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

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By Christopher Elliott

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.”

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.

No repair bill as proof

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

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“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.

Lessons learned

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. (Here’s how to solve your own consumer problem.)

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. (Related: I didn’t damage my rental car, so why do I have to pay?)

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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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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