A surprise $600 bill for my Mexico car rental

LDProd/Shutterstock
LDProd/Shutterstock
Arjun Aiyer receives a surprise bill for an extra $600 after renting a car in Mexico. The company alleges the vehicle was damaged while Aiyer was driving it. But where’s the proof?

Question: We recently rented a car from Thrifty for a week at Cancun airport. We were quoted a rate of $136. The estimate at pick-up time, with mandatory accident insurance and one additional driver, was $371 for the week, which I accepted and signed.

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One or two days later, while driving on the highway, the car overheated and stalled. Obviously, they had given us a car with very low radiator coolant. We called Thrifty road service and asked for a replacement car, which they delivered about three hours later, ruining our afternoon excursion.

The replacement car had many dings and scratches, which we pointed out to the person who delivered it and had him document it.
When I turned in this car at the end of the week, Thrifty asked me to sign an accident report. I insisted that there was no accident and that they were at fault for renting us a car without coolant. They insisted I fill out a report, so I just wrote on the form that there was no accident but, rather, overheating due to lack of coolant.

On the rental agreement, the employee at the check-out counter wrote, “It was not (an) accident. It was just overheated and there is no charge to customer.”

A few weeks later when I received my American Express statement, I saw that Thrifty had charged $1,004 for the rental. I opened a dispute claim with Amex for the additional $600 or so charged and sent them a letter explaining the circumstances. I also called Thrifty in USA and they referred me to the rental company in Cancun. With the help of a Spanish-speaking friend, I called them and the manager gave us the run-around and told us the employee in Mexico was no longer with Thrifty.

About three weeks ago I received a set of documents from Thrifty customer service, including a hand-written form with an Amex logo and my signature, both scanned and pasted I believe, stating I accept charges for the damage estimate to the radiator. I don’t recall signing any Amex form at Thrifty when I turned the car in, especially since I insisted there was no accident.

At this point I am frustrated and mad with Thrifty for being fraudulently charged $600 on my rental, and I’m appealing to you for help. — Arjun Aiyer, Oakland, Calif.

Answer: Nice work keeping the paperwork on this case. Even a handwritten note from an employee is enough to cast doubt on a $600 repair bill sent to you long after you returned your rental.

If Thrifty had legitimate claim — and I’m not saying that it didn’t — there was a right way to handle it. The company should have asked you to acknowledge the damage by filling out a report. You didn’t fill out a report; instead, both you and an employee documented the fact that the car broke down.

Car rental companies have been taking an increasingly hard-line position on damage to their vehicles. It doesn’t matter what happens to the car while you’re renting it — if it breaks, you pay for it. That seems unreasonable, since vehicles can break down for all kinds of reasons which may or may not have anything to do with the driver.

Since Thrifty had already punted your complaint to its Cancun location, I thought a better strategy might be to contact American Express to dispute your charge. Although merchants can retroactively charge you for items (called a “late billing” in the trade) they also have to provide adequate documentation. I thought Amex might want to have a look at the paperwork.

I contacted American Express on your behalf, and it reversed the $600 charge.

Do you think Thrifty's claim against Arjun Aiyer was legitimate?

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82 thoughts on “A surprise $600 bill for my Mexico car rental

  1. LOL at the poll question. Sometimes we get softballs.

    Kudos to the OP for documenting everything, even on the replacement car.

  2. Pictures, pictures, pictures …

    Did the OP inspect the radiator for damage (the article doesn’t say)? And did the OP try to take pictures (I know radiators are not easily photographed) “in case”? If not it becomes a he-said-they-said.

    And on a related note, do we now have to look under the hood? What’s next, a mechanical inspection (like when we want to buy a used car)?

    A grim looking future for car renters …

    1. I don’t think a renter should have to do a mechanical inspection of a car before he can safely rent it without having to concern themselves with mechanical problems. The renter rents in good faith, presuming the car is in good condition, if it is not the car should not be rented. It is the responsibility of the company renting the car to provide good cars in good mechanical condition.

