental.

      2. I think it’s actually $24.95 per rental. Unless you’re renting for a single day, it’s way cheaper than the companies insurance. I used it for a couple of years when I had an old car that I didn’t have collision coverage on. And this only covers the vehicle. Any liability coverage has to come from your own insurance.

    2. My experience with renting cars outside the country is if you go with the cheapest company possible you’re going to end up paying more in the long run because of stuff like this. The same is true for renting them in the US.

    3. I agree…I try to avoid renting cars in foreign countries because it seems like there are more cases of ding-and-dent scams; hidden fees; etc.

  3. If the customer has a credit card in file, no, they should not be charged on the spot without an itemized bill. The company could “block” funds on the credit card as needed while the issue is resolved. Cash customers (and believe it or not, there are a few) are another story. How can a rental company, especially internationally, cope with damages on a car when they might not be able to track them down or recoup legit damage costs.

    1. In my experience, even if the customer is paying by cash the rental car company want a credit card on file for just this sort of situation. If the renter doesn’t have a credit card then the rental agency wants a very hefty cash deposit. And, paying the deposit by travellers checks can cause problems too.

  4. If the picture is of the actual car, there is an irregular white spot just above and to the right of center that may be the nick. If this was the photo Wade took before leaving the lot, the nick was existing before he rented the car and the photo should have negated the charge.

  5. When you rent in a foreign country, they want to do everything they can to get the maximum money from you. This seems to be one of those situations. After all, the rental company knows you will be leaving the country and it will be very difficult for you to fight something like this in court which would probably require you to appear in person.

    This could be fought on principle, but at some point the time spent fighting would cost more that the amount of the charge so the customer will give up — and I’m sure the rental company knows this.

    If the damage is being repaired, then possibly the charge is justified. But what is more likely to happen is the next customer and the next and so on will also be charged for the “damage” until the vehicle is sold still with the damage un repaired.

    Even rental insurance is not a sure safe bet anymore. More and more of the loss damage waiver coverages offered have deductibles so the renter is no longer 100% covered. I don’t know what insurance was available to the OP or if he paid for it. He should check with his credit card to see if they cover rental car damage, most do.

  6. Who are the 7 that voted yes and would one or several of them please share the rationale of agreeing that a charge ought be made absent a totally separate third party.

      1. Or just wiseguys that like messing with these polls to generate the inevitable strong reaction. Some people find it amusing to watch, I guess. I’ll confess to having done the same thing back in junior high school, though I’ve grown up since then, thankfully.

    1. I have to agree with the other two replies, there always seem to be a minority who will vote to mediate or ask for a refund no matter how outlandish the claim is.

  7. What floored me was the scratch on the hubcap. Are they serious? What next Thrifty? You start charging for gravel caught in the tire treads?

    1. It wasn’t really clear in the story but I think they did and lost. That was the felling I got from it. And because it was in a different country, the credit card doesn’t even have to accept the dispute if it doesn’t want to.

  8. I can’t see Disqus or use the poll at all on my PC :(. Can only get on on my phone. Can’t get in on EI or Mozilla. It was working yesterday AM and then stopped mid day. Too hArd to go through all the comments on my phone screen.

  9. Paint chips like this and minor wheel scrapes should all be considered normal wear and tear. These are natural road hazards and shouldn’t be charged to the renter. Rental car companies due this because they can.

  10. One thing that I do is to find out if the rental location is operated by corporate or is operated by a franchisee. My preference is to deal with a corporate location when all possible.

  11. I had a similar experience with a Thrifty car rental in Manchester, England. After a 14-hour flight I arrived to a soggy and very grey afternoon, and the employee was not too keen to go around the car with me in the rain. I made him anyway. The only problem was that you couldn’t see very well due to the inclement weather and it was an outside lot. When I returned the car two weeks later, a different employee first went to the opposite side of the car and immediately pointed out a “ding” on the rear door. After getting my magnifying glass out I finally saw it – smaller than the eraser on a pencil and no paint damage. I am convinced that this ding had been there for ever and Thrifty knew about it. The employee then opened the trunk (which I had not even looked in) and was going to charge me a cleaning fee for the 2 small leaves that were in there. She then told me the car would have to be removed from service for at least 3 days for repairs and cleaning and my credit card would be charged approximately US$500. I was and still am furious by this obvious scam and told her that if I was charged it would cost Thrifty far more in legal fees and bad press, as I would go to all of the major outlets with my story of their scam. Thankfully for them the charge never showed up on my credit card bill, but I think these scenarios are outrageous, and now only rent a car as a last resort.

