Nailed by Enterprise for a flat tire

Curtis Brown rented a car from Enterprise in London recently, but he didn’t get far. Less than two days after picking it up, one of his tires went flat.

“The cause was a nail in the tread of the tire,” he says.

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Enterprise says he’s responsible for the damage, but he disagrees.

“The damage caused was great enough to warrant a completely new tire, not a simple plug as the repair mechanic had expected,” he says. “This suggested the nail was in the tire long before I rented the car. Also, the air pressure of the car’s front left tire displayed a lower pressure than the others within an hour into my journey — this also implies the nail was there from the start.”

No way, says Enterprise. It has rejected repeated requests to reduce the repair bill or prove that the nail wasn’t present. Brown wants me to encourage Enterprise to see things his way. But should I?

Here’s the bill:

Repair: 102.99GBP
Admin: 25.00GBP
Recovery of Vehicle: 72.00GBP
Total due: 199.99GBP

Brown asked for timestamped photos of the tires before his rental, which would have shown they were nail-free.

Here’s the reply:

Many thanks for your email.

Unfortunately, time stamped photographs is not something we are able to offer our customers.

We can assure and verify that all of our rental vehicles at Heathrow are thoroughly inspected when returned and prior to being re-rented.

The Roadside Assistance callout fee is a standard fee and has no bearing on the works carried out at the roadside.

With regards to administration fees applied by the Damage Recovery Unit, please do contact them directly on 0845 604 2881 or by emailing [email protected] in order to discuss specific damage charges further.

Unfortunately, as coverage was declined and signed on your rental agreement and the damage charge was not taken by the branch, we are not able to assist with regards to specific amounts/costs charged.

We apologise we are not able to assist you any further with this matter on this occasion at the branch but should you have any other enquiries relating to your rental, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Brown is incredulous.

“The Heathrow branch claims all their cars are carefully inspected, including tire treads, when they are returned and before they are rented out,” he says. “However, they will not provide any evidence to prove that claim in my case. I should not be expected to pay for a repair that was the responsibility of Enterprise.”

This is an interesting case. Our advice to inspect and photograph your rental before leaving the lot probably wouldn’t have caught an embedded nail.

I’ve watched car rental employees conduct their inspections. I’ve even asked a supervisor to show me how they train employees to inspect a car. And I can tell you that it’s highly unlikely that Enterprise would have noticed an embedded nail on a returned vehicle.

The real question here isn’t when the nail became embedded, but when the flat tire happened. And no one is disputing that it was on Brown’s watch.

There’s a larger question of whether Enterprise should cover a flat tire, since that’s something close to normal wear and tear. But there’s no doubt that Brown is responsible, no doubt that Enterprise needs to do nothing more than show a repair bill.

Oh, and about that bill. What kind of tire bill comes to 199.99GBP? What kind of “admin” fees did Brown incur? I find that whole invoice a little suspicious.

I suggested Brown appeal this to someone higher up at Enterprise. He did, and believe it or not, Enterprise dropped the entire claim.

Should Enterprise have zeroed out Brown's bill?

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43 thoughts on “Nailed by Enterprise for a flat tire

  1. “The real question here isn’t when the nail became embedded, but when the
    flat tire happened. And no one is disputing that it was on Brown’s
    watch.”

    If that’s the real question, and you’ve given the real answer, why is there a question of mediation?

    “There’s a larger question of whether Enterprise should cover a flat tire, since that’s something close to normal wear and tear.”

    Running over a nail is closer to wear an tear than what?

    1. I can think of several things that remind me of renting an apartment: The carpet being worn after 5 years of use, doors being scratched, to name a few.

      The expectation appears to be that renters should return cars in the precise condition they rented them meaning that after, say, three years of continuous use (since rentals are used more than our personal vehicles) they should all appear as if they rolled off the showroom floor yesterday.

      Gravel on a freeway is sometimes kicked up by trucks. Nails are on the roads. Cars wear out (and tires are one thing that we EXPECT to wear out.)