      1. I agree with you 100%.

        However, there are multiple articles detailing how cars are rented with bald tires that the rental company charges you to replace when they go flat, damage that was pre existing (and probably already paid for) that the rental company wants the current renter to pay for and so on. So I don’t find it difficult to believe that the rental companies won’t rent out vehicles that are marginally maintained. Not with true issues that would cause the driver to crash the vehicle, but just bad enough that the company can charge the renter when they break down. Take the multiple articles posted on this very site about clutch replacement charges on European rentals. I doubt the rental company is not aware that a clutch is failing, but if they can blame it on the renter and have the replacement paid for, then why not? It sure helps the bottom line.

        1. I had not thought about tires. If there were a blow out due to the condition of the tires, someone or many could get seriously hurt or worse. Now, would that be the fault of the rental co. or the renter.

        2. We have to be careful about drawing too many conclusions. By definition, the articles here are about problems. The overwhelming majority of customers rent issue-free. We never hear about those because they are, again, issue-free.

          I’ve been renting cars since the late 80s, and regularly since 1999. Zero problems all of the US. So, I’m not prepared to tarnish the entire industry

          1. I rent at least once a week, sometimes two. I have had issues with cars exactly 3 times in the past 20 years and all were quickly corrected by the rental company at no additional cost to me and no issues at return time. So, yes, the entire industry is not out to get us renters. However, there are a few members of the auto rental world who make us renters worry.

          2. Mark, you can’t tell us an inspiring anecdote like that and then…

            Not tell us the companies you rent with. Jerk.

            Thanks for the big letdown.

          3. Sorry.

            I rent with Hertz almost exclusively and Avis when I have to these days. All the issues I have had were with Hertz rentals:

            One where I rented a car and they tried to charge me for damage which had been noted on the scratch and dent form and then rented from the same location a month later and got the same car which they again tried to bill me for the same damage. Scratch and dent form saved me.

            Second was when I rented at PHL and the car had a tree branch jammed into the right front wheel well. Never even left the lot and they tried to blame me for it. After explaining that I couldn’t drive the car because of the tree branch, I got a different car.

            Third was at LAS. Brought the car back full of fuel and they wanted to charge me for 10 gallons for driving approximately 20 miles (to the hotel and back). I went with the employe and watched them attempt to put gas in the car which they could not do.

            Hope this adds to your reading enjoyment 😉

          4. Hilarious. I would have insisted upon getting comped in some way and written in. In all three cases, the employees were either intentionally trying to rip you off or were amazingly inept. In the case of the scratch and dent, it was clear that they had no intention of fixing the damage (if the scratch was sufficient to try to ping you for, twice, why didn’t they repair it?)

            Considering they were 3 incidents in a long time and fixed, Hertz still seems ok to me. I consider them a first choice when I (have) to rent.

          5. I rent almost exclusively from Enterprise for my business rentals and have had absolutely no issues. On another comment i had made previously, someone astutely pointed out that business rentals most likely get the best cars, the best service, and the greatest chance of avoiding a scam. They don’t want to piss of an entire company… but one individual doesn’t matter a whole lot.

          6. I don’t rent as often as you do, probably, and I’ve been to several rental places without issue. One was a small little car dealership that seemed to rent out their sitting inventory (I dropped a french fry between the seats one week and a month later, it was still there. Ewwww! But the price was right!)

            Using priceline, I got great values on rentals from Hertz and Avis. Never an issue and very nice folks to rent from. In and out of the office quick.

          7. Respectfully, Carver, it only takes ONE of these scenarios to seriously dampen a renter’s travel enthusiasm. $500-$1000 is not an easy hit to take. And perhaps more importantly, the stress associated with renting because we have to be ever vigilant and adamant in protecting our rental experience.

            Inspect everything. Take pictures WITH timestamps. Insist on agency documentation of EVERY ding and scratch. Get on our knees and look up to see the body of the car from that angle. And now tires, radiators, clutches, etc.

            Once again, it only takes one or two of these “charges” to significantly impact one’s travel …

          8. I see it very differently. I do not believe that we can reasonably nor logically conclude that the car rental industry is this hotbed of corruption from these stories that we have here. They are by definition not representative of the car renting experience as they relate only to those people with disputes. While I do not have numbers, I can only conclude from my experiences that these circumstances are rare. Accordingly, it is not appropriate to tarnish an entire industry. By contrast, a more legitimate assumption is that they try hard to upsell you useless crap such as the prepaid fuel option. This happens routinely.