    1. Isn’t it funny how these repairs are always $500…the standard deductible in the US?

      Gotta love the Walmart-greeter rejects that work as car rental agents who run this scam. They DO get bonuses for every penny they squeeze from you…even illegally.

  12. Interesting ten votes. Could it possibly be those with a financial interest in the car rental business, either investments(owners) or employees?

  13. when i was in Germany (back before I lived by the code of “just pay for their insurance”) i had a minor scratch. I knew it was my fault, so i wasn’t going to argue BUT on the sport they opened a giant book, like an encyclopedia of damage costs. and said “700 Euros”

    FML i had no recourse. yes i said “USAA has my insurance” but i sure as heck did not want USAA to hear that i caused 700 euros of damage, so i paid and never again rented without getting the car rental companies insurance.

    1. Hi Diordan, I happen to work for USAA claims. We take a very dim view of scammers! Next time, please let us handle it for you. We have a great field office in Germany.

  14. Only a fool would rent a car in Europe without having full insurance. I can be purchased, it comes as a benefit with some credit cards, it comes along with cancellation insurance. Any and every major complaint from an independent vacation comes from car rentals.

    Interestingly enough, it seems that this is your most common post….guess why?

  15. As a foreigner, some comments in this post are xenophobic. The majority of the complains here about rental scams are in US territory. I remember a couple cases in UK (this one included) and that’s all.

    If I’ll base my decision to rent or not a car in US using this blog only, the answer must be no.

    1. In defense of us Americans, most of the cases covered here are submitted by Americans. So, that’s where most of the problems covered on this blog occur.

      I think anytime you transact business outside of your local area, you can run into the problem of being taken advantage of, simply by virtue of the fact that you are in one jurisdiction and they are in another jurisdiction. Go back and look at all the articles Chris reports on things such as toll charges and warranties and problems with getting a refund. All of those deal with “I’m here, you’re there, good luck with that!” situations.

      Finally, I think that if you did rent a car here, being from somewhere outside the US, that a dishonest business would be more likely to take advantage of you than a local resident. What are you going to do, fly back and testify in court, small claims or otherwise? So, use the articles as a gauge as to what rental companies show up *least* often here, and follow the suggestions given by other posters.

      Ciao!

  16. Why is this a “case dismissed?” Wade should file a credit card dispute. In the absence of a repair bill, Thrifty has no right to charge him for this alleged damage and I think his credit card company will likely side with him.

  17. I can tell you that Hertz charges on the spot for repairs in the UK. They have someone who looks at the various items that need to be done, they have all the prices in their computer and charge it on the spot.
    I had a secondary driver damage a car and then someone damaged another car while it was parked. Both times, they did this process. The first time, it was less than I thought it might be, and the second time it was more. Nonetheless, they seem to have a mechanism and a practice there of doing charges right away.
    Aside from thinking the second charge was a little high, I had not suspicion that they were doing anything wrong. Both times, I advised them there was damage and they looked at the car. I do photograph each time.
    I probably would have issues with what the person in this article went through, but I am just saying, they do ring it up right away. This seems to be the “new way” to do it.

    1. Sure! Makes it easier to charge multiple customers for the same damage without providing that pesky repair bill for work that was never done.

    2. Its always harder to chase down charges internationally, which is why most have a scale for those things – and I can see their point, provided they are legitimate damages. Not like these.

  18. If you can avoid renting do so . The last vacation we took for 10 days we used the resorts busses to and from the airport and busses to the parks. We were going to go into the city but after reading the reports how rental car companies treat customers …never again.

  19. Chris, why won’t the states go after the rental car companies ? There should be enough evidence to warrant a look see into what goes on. Why not someone going under cover to expose what really goes on.

  20. This time you got 15 car rental employees/franchise owners to respond. If they paid more attention to customer service than your blog, we might actually get somewhere.

  21. I had a similar situation some years ago (different company); I had taken pictures of my rental & was then advised upon return of some minute scratch in the bumper. OK, being a CONSUMER ADVOCATE; I “played along”.
    I noticed a repair shop next to the dealership & asked that someone “quietly” go next door & take a photo & give me an estimate to repair – for $20. I had heard of rumors where credit cards were debited some outrageous amounts; now they were trying to scam the “wrong guy”.
    My credit card was debited some $300 to “repaint the entire bumper”; my estimate was for FREE (my $20) to buff out this extremely minor scratch. When I brought this matter to the attorney general of my state; heads – rolled! The company was fined & put on notice; plus they offered me five (5) weekend rentals for my efforts & paid for my fee of $165 @ hour (minimum of 2 hours).
    Philip C. Brown

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