The latest car rental scam: hail damage?

A few years ago, car rental companies made a small but profitable change to their contracts. They said if one of their vehicles was damaged by an Act of God, you were on the hook for the car.

Since then, I’ve received reports from time to time about hail damage claims that may or may not be legit. Usually they get worked out long before I have to get involved — after a little back-and-forth, the claim is quietly dropped because the car rental company can’t be sure the hailstorm happened before or after the drop-off.
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Should I settle this damage claim with National?

Should I pay or not?
Mike Kay needs your help.

A few weeks ago, he rented a car from National in Washington. When he returned the vehicle, an agent showed him a scrape on the passenger side panel (see image, above).
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Did I go all “Incredible Hulk” on my rental car?

Question: I recently rented an SUV from Enterprise in Tenafly, N.J. A manager and I walked around the car before I left the lot. Neither of us saw any damage.
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The Travel Troubleshooter: A “little dent” adds $500 to my car rental bill

Question: We rented a car from Enterprise in Phoenix. When we picked up the car, a representative inspected it with us. My husband noted a couple small marks, but she said we shouldn’t worry because “anything under four inches” was waived.

We drove on some dirt roads, so the car was quite dusty when we returned it and to say the representative eagerly went around the car like Sherlock Holmes looking for clues would be an understatement. She found a small scratch on the left rear bumper, which appeared to be possibly from someone backing into us, as we knew it wasn’t done by our usage.

Before one could blink, we were hauled over to the processing office and our $256 bill jumped to $772 — of course, taken from our credit card without our authorization. Trying to get through to the rep assigned to handle our claim is impossible as she never is available on the phone. But her assistant was very helpful in informing us that the bill for repairing what he even admitted from the photos was a small, quite insignificant flaw was more than $500.

When I challenged him on how in the world a small dent could cost $440 he said actually anything under a thousand from a shop is a bargain.

This is a total preplanned scam and the way the check-in rep went over ever square inch of the car with such enthusiasm there is little doubt these folks are being cut in for finding things wrong with the cars.

We are reasonable people and understand that even if someone backed into us if there was a small scratch we would be willing to pay a small amount to cover what is fair for repairing it. But more than $500, including an “administrative fee” is totally unacceptable. — Carri Schoeller, Orlando, Fla.

Answer: Your suspicions are understandable. Why would one employee waive you off, while another one goes over the car with a fine-tooth comb? And why deduct the $500 from your credit card immediately when the full repair costs aren’t known yet? Whatever happened to the damage estimate? Weren’t you entitled to receive a repair bill, detailing the work that had been done on your rental?
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Enterprise: “Misinterpretations” over loss of use fees are creating confusion

Since my last conversation with Roger Van Horn, the vice president for corporate loss control at Enterprise Holdings, a lot of questions have been raised about one of the most controversial damage-related fees: loss of use charges. I decided to put some of those questions to him in a telephone interview yesterday.
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Case dismissed: “There was no possibility of any damage having occurred”

Peggy Suvak’s car rental started routinely enough. When she picked up the car from an Enterprise location in Indianpolis, an associate walked around the vehicle to check for damage and seemed to have “no concerns.”

“We drove the car directly home and put it in the garage,” she says. “There was no possibility of any damage having occurred.”

But when her husband used the car the next day, he noticed damage to the right rear door area.

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Ridiculous or not? Just ignore those dings and dents – your bill is in the mail

With all the recent stories about questionable damage claims on rental cars, it’s no surprise that motorists like Mike Weaver would insist on inspecting his vehicle before renting it. Or that he expects to note every ding and dent before he drives away.

If you’re not familiar with what some call the ding-and-dent scam, here’s a primer: You rent a car, and for whatever reason, pre-existing damage isn’t recorded in your contract. Maybe it’s a dark parking garage. Maybe you just don’t see it.
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The Travel Troubleshooter: You didn’t damage this car – no, wait, you did

Question: I rented a car through Enterprise at Chicago’s Midway Airport. I was taken to a vehicle that had a damaged fender. I called this situation to the attention of the rental attendant and he said, “No worries, I’ll just note it on the contract.”

When I returned the vehicle, all check-in procedures ran normally, and I was sent on my way. The next day, I received an unsigned email from “Damage Recovery Unit” asking for my insurance company information.

I immediately contacted the agency by phone. A representative advised me to email them a copy of my original contract, which noted the damage. So I did. The next day I received another email from Damage Recovery Unit that said, “claim and invoice information was on the way.”

I phoned the Midway location from where I had rented the vehicle. A representative at that location claimed not to have a copy of the contract stating, “we don’t keep those on file here.” Within three days, I received another email from Damage Recovery Unit, with an estimate and an invoice.

Clearly, no one had read my letter or looked at the contract attached. I couldn’t get through to Damage Recovery Unit by phone, and the Midway location, which I was able to reach, didn’t have any paperwork on my case.

I think I am the target of what may well have been a very lucrative summer vacation scam set up by the rental agency and this mysterious DRU agency. What do you think? — Janice Stickley White, El Dorado Hills, Calif.

Answer: I think I’m getting tired of answering questions about fraudulent damage claims on rental cars. Obviously, if there was pre-existing damage that was noted on your rental car, then Enterprise should have signed off on your car, thanked you for your business and let you be on your way.
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The Travel Troubleshooter: I signed the damage form — now they want me to pay

Question: My wife and I rented a minivan from Enterprise. Before signing the contract, an Enterprise representative and I looked around the vehicle for damage. We noticed some damage on the bumper in the rear of the vehicle and noted it on the contract.

I took good care of the minivan and we never parked in an area where the cars were close. I took extra special care of the rental and even vacuumed it before returning it.

When we returned the minivan, a young Enterprise employee inspected the interior and exterior. He noticed a light scratch on the rear bumper and asked the assistant manager — the same person who inspected the car when we picked it up — to take a look as well before documenting what he saw.

The damage was so minor that the assistant manager had to kneel down to get a closer look. Even if I had noticed this minor scratch during our initial inspection, I probably would not have pointed it out.

I asked to speak with the assistant manager’s boss and he informed me that it was simply a formality and that the light scratch could potentially be buffed out. He also mentioned that he would call me if a claim were necessary. I never got that call.

They did, in fact, complete a damage report and like an idiot, I signed it. The report simply states the damaged part of the vehicle as a long scratch and that I was not aware of its source.

A few weeks later, I received a letter in the mail from Enterprise requesting that we contact our insurance company to inform them of our claim or to contact them so that they may communicate the estimate for the damages to the minivan.

I believe the damage that was observed when I returned the vehicle was already there before I rented it. But I signed the damage report. Will it be hard to prove my side of the story with this error on my part? — Leigh Barber, Chicago

Answer: It depends on what you signed. If the form said you accepted responsibility for the scratch, then you’re responsible for it. But the manager’s assurance that it could be “buffed out” and his promise to call you if a claim were necessary, left you with the impression that the form was nothing more than a formality.
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Can this trip be saved? Hey, you missed a scratch on your rental car

This is the front bumper of Jeffrey Scheid’s rental car in Reno. See anything? Yeah, neither do I.

But if you look at the bottom of the bumper, you’ll see “scratches” for which Enterprise is charging him an extra $500. Scheid is suspicious. So am I.
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