            Yes, one bad instance can truly kill your travel.. That’s true for any number of things. I got food poisoning in Brussels at a four star American Hotel. I was down for the count for two days. Misery unending. But the magnitude of my suffering does not permit me to draw any negative conclusions about Brussels food establishments.

            I submit that its the frequency of an occurrence that tarnishes an industry.

          9. The issue for me is not one of labeling the industry as a “hotbed of corruption”, but rather the degree of exposure. It’s far too easy for car rental agencies to claim damage, charge credit cards and ding credit.

            Hotels and airlines are in a more difficult position to do so. A hotel may fraudulently charge for the use of the mini bar, but it’s indeed rare and not a significant amount. An airline may not cover the cost of a missed connection or charge for a schedule change, but those are not generally large sums of money.

            What concerns me here, as I read the stories on this site, is the ease with which auto rental damage claims surface and the amount associated with them. Rare or not, if I have to fight even once over a damage claim for which I am not responsible it is a significant stressor. That, and the reluctance of some agencies to document our list of chips-and-dents is at the heart of my point.

          10. So I think that we are viewing the major issue in this thread differently. I’m coming at it from the perspective of whether the car rental industry is sketchy. Many posters have opined, and the tone of the articles, is that the car rental industry is fundamentally dishonest, e.g. fake damage claims, multiple claims for the same damage, European clutch scams, etc. That’s what I’m challenging. The point that I was making, to which you responded, was that this behavior is not normative and should not unfairly tarnish an entire industry.

            Personally, I’m much more concerned about airplane travel than car rental agencies. Miss your return flight and you could be stuck paying for a walk up fare, plus hotels and meals, which together will be much more than your car insurance deductible.

          11. I share your perspective about the industry. I do not believe that it is “fundamentally dishonest”. To your second point, I am far less concerned than you about flights, as delays are a part of the business and to a great extent beyond my control. And while there may dishonesty in the compensation when airlines shuffle us around, auto rentals scare me more as they can, so to speak, “shoot first and ask questions later” (i.e., they can take my money AFTER WHICH I have to contest it). With flights, at least I can argue BEFORE I cough up my dough.

  3. One more reason why I avoid renting cars outside of the US whenever possible, especially in a major resort area like Cancun. Hell, I took a trip down to south beach a few weeks ago to escape the frozen north and quickly found that a car in South Beach was far more of a hassle than it was worth. I think i spent the same for parking as the rental.

    1. Cabs may seem expensive, but after all these stories I would no longer rent a car unless I budget in the cost of the “official” add-on insurance, and I will no longer rent overseas under any circumstances whatever. The OP did, it seems, buy the add-on insurance.

      1. One strategy I have been using is to book the cheapest car possible then negotiate for an upgrade at the counter. For instance, on the aforementioned trip to Florida I really wanted a convertible. When I got to the Alamo counter with my midsize res I mentioned the convertible upgrade and managed to negotiate down to $15/day. The guy originally wanted more than 3 times that. I assured him that I used to work for a rental agency so I knew the song and dance. In the end I got the convertible for far less than if I was to book it online. AND the agent got credit for the upgrade. win-win.

  4. As far as the radiator coolant issue with the first car, if the car was “obviously” that low on fluid at the time of rental it would not have been “one or two days later” before it overheated and stalled. (And I would have remembered exactly how many days after rental this would have occurred if it ruined my entire afternoon.) In Cancun the average temperature would cause a car low on radiator fluid to overheat probably between the airport and the hotel the very first day. It was probably full when rented but had a slow leak either in the radiator or a hose causing it to run low after the couple days of driving. This brings up the question of when the cooling system developed the leak and how. Was there a rock thrown up into the engine compartment when driving that caused a leak? And was that while the OP had the car or was it already damaged by a prior renter? If the OP did cause the damage that impacted the cooling system, no matter how careful of a driver, then he was responsible for the repair. But the way in which this was handled including forging documents, makes me side with the OP. I am glad he got his additional charge reversed.

