A scratch on my rental car — and now, a bill from a collection agency

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Christopher Elliott

Jemny/Shutterstock
Jemny/Shutterstock
Here we go again.

Car rental damage claims are such a contentious issue — and so preventable — that I’ve been considering a moratorium on new cases. But Aakash Patel’s problem might be the exception to the rule.

I’ll let you decide.

A few months ago, Patel and a group of friends flew to Las Vegas for a bachelor party.

“We rented a car from the Payless Car Rental at McCarran International Airport,” he says. “At the time of our initial inspection of the car, we noticed a very small scratch — about two to three inches — on the rear bumper.”

Patel told an associate about the damage and asked her what he should do.

“We were told that it was a minor damage and only the major damages need to be noted,” he says.

The rest, as they say, is history. (Or maybe I should say that it’s history repeating itself.)

Patel explains:

Flying Angels provide medical transport anywhere in the world on commercial airlines with a Flight Nurse or Doctor. A Flight Coordinator handles the logistics. The client receives care during the entire transport—bedside to bedside. Visit FlyingAngels.com or call 877-265-1085 to speak with a flight coordinator.

We took the car and used it only for our commute to the hotel. We drove about 39 miles in four days.

Upon returning the car to the drop-off location, we were told that the same scratch was not recorded on their system and that we were responsible for this damage to the car.

An incident report was filed and about month and a half later, we received a big envelope with a bill of $994.

Since he’d rented the car on his Amex card, Patel contacted American Express and believed he had coverage through the card. Amex, which offered secondary coverage, paid for $500. But Payless wasn’t done with Patel yet.

“Today, I received another bill from Subrogation Management Team, which is working as Payless Car Rental’s representative, for the balance of $494,” he says. “Upon asking the representative for the copy of loss of days proof, she told me that it is personal information which cannot be provided to us.”

Patel believes Payless, working with Subrogation Management, has inflated the cost of the repair and is forcing him to pay for something for which he isn’t responsible. They’ve already received $500 from Amex for something he didn’t do — and now this?

He wants me to mediate his case.

I asked him if he took pictures of the car, pre- and post-rental.

“I wish I would have taken a picture of that,” he said, “but based on my multiple rental car experiences (including international rentals), I never thought that something like this could ever happen. I trusted the agent when she told me that it was a minor damage which does not need to be mentioned on the form.”

A new iPhone and Android app called Rental Pics can help. The program automatically creates a file containing all the pictures associated with a rental and allows you to make any damage notations.

The other thing that’s stopping me from getting involved are the companies: Payless, which almost always ignores my emails, and Subrogation, which has a well-deserved reputation for aggressively pursuing all claims regardless of their merit. I’m not sure how far I’d get.

Finally, there is this: Patel does have auto insurance that would cover him, but he won’t make a claim because he doesn’t think he should be responsible.

“I don’t think that my insurance company should pay for something that I did not do,” he told me. “I opened a claim with Amex, thinking that they might fight for me, since they know exactly what happened. The truth is I feel terrible that Amex had to pay for something that was not even caused by me.”

No doubt, mistakes were made by everyone. But if Patel filled out an incident report and filed a claim with Amex, is it too late for me to help?

Should I mediate Aakash Patel's case?

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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 weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, Forbes and the Washington Post. He also publishes 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 Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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