No damage to rental car, but they called a collection agency anyway

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By Christopher Elliott

Richard Hartman rented a car from Alamo in Montreal this summer. It’s a decision he regrets.

“When I returned their rental car on June 21st, the Alamo staff reported no damage after their inspection but,” he says. But a few weeks later, the car rental company changed its tune. It now claimed he owed $646 for damage to his car.

That isn’t unusual. Damage to a rental car can be assessed after the vehicle is returned, but it’s not a best practice. Ideally, the dent or ding would be IDd before the customer leaves the car rental facility. And that’s usually how it’s done, according to rental customers I’ve spoken with.

Hartman explains

Their Damages Recovery Unit has received my numerous voicemails, print letters, phone calls and emails disputing their claim for $646 in damages that never occurred when I used the car.

Based on my information, my credit card company has stopped payment on their billing of Aug 7th and Chase Visa told me that Alamo was going to enter a credit to erase this debt.

OK, so he vehemently denies damaging the rental car, his credit card is siding with him, but Alamo has insisted on taking this rental car case to a collection agency.

Not good.

Making matters worse, the paperwork from Alamo on this rental is confusing. He explains,

I have a letter from Alamo dated Oct 7th that states that I owe $0.00.

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Alamo responded on Oct. 26 stating I still owe $646 and on Oct. 24 I got a dunning notice from their collection agency with the notice that an unpaid balance will accrue interest of 19.5 percent per annum.

That looks as if one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing.

Let’s hand the mike to Alamo. When I asked about Hartman’s case, here’s what a representative told me.

We have reviewed – and re-reviewed – this matter, and our conclusions remain the same:

· The damage was not on the original inspection sheet.

· The damage report was written immediately.

· The damage was significant enough to have not been “missed” when the car was rented.

Furthermore, the customer was advised of our decision and kept informed throughout the claims process (up to being sent to a collections agency).

Is Alamo bending the truth?

Unbelievable. I feel as if I’m mediating two completely separate cases. And yet they are one and the same.

I’m almost certain that someone is bending the truth, but who?

Is it the renter who maybe glossed over the fact that the damage was noted when he returned the car? Or is it the car rental company, which might have a paperwork problem? (Here’s what you need to know before you rent your next car.)

I don’t know.

At this point, I start to feel like one of those poor souls in the 1981 horror flick Scanners. My head is about to explode.

I’m tempted to slide this into the “case dismissed” file because I can’t really figure out who’s telling the truth. Fortunately, I don’t need to. (Related: A scratch on my rental car, and now, a bill from a collection agency.)

Alamo adds,

The customer sincerely seems to believe there was some sort of misunderstanding. As a result, we are closing this claim, and hope that you and he understand we are putting his customer-service concerns first.

Ah, I love a happy ending. But was this the right ending?

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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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