    1. Thank you!! I was thinking the same thing but was afraid to post. The coolant system on a car is a close loop. There’s no opportunity for it to just “run low” during normal use (unlike the oil system that does have opportunities). Glad the OP got his money back solely due to the attempt to falsify documents but I completely disagree with him that it couldn’t have been his fault.

    2. I don’t have the technical expertise on cars to be able to answer that. If it happened as you said, the OP should be held 100% responsible for the cost of repair.

    3. There are a lot of things that could be wrong with a car that would cause it to overheat days after renting that would have nothing to do with the current renter. There could be a leaking head gasket (possibly the result of an earlier overheating incident) that would force coolant out of the engine (replacing it with exhaust) and eventually causing the car to overheat. The radiator could be clogged and work marginally so that it would fail on a particularly hot day. The same could be true of the engine fan. etc.
      The point is that the rental company has no evidence that the renter damaged the car. If they can produce the evidence, then fine, but they shouldn’t be able to just arbitrarily bill for it.

      1. Or a hose could have ruptured while they were driving. Impossible to tell. I thought the line in the letter was pretty comical about how it was “obvious” the car had been low on coolant. There’s lots of things that can cause that and they’re not always that obvious but most tend to all be really bad.

      2. My wife just had a problem with her radiator coolant pump: It was leaking. She noticed that it would get hot if she accelerated and took it to the mechanic who replaced the pump and coolant and all is well.

    4. As others have said, there are many reasons a car may overhead later — a simple one is a bad radiator cap. I had a car with a cracked one that overheated twice on me a few weeks apart (refilled coolant between). As I prepared for $$$ head gasket replacement, I happened to look at the radiator cap, and saw its gasket was cracked. $5 later everything was fixed; never a problem again. When the radiator system isn’t fully pressurized (due to cap, hose crack, etc), the coolant boils much sooner and escapes to the recovery tank, overflowing that in my case. When it overheated depended on how much actually escaped and the outside temperature that day.

      I’m okay with renters being responsible for actual damage that they cause, and obvious collision damage that can be assessed visually before and after a rental is a sign of that, but when it’s not possible to determine who/when/what happened or whether it was due to maintenance or some incidental road hazard, that’s just the cost of doing business and the rental company should take care of it.

      1. i’ve had the experience with the bad radiator cap simple replacement, and then again with a bad tune up!
        my own car had been in the shop for a tune up, and i kept overheating on my trip from denver to dallas… i don’t know exactly what they did wrong, but the second time i had to stop to refill the radiator, the “gas jockey” just risked the steam bath and took off the radiator cap to add some water.
        an hour later, i was left with an overheated radiator in the middle of a desolate stretch of NM highway.
        lesson learned – cool the radiator before removing the cap, or everything is going to boil dry no matter how much water you add.

  5. I too was wondering about the length of time between the leaving the airport and the overheating. A slow leak would cause this several days later. So where had he gone in the meantime? And, after getting roundly criticized for using “I do not recall” in a comment I made several weeks ago I now wonder about the way he phrased his statement about the signed AMEX form. Regular commenters were quick to tell me they see a big difference between “I did not” and “I do not recall”–one being a statement of fact and the other can be a dodge. Glad this was resolved in his favor as rental car damage claims are very much a racket, but still left with questions.

    1. It sounds like a dodge, but it isn’t always. Sometimes you just can’t remember. But that whole thing sounds odd to me. First off, it doesn’t sound like it was an actual bill but just a form saying they were responsible. Why wouldn’t such a form be on the rental company letterhead? And no matter whose form it was, it wouldn’t be entirely hand-written except for a company logo, which is what the description makes it sound like.

  6. One word about AMEX disputes. AMEX handles disputes much differently than most card issuers. When I worked for a rental agency, AMEX would reverse charges for damage simply because a renter didn’t sign a damage report. So when I had a renter who dropped the keys at an overnight drop and I arrived Monday morning to a shattered windshield, I charged the customer for it. Because the customer wasn’t there to sign a damage report and didn’t feel like they should have been charged, AMEX reversed it (even though our rental agreements specifically gave us authorization for charging a credit card for such matters). This is one reason why many smaller businesses don’t accept AMEX (in addition to the higher fees). The dispute process is too heavily slanted towards the cardholder.

