Under cover of darkness, car rental companies can hide a lot

Ever noticed that a lot of frivolous car rental damage claims stories start with: “We picked up our car from a dark garage…”

This Enterprise case begins with, “The garage at the airport was dark.”

Here’s an E-Z case that happened under similar circumstances.

And here’s another dark garage story. Sigh.

All of which brings us to Joyce Newell’s question.

“You advise people to take pics of the cars before driving off the lot,” she says. “That is good advice, which we follow. However, we notice more and more that the lighting in the car rental areas is very poor.”

Newell cites a recent rental as an example. She and her husband rented a car that had just been washed.

“When you take pictures under these conditions, they don’t always show everything,” she says. “And you usually can’t get into the sun until after you exit the checkout point.”

So what’s going on?

Are car rental companies intentionally keeping their garages dark or delivering cars just washed to “cover up blemishes”? That’s an interesting question.

I don’t think anyone is doing this on purpose.

Are they failing to change lightbulbs as quickly as they otherwise might, because there are certain fringe benefits? Only the most disreputable car rental companies would do that, but I wouldn’t rule it out.

The solution: If you have the time, insist on a dry, clean rental car, then drive it into a well-lighted area and take pictures of it before accepting the keys. If the rental company refuses or tells you it’s the “last” car available, tell them you’ll wait for another car, or take your business elsewhere.

The final piece of this puzzle — and one that can result in thousands of dollars of baseless damage claims — is the reassurance you often receive when you do discover preexisting damage.

“When we point out small dings and dents, they are quick to respond that that is just normal wear and tear,” says Newell.

If you get the perfect combination: a wet car in a dark garage with a dismissive agent, you know you’re probably dealing with a shady operator. Don’t walk away — run!

Newell makes an important point. We should be able to trust car rental companies. When an agent hands you the keys to a car, it should be damage free — and the company shouldn’t discourage good-faith efforts to verify the condition of the vehicle.

We should be able to trust that car rental companies won’t try to conceal dings, dents or scratches for the purpose of sending your insurance company a bogus $499 bill.

And if we can’t trust car rental companies, then maybe it’s time to put sensible regulations in place to stop this kind of deception from happening.

Do car rental damage claims need to be regulated by the government?

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