      Reading Elliott, it makes me think twice and twice again before renting a car if I don’t have to. Is there a bus available? Yeah, it’s not luxurious but an extra hour on a bus saves a lot of time arguing over the phone on damage claims.

  2. I voted “no”, but I think the amount was absurdly high. It’s quite likely Mr. Brown unfortunately ran over the nail and is responsible for a reasonable cost, but not the inflated amount presented to him.

  3. I don’t follow how the amount of damage two days later means the puncture happened to a previous renter. And if it truly was displaying lower pressure so quickly and he was so on top of the air pressure, why did he not have it looked at until it went completely flat?

    As far as to who pays? Well, somebody is going to pay, and since the rental company is writing the contract, they get to decide. I don’t agree that flat tires are “wear and tear”… Worn tires are, not punctured ones.

    As far as costs go? That bill looks pretty reasonable to me.

    1. That a tire has to be replaced vs plugged and/or patched doesn’t change based on how many days the puncture existed, but rather in the location of the nail or screw. Obviously that does not vary over time.

      Edit.. Sorry for posting this under your comment. I meant to reply to another but the website is loading strangely on my phone and I hit the wrong Reply.

      1. Actually…an object left in the plies of the tire can wiggle around over time, destroying the integrity of the plies. Thus, a fault needing a simple plug or patch can evolve into a complete replacement if not discovered in time.

          1. I had a tire that ended up with a large nail through the middle of the tread. This is something that is easily plugged in most cases. But not mine. Even though the tire never went flat, the nail was bent and it rubbed up against the inside side wall going through several layers of tire material. I only noticed there was a problem when the side wall began to bubble. The tire had to be replaced.

          2. Can sustain more damage, even if properly inflated. the tread can be separated by the object wobbling inside the tire. I’ve seen it happen more than once.

    2. Unless Enterprise specifically inspected the tire at the start of the rental, they don’t know when the nail lodged in the tire. It’s entirely possible for the tire to go flat only days later.

      The contract doesn’t give them discretion to choose who they want to pay. They can’t (legitimately) charge someone for damage which may have been pre-existing.

      1. Yes, it’s entirely possible for the puncture to have happened prior to the rental. But certainly the tire was not flat prior to the rental, and the contract places the burden on the customer in the case of such ambiguity. (As in, if the damage ain’t noted on the check-out form, it’s assumed to have been the renters fault, absent other evidence.)

        And if it’s true the tire started losing air right after the rental started, why would he wait two days to have it looked at? At the least, he could have called the rental agency right then to find out what they wanted him to do.

  4. What was the mileage of the tire? For a part that depreciates, one shouldn’t pay the replacement cost, but the value of the depreciated asset.

    1. IF the mileage was close to what the tire was designed for and it blew out, I would agree with you. In this case the tire was punctured and so the replacement cost is valid instead of a pro-rated value. If this was your own car and you had road hazard insurance for your tires, you would pay the depreciated amount for a replacement, but I doubt that applies to any rental car company.

    2. Well, few rental cars are held on to long enough to ever require a tire change at all prior to sale. Certainly the sale value of the car does not go up because one tire out of four is newer.

  5. If a rental-car tire went flat, standard procedure always used to be to call the company and tell them. You could change it yourself or have them send out a service truck, depending on the circumstances. The customer was never charged.

    So now that they can charge for flats, another opportunity opens up to make the fee ridiculously exorbitant, that that $1500 Hertz same-city dropoff that came up here last week.

  6. The tire was showing low pressure less than an hour after he rented the car yet he didn’t think to have it checked until the tire went completely flat. Pay up.

    He may have been unfortunate enough to run over a nail leaving the driveway at the rental center. Driving around on a tire with a nail in it (for two days!) and low pressure can cause the damage to be more severe than if it is caught early and repaired soon. Depending on the type of tire and where exactly the nail penetrated the tire it is possible that the puncture caused tread separation which cannot be fixed safely with a simple plug. The point of the nail could have rubbed along the inside side wall of the tire after the puncture causing a thin spot that would be prone to a blow out.