    1. While I understand your point that AMEX may be leaning too favorably to the customer, I must observe that there is no proof in this case that it’s the customer’s fault the windshield is smashed. It could have been smashed between the time that the customer dropped off the vehicle and you arrived to inspect it.

      Because of all the shenanigans by rental companies recently to repeatedly charge for damage such as scratches (which they most likely do not fix and then pocket the funds and charge to another customer), etc. it undermines sympathy for the industry for situations you just described. Quite frankly, I’ll go out of my way to avoid renting a car and would rather take a taxi or bus if possible. In addition to the problems with the industry, being on vacation in a strange country or even state makes one a prime target for local law enforcement for revenue generation.

      1. Actually your example is wrong. Most contracts state that if you leave a vehicle after hours, you’re responsible for any damage that occurs until its checked in. So, if someone hits the vehicle in the parking lot after you drop it off, you own the damage not the rental company. It stinks but that’s the way it is.

        1. Agreed. I merely stated there is no proof but certainly the contract could still make it his fault. It’s possible the customer did drop it off in good condition in good faith. ThoroughlyAmused’s statement makes me definitely happy to be an AMEX customer and to think twice before engaging in businesses that don’t accept it.

          For the record, with small merchants and family run businesses, I use cash if possible to make it easier for them.

          1. It really doesn’t make a difference. The after hours policy is the way it is for a reason. It’s impossible to determine when the damage happened with an after hours drop off, and the unfortunate fact is that the rental companies can not rely on customers to be honest about it. I try to avoid after hours returns for this reason.

            And I had all the proof I needed. I had proof that the car was rented with an undamaged windshield. The car was returned with a damaged windshield. Case closed. The renter just didn’t feel like paying for it.

          2. Nonsense. It’s possible to determine the damage happened after the car was dropped off. It merely requires a smart phone or even a regular camera and a dated newspaper. In that particular case, the customer _IS_ being honest about it because it’s clear he didn’t cause the damage (unless he drove to the lot to appear to drop off the car then drove away to purposely damage it and then bring back.)

            I also find your position amusing because it sounds like the rental companies “can’t” trust the customers but it appears that in most cases it’s the rental car companies engaging in shady practices of hitting customers for undercarriage damage that it difficult to document in the garage or scratches the car company has no intention of repairing and “loss of use” when the car companies simply rented the car out that day.

            All that said, I agree with you that after hour drop off is a bad idea because we can’t trust the rental car companies. Heck, even you don’t trust them. All the more reason, ironically, to avoid small car rental companies that refuse to take AMEX or companies that have a bad reputation on Elliott and elsewhere.

          3. Actually, the vast majority of damage claims are handled properly. CE even says so himself. Read here: http://www.autorentalnews.com/channel/rental-operations/article/story/2012/05/bogus-claims-hurt-the-industry-s-reputation(dot)aspx

            And yes, it would APPEAR that that’s the case. No consumer advocate is going to blog about all the cases of a customer lying about damage, and no rental employee who wants to keep their job is going to do so. Do you really base your opinions of rental agencies off of a few hand picked articles off a website (whose author has a job to tell about when things went wrong)?

          4. I agree that reading a consumer website to see if an industry is having customer service problems is like watching the 6 PM news to see if a city isn’t a firepit with shootings everywhere. (My wife watches it, I think she enjoys being scared as compared to riding a roller coaster.)

            Have a good weekend.

          5. To you as well! May the margaritas begin to flow soon (I know they’ll start for me momentarily) 😛

          6. Actually, the vast majority of damage claims are handled properly. CE even says so himself. I tried posting the link but it ended up in moderation. Google “Bogus claims hurt the industry’s reputation.” Chris wrote about it in Auto Rental News.

            We’ve heard stories on here where the grill fell off a rental car and fthe customer didn’t want to pay for the damage. For me, that’s pretty cut and dry, but many posters were claiming that it was normal wear and tear. I wonder if they had valeted their personal cars and that happened if they would feel the same way.

