Help! I got a rental car bill I don’t think I deserve

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By Christopher Elliott

After a grill falls off her rental car, Alamo sends her a bill for $669. Does she have to pay?

Question

I’m hoping you can give me some advice about a damage claim that my car rental company states I am financially responsible for. I rented a car from Alamo in Reno, Nev., recently. The paperwork was signed and initialed as the person at the counter indicated. Then I was escorted to the garage where the cars were kept.

My husband walked around the car and didn’t notice any damage. I drove from the airport rental location directly to our hotel in Reno, where the car was parked for two days. Several days later, when we left Reno to drive to Las Vegas, I noticed that the plastic grill on the front of the car was uneven. My husband inspected and found that it was loose but still connected.

About an hour outside of Las Vegas there was a scraping noise and I heard something drop off the car. Assuming (correctly) that it was the plastic grill, I drove back to retrieve the piece. The next day I called the Reno Alamo location to tell them this piece had fallen off the car.

The mysterious case of the garage-dwelling car damage

I explained that until we drove from Reno to Las Vegas the car had been in the hotel garage, that I was the only driver and there were no accidents to account for any damage. The Alamo representative said there was nothing she could do other than to tell us we were responsible for any damage to the vehicle.

It was obvious that a previous driver had damaged the vehicle and managed to hide that damage. When I pulled into the drop-off lane at Alamo, a representative with his handheld computer loudly asked what we had done to scratch the car up so badly. At that my husband and I got out of the car to ask him to show us what he was yelling about.

He pointed to some swirls in the paint finish that looked like car wash wear. We weren’t even aware of any scratches so we were quite shocked. Then he wrote up an “Express Incident Report” in which we reported the damage.

Now Alamo wants to charge me $669 for the damage. My credit card covered the $250 deductible, but my insurance company won’t cover the rest, saying that I shouldn’t have signed the incident report. How can I reverse this decision? — Mary Okincicas, Chicago

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Answer

This isn’t an easy problem to fix because you signed a form acknowledging your responsibility when you returned the vehicle. (Here is our ultimate guide to renting a car.)

This isn’t the first time I’ve received a complaint like this. I always recommend doing the following things: A pre-rental inspection is always a good idea. Take pictures of the car from every angle and also inside, and if there’s any damage, fill out a pre-rental report before you leave the lot. I also recommend reading all the information to what you agree to. Make sure you get an employee to sign off on the form, and keep the paperwork in a safe place in case you need to refer to it later. (Related: My rental stopped running and now they want me to pay $6,523.)

If you had taken those steps, you wouldn’t be dealing with a $669 bill for minor scratches and a loose grill.
By the way, you can appeal a bill by sending a brief, polite email to one of Alamo’s executives. (Related: ParkWhiz said it didn’t charge me for parking in Seattle — but then it did!)

Just for the record: The terms of your rental are clear. If you take the keys, you accept responsibility for the vehicle. But as it turns out, Alamo had the same problem you did — iffy paperwork. The pictures of the damaged vehicle they sent with the bill didn’t seem to match the one you had rented. My advocacy team and I thought that was enough reason to ask Alamo to give your case another review. (Related: Slimy new car rental tricks you need to know now.)

Alamo offered to zero out the remaining balance on your bill, an offer you accepted.

Did Mary Okincicas deserve to get the bill for damage to her car?

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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.

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