    Not knowing what kind of vehicle or what kind of tires were on it, as well as having no idea what the price of tires and fixing them in the UK would cost, it seems a reasonable amount he is being charged. Only thing I would complain about is the descriptions of the items being billed should be clearer.

    1. I find it remarkable that pointy objects you often have trouble inserting properly when you are trying to use them for their intended use are razor-sharp and ramrod-straight when you drive over them!

      I once had the tire light on my wife’s Solara turn on. After much searching, the tire shop found the object at fault… drum roll please…

      A staple. Yes, you have often cursed the ability of a staple to penetrate three sheets of paper when using a tool designed expressly for this use. But when you DRIVE OVER a staple, it effortlessly penetrates a thick layer of highly-engineered modern technology.

      1. This story is just as good every time you tell it. You have told this one before, right? Because it sounds familiar and I still can’t freakin’ believe it. Must have been an upholstry staple or something. Jeez.

        1. I haven’t mentioned it before here I don’t think, but yeah, it’s pretty funny.

          It wasn’t a huge upholstery staple. It looked a little long to be an office staple, but it was still pretty thin and it wasn’t anything you’d think twice about driving with a cheap staple gun.

          1. Really? Because I could swear on a stack I’d read the exact same thing before. Weird. Maybe it’s deja vu nonsense, but I was so sure!

  7. If anything goes wrong with a rented car, other than a collision caused by the renter, then the renter cannot be charged for it. If I were in such a situation, I would call the credit card company and freeze the account so that the card could not be charged.

    1. Where do you get that from? The renter’s agreement states specifically (in every rental I have ever done anyway) that the renter is responsible for ANY damage to the vehicle regardless of cause and especially points out that tires are not covered by the rental insurance. And the charge would still post since it is from a previously authorized legitimate transaction.

      1. If the charge posted, the credit card company can reverse it. Discover is very good about this. I don’t care if the agreement says tires are not covered. That is ridiculous. The renter cannot avoid running over a nail he cannot see. The fine print on a lot of so called agreements is ridiculous. I once had a blow out on a tire on a rental car. I purchased a new tire, and when I returned the car, I gave them the old tire and the receipt for the new one I purchased. They reimbursed me.

        1. Good for that rental company. I hope you continue to do business with them because they are apparently one of the better companies.

          But if the agreement says what it says, that’s it. I don’t necessarily agree with every term in a car rental contract, but I know I will be responsible for what the contract says I am. I tend to pick the rental companies that have the least unfriendly terms.

        2. Which company was that? I feel like they deserve open praise for this, and I’ll bet a lot of us would like to patronize this company.

    2. “If anything goes wrong with a rented car, other than a collision caused by the renter, then the renter cannot be charged for it.”

      This is not correct. If the car comes back with something wrong with it (besides a mechanical fault not due to abuse), the renter is assumed to be at fault. Credit card companies are well aware of this, and will not reverse the charges simply because the renter doesn’t like it.

      Somebody vandalizes the car in the middle of the night? You pay. A rock falls out of the back of a truck and smashes the hood? You pay. Shopping cart rams the car? You pay. You can, of course, attempt to receive reimbursement from your own insurance, but the rental company wants no part of that process; they want their check. Whether or not anybody gets around to reimburseing you is not their problem.

      The rental company does not want to play insurance adjuster and do a full investigation to determine “fault” for a particular problem, so they have a blanket policy (which they are allowed to do, since they are the ones that own the car, and they get to write the contract.)

      1. In that case I would put the rental company through hell. A lawsuit in small claims court, a complaint to the attorney general, bad reviews all over the web. These tactics might not result in reimbursement, but the company would have to answer the small claims suit and an inquiry from tha AG.