            Editing to add: yes, it would APPEAR that that’s the case. No consumer advocate is going to blog about all the cases of a customer lying about damage, and no rental employee who wants to keep their job is going to do so. Do you really base your opinions of rental agencies off of a few hand picked articles off a website (whose author has a job to tell about when things went wrong)?

        2. This issue has come up before here (no surprise) (I googled for after hours rental drop off and a 2012 article came up). And our resident esquire provided an opinion:

          “Carver Clark Farrow
          Wayne Hetherington
          •2 months ago
          I suspect the law would take a position in-between. Throughlyamused
          makes a valid point about proof. However, Wayne also makes a valid
          point about being delivered to the enterprise lot.
          If the returned car is damage free, can be proved that any damage
          occurred being returned to the car lot, and the after hours return lot
          has the same level of security as cars returned during business hours, I
          think a judge would side with Wayne. However, questions of proof are a
          separate issue.”

          In other words, when returning a car to a lot, take pictures and email them with a timestamp. Also, contracts aren’t always enforceable. “Sir, we’re here to take your liver.” “But I’m using it!” “What’s this we have here?” “An organ donor’s card?” “Need we say more!?!?”

          Another observation about AMEX: They have a well priced rental car insurance program. $25 (or less for some states) for secondary rental car insurance for the whole duration of the rental.

          1. So because one lawyer said so that’s the case? That same lawyer has also made the claim that rental agencies are only entitled to Loss of Use if every other car is unavailable. The Colorado Supreme Court, however, though differently, arguing that rental companies have every right to collect for LOU, and that the clause “regardless of fleet utilization” is enforceable. So no, in Colorado, the rental company can charge you for LOU even if they have 17,432 other cars available.

            Editing to add: The $25 AMEX insurance is a great deal BUT they may not cover LOU if the rental co. has other cars available. This is in contradiction to court rulings. It’s also primary, not secondary.

          2. My point was that the car wasn’t even loss of use if the vehicle’s repairs had never been made and the car had been available for use. Proving this is another matter. In theory, it can be proved simply by going to the airport and seeing if the car is in the lot and hadn’t been repaired.

            It’s scams, repeat, scams such as this that are giving the car rental industry a bad reputation.

          3. If the car was never fixed then of course no LOU should be charged. I will say from personal experience that at my rental agency we sold the cars after a certain period of time and since cosmetic issues can devalue the vehicle we got them fixed immediately. Of course, not every rental agency operates the same way.

          4. Why get them fixed immediately? Wouldn’t it be just as effective to fix all the dents and scratches before sale?

            Disclosure: I did scratch a rental car once. A good sharpie took care of it but I also used touch up pens from Advance Auto on my own car.

          5. Because when you’re paying $40+ a day to rent a car you expect a car in good condition. Many business renters are driving clients around in rental cars. It just wouldn’t be good business practice to have cars with lots of major cosmetic issues.

          6. Absolutely. When I’m out of town on business, my rental car needs to be perfect. Its all about image.

          7. Actually at least one other senior attorney on the blog opined similarly that the Colorado case is an outlier, that it deviated from standard Loss of Use requirements. That still leaves 48 other states which disagree. (We always exclude Louisiana)

          8. Happy friday Carver!

            I did some googling and found that the Amex Premium coverage DOES cover loss of use, but requires the insurance companies to provide logs to prove their claim (hint, hint, no scamming and renting the car out anyway!)

            So if the rental agency refuses to provide the logs so AMEX will pay the claim, then they could try to charge my AMEX. Oh, wait, I could refuse the charge! So looks like I won’t be using companies that don’t take AMEX… (And if they want to sue me, they better bring their logbook and repair receipts…)

          9. I just don’t get it. If I hit your personal car and it’s my fault I have to provide you with the value of a replacement vehicle. Even if you live next to the subway station, or you take a company shuttle, or if you have 4 different cars, you still are entitled to the value of the replacement vehicle. Why do renters (and their insurance companies) not owe rental companies the same?

          10. I might be able to help explain that.

            The idea of civil law is to put you in the same position you would have been in had the accident, injury, etc. happened. With your personal car, even if you don’t use it, you might. You might want to make a quick run to the grocery store, or a restaurant, etc. Thus, you have the option. If your car is out of commission because I hit it, you lose that option, unless I replace the car.

