Five years later, he got a $14,700 bill from Alamo. Does he have to pay?

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By Christopher Elliott

Alamo wants Dominic Changco to pay $14,700 after one of its rentals gets water damage. But why did it take five years to get the paperwork?

Question

I rented a car in Maui from Alamo in 2017. It rained heavily for one day and the car floor became soaked. All doors and windows were closed. 

I noticed water leaking from the vents, indicating possibly faulty weatherstripping. Enterprise, which owns Alamo, now says it salvaged the car and the engine won’t start, even though we drove it there. They want me to pay $14,700 for the vehicle. Can you help me get this claim dropped? — Dominic Changco, Salinas, Calif.

Answer

It’s highly unusual for a car rental company to take five years to process a claim. For that reason alone, I decided to look into your case.

You should never, ever pay out of pocket for damage to a rental car. Before you rent, ensure that you have sufficient insurance. You can get coverage through your auto policy, your credit card, or the car rental company. But whatever you do, don’t rent a car without insurance.

Other than the timing, there were a few more strange things about your case. You say you drove the car to the Alamo lot. But now Alamo (via Enterprise) claims that the vehicle is undriveable. You also claimed you had the windows and doors closed, yet the water still came into the vehicle. If that happened anywhere else in the world, that might have been unlikely. But we’re talking about Maui, which is one of the rainiest places on the planet. Big Bog on Maui is the seventh-wettest place in the world. 

The real question is who is responsible for weatherproofing the rental car – you or the rental car company? I would say it’s on the car rental company to send out a vehicle that’s roadworthy. But it’s a shared responsibility. It’s also up to the driver to make sure the car is operated safely and carefully. I don’t think you could have known that your car couldn’t withstand the rain until it was too late.

Another problem with your case is that you didn’t have any paperwork. It looks like you had either misplaced it or discarded it, hoping that the Alamo claim was in the past. Only it wasn’t. 

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You could have contacted Enterprise about your case. I list the names, numbers and emails of Enterprise executives on my consumer advocacy site, Elliott.org.

Do I still pay Alamo?

I asked Enterprise about your $14,700 bill. A representative acknowledged that a five-year wait was “a bit strange.”  (Related: Maybe I shouldn’t have taken this case after all.)

“Our records indicate that the vehicle in this case sustained flood damage at a hotel,” the representative said. “The hotel denied coverage, and the customer did not have a damage waiver. There was a refusal to pay the damages that was documented and then following, there was a series of subsequent follow-up communications between us and the customer regarding payment. The customer has been sent to collections for non-payment, and I believe the letter he sent you is the most recent letter from collections.” (Here’s what you need to know about renting your next car.)

Enterprise would not drop the claim, but you still have options. You can find out if the credit card you used to rent the car would pay for the damage. Or ask your auto insurance if it covers you. In any case, this isn’t the end of your road. 

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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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