        1. Sue them for what? Complain to the AG on what grounds? “I think the contract terms aren’t very nice” is not going to be cause for action.

          1. Yes, harassing somebody you don’t like by wasting the time of the courts and Attorney General making complaints you know have no legal merit is a marvelous way of getting what you want.

            *sarcasm*

          2. I have better things to do with my time than waste it on frivolous actions that will not end in my favor. 😉

        2. This happened in Europe. Their courts may not work like ours do.

          It seems to me if they dropped the case with Chris simply contacting them, they may not truly have felt the writer was fully responsible.

  8. So when the tire went flat, what did he do? Where was he? If it couldn’t be repaired, who bought the new tire that’s causing all the consternation? How much did it cost? Unless I missed something, we need some facts here to validate the story. Problems like this, IMHO, are “bad luck”, just like getting bumped from a flight, or arriving to find your hotel closed due to a water main break. It happens, the traveller needs to deal with it. The fact that Enterprise dropped the claim with a little prodding tells me that they really had no idea about the details, they just sent him a bill and hoped he’d pay it. And if they hadn’t been so greedy, he might have. Three cheers for Elliott!

  9. These rental companies sell the cars after a few years. I would never consider buying one because you have no idea about what standard of care such as oil changes was observed. They are also subject to deliberate abuse by some renters. I worked away from home with a guy who delighted in driving over a graded railroad crossing at high speed so that the car bottomed out. I hate to think what damage he did to the suspension, which was probably not detected when he returned the car.

  10. “We can assure and verify that all of our rental vehicles at Heathrow are thoroughly inspected when returned and prior to being re-rented.”

    Then surely they could review their thorough inspection records to verify the exact date and time when the last such inspection, inclusive of the tires, occurred and by whom. And to verify the tire pressure reading at that point in time.

  11. Maybe it would have gone flat in the car rental yard if the nail was in there. There’s no way of knowing for sure about the nail…most people don’t realize until they find out the hard way – as far as I know – any kind of flat, the whole tire is changed. I found this out some months ago. If you don’t take the coverage, you need to use something like AAA to get help, or you get charged for the assistance. Proving that every car is nail free is likely beyond the realm of currently affordable technology. It is unfortunate that it happened so soon. I had a Hertz rental in Houston and it went flat about an hour and a half out of town, but in this case, I believe the nail was picked up in a service station area. So essentially I had the same issue as the OP. I changed the tire myself and just took the car back, where I was charged for a tire. There are a lot of “cost” risks you take when you rent a car, some of them don’t come up very often, like this, but they do come up.

    Maybe the car rental company can cut them a break, but out of a customer service gesture, not an admission of being wrong. The renter can’t prove the nail was in the car tire when he took it either….I’m just saying….

  12. Hertz for one says that renters may be responsible for tire damage so I don’t see why any other company would be different. If a nail hit the car and made a noticeable dent do you think Enterprise would pay for the damage? I voted “No” but I do think the amount was too high. It was nice of Enterprise to drop the entire claim, they didn’t have to do that. The best thing is to try to get the tire patched. If it’s a nail there’s a chance it can be repaired cheaply before you return it. If the tire needs replacing completely, the bill is going to be high.

  13. Actually, if a tire gets punctured near the sidewall, rather that towards the center in the deeper part of the tread, it may easily require replacement rather than repair. There is no way of knowing with certainty when the puncture occurred in this case. Having said that, a punctured tire should fall under “normal wear and tear”. The fact that Enterprise decided to hold the renter responsible is a shame, but well within its authority.

    How different from my experience at the Thrifty Airport rental in Tucson. Several years ago I had a flat tire about 40 miles south of Tucson. I called them, and they were ready to send someone down to me to swap cars. Instead, I told them I’d put on the spare myself, which I did, and when I returned to the rental lot, they had a replacement ready for me, with a full tank and their apologies (!!). I always rent from that location when I’m in Tucson.

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