            By contrast suppose you have 10 identical cars which always rent for $100 a day (just for simplicity’s sake) on your rental lot. I damage one and it’s out for a week. If you only rent 6 cars each day, whether you have the 10th car available that I damaged and kept out of commission for a week you still make the same $4200. But if you get
            Loss of Use, you’d make a $700 windfall as you effectively rented out 7 cars, when you would only have rented out 6.

            By contrast, if you rented out 9 cars a day, and couldn’t rent out the 10th because it was out of commission, then my actions cost you $900, the money you would have made from renting the 10th car.

            Of course, the example is very simplified, but that’s the general principle that Loss of Use is only applicable in a sold out situation.

          11. You use an oversimplified example which rarely if ever reflects reality to prove your point. Not every car is interchangeable from a customer’s perspective. If you booked a fullsize and come in on a delayed flight and the rental agency says, “sorry, the last renter returned the Camry damaged, but we have this great Fiat for you”, are you just going to accept it without protest? Or are you going to reject that car and go to a different agency and then try to force agency #1 to pay you the difference? Common sense and personal experience tell me most renters will take option #2. You can spin it however you’d like, but the reality is that the rental company takes a loss in this situation because the Camry was damaged.

            The Rental companies deliberately keep their lots sitting tight because cars sitting there not being rented cost them money in depreciation. The idea that they have thousand of cars stockpiled somewhere just waiting to be rented is bogus.

            And if the idea is to put the claimant in the same position they were before the accident, what difference does it make whether the claimant is a person or a rental car company? If you own 4 Mercedes and I hit one of them, you’re entitled to the value of a replacement vehicle even though you have 3 other vehicles you can use. Meaning you can opt to just take the money that my insurance company would have paid for the rental and pocket it. That’s a windfall for you, and people do in fact exercise that option. And no one cries foul or calls them scammers or tries to argue that since they have other cars available for use they don’t have to provide the value of a replacement vehicle.

          12. Consider then: The rental agency has 100 full sized cars and whatever other cars in its fleet. If 98 full sized cars are rented in any given day, leaving 2 full sized car available for rental. If I damage one, the rental agency did not turn away anyone who wanted to rent a full sized car. We know that because at all times it had one full sized car available for rental.

            The reason behind the personal v. business distinction is as follows. Business analysis is always dollars and cents. It’s measured in purely monetary terms. Again simplified: a claim only exists if your action causes either a monetary loss to a business, or an improper gain to you Personal analysis however permits much more warm and fuzzy nonmonetary issues such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, etc. That’s why personal injury attorneys exists.

            Thus, a comparison between personal and business must take into account the stark distinction between the two. In the case of loss of use, if the car rental company can show that having the car out of commission costs it money, then it is certainly entitled to loss of use.

            The only real question is what’s required to substantiate the loss.

          13. But providing a replacement vehicle when you damage someone else’s property doesn’t have anything to do with pain and suffering, emotional distress, etc. It’s legally recognized that if I were to hit your vehicle, I and by extension my insurance co. is responsible for providing a replacement vehicle. It makes no difference whether you live next to a bus stop, bike trail, or if you have 5 other cars available to use. If I damage your vehicle and you lose the ability to lose that vehicle, you have the right to be compensated for it.

            What I still don’t understand is how someone can sign a legal document stating they agree to compensate the rental company for LOU regardless of fleet utilization if the car is damaged, and then argue that since the rental company has other cars available and the fact that they’re a corporation means that they (the customer) can ignore any agreement they entered into. If a car is in the shop, there is no possible way it is producing revenue. I mean, the rental companies surely have lawyers working for them. I find it hard to believe that they would insert that clause if it was 100% unenforceable and went against past legal precedents.

            I’d be interested to see past legal precedents where the courts struck down LOU on the basis that a rental company had to prove that every other car was rented. Maybe it exists.

