Who’s responsible for this bump in my bumper?

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By Christopher Elliott

Chris Benzinger has a problem with National Car Rental. The company sent him a surprise repair bill, but it isn’t really telling him what he did to deserve it.

A few months ago, he rented a Dodge Charger in Sarasota, Fla. And then he received an invoice from National in the mail. There was damage to his rental, and he was responsible, it said.

“They wanted me to pay $501.10,” he says. “My insurance deductible is $500.”

Stalemate struggles

Benzinger asked for documentation, including repair bills and pictures of the damaged car. He hadn’t conducted a visual inspection of the vehicle before and after he rented it, so he wanted to see what he’d allegedly done before paying for it.

He exchanged emails with National for six weeks, with no luck. Finally, he reached a manager by phone.

The manager says that their process has multiple check-points and they couldn’t have missed the damage. However, no one walked around the car with us or even mentioned it when we checked out.

Also, they have no pictures of the car because he says that “just isn’t feasible.”

We are at a stalemate that I feel like I’m going to lose and I don’t know what to do next.

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I was highly suspicious of the bill. First, why would National refuse to send him a photo of the damage? And second, why would it charge the amount of his insurance deductible, almost down to the penny? What are the odds of the repair bill coming to almost exactly $500?

My advocacy team and I contacted National. It sent me a photo of the damage (above) and the following response:

Our Damage Recovery Unit has circled back with the local manager and confirmed that this customer will continue to be held responsible for the vehicle damage.

Please note this was only the second time that the vehicle had been rented (it had less than 100 miles on it) and the damage is quite significant.

Behind the dent

True, that’s some dent. And if Benzinger didn’t inspect the car before or after he rented it, then it’s really his word against National’s. If National can produce a photo of the damage, it’s very difficult to dispute a claim like this.

Benzinger is disappointed with the outcome of his appeal. (Here’s our guide to resolving your consumer problem.)

I feel like I should be treated better as a customer. They really didn’t protect me by not spending sixty seconds reminding me to look over the car when we took possession. After that, the process really gives you the run around once you’ve got damage.

Car rental employees don’t always suggest a rental inspection. It’s almost as if they’re encouraging a customer to take the car sight unseen. If you don’t check the car, you could get a surprise bill that difficult — or impossible — to dispute. (Related: Help! I got a rental car bill I don’t think I deserve.)

As for the $501 bill, I’m still skeptical. I’ve seen too many bills come in at $498, $499 and $501 in previous damage cases.

Being that close to the average deductible means the car rental company gets the maximum payout without involving an insurance company. That seems a little scammy to me.

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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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