            The only ruling I’m aware of is the Colorado ruling. BTW, the Colorado court awarded Purco over $250K in legal fees. This was over less than $400 in LOU fees that the renter was willing to pay but didn’t under State Farm’s advisement. One of the reasons that they were ordered to pay legal fees was that the courts found that State Farm intentionally dragged the case on because they were hoping for a legal precedent in Colorado and elsewhere for not paying LOU fees.

          14. You have good questions. I’ll answer the ones that I can

            The pain and suffering was only an example to highlight the different analysis that is used, specifically the pure monetary transaction v. non-monetary.

            In a commercial transaction, the legal framework is compensatory damage. Compensatory
            damage is to place the non-breaching party in as good a position as it
            would have been had the breaching party fully performed (i.e. not damaged the car). But a windfall
            places the non-breaching party in a better position. That’s a no-no. A contract where one side hopes the other doesn’t perform doesn’t sit right with the court. There is a maxim in law that windfalls are prohibited. A windfall is more profits than contemplated by the contract. That violates the basic precepts that compensatory damage is based on, i.e. compensation, not profit. Otherwise, we end up with the perverse result, that it’s in the best interest of the car rental agency to have its renters damage the cars as it effectively guarantees the car becomes revenue producing.

            Regarding the legal document, a contract must confirm to the laws in order to be valid. The reality is the a large corporation with a fleet of attorneys can be very unfair to consumers. Thus we have various protection laws. We see this often with employment contracts. Courts will not enforce contracts which are unfair or against public policy. That’s why you can’t work for less than minimum wage, even if you sign a contract. (My colleague made a great living because recent immigrant restaurant owners just didn’t get that)

            And yes, attorneys put things in contracts all the time that are not enforceable. I won’t. I think that’s sketchy. But attorneys do that because you have a) the folks who feel bound by it even if its unenforceable and b) the folks who don’t know any better.

            If State Farm behaved badly in court, e.g. use the court for an improper purpose, then they should pay legal fees.

          15. Sorry to inform you but court rulings like that of the CO Supreme Court trump AMEX policies. AMEX can require whatever they want but if the courts rule that “regardless of fleet utilization” is enforceable, the rental co. can charge the customer for LOU regardless of what AMEX says.

            The fleet logs have nothing to do with whether that particular car was rented out again. The fact that the car is in the shop getting fixed is evidence that that specific car was in a non-revenue producing state.

      2. The shenanigans are what make the news. 99% of rental transactions go without a hitch. Rental car damage claims are a lot like parking tickets; NO ONE likes paying for rental car damage, so when a rental company makes a claim lots of people automatically assume it’s a scam. When I worked for a rental company people would lie all the time to try to get out of paying for damage. We just don’t hear about those cases.

        1. Fair enough. I’ve also heard stories of people putting water, repeat, water into the tank in an attempt to get out of paying for gas and then when it breaks down on the way to return, calling for roadside assistance.

        2. I actually agree with you. As I mentioned to someone else, we only hear about rentals that have had issues. If the rental is issue free, and I suspect 99%+ are, it never gets posted. I’ve been renting all over the US since college and I’ve never has an issue. If these scams were rampant, surely I would have been dinged at least once.

          My only ding was a wrong fuel charge which was sorted out over the phone in under five minutes. When I ID’ed the gas station that I filled up with, they didn’t even ask for written proof.

  7. In the days of smartphones, snap photos of any damage before you drive away in a rental car. I’ve had problems after renting cars at Cancun — they try to scare you into buying CDW when your credit card covers it. (Remember, you do need Mexican liability insurance!) I got a $200 credit by complaining about the sales tactics to Hertz regional manager out of Miiami. Also, be careful of low light situations (such as at DC’s Union Station) when you can’t really see existing damage on a car.

  8. Who voted yes?

    I had a similar thing happen in Cancun, complete with a fake bill, it was a while ago but I think it was Thrifty too. I didn’t have a break down either, it was a normal rental where everyhtign went well. They just chared a whoel lot more than the form I signed. I disputed the additional charge, and they submitted a cut-and-paste bill with my signature and different charges to my credit card company. Fortunate I kept the carbon copy duplicate of the copy I signed when I paid, and after sending that in the credit card company sided with me.

    1. That’s not just fake, but mail and wire fraud. Since Thrifty is an American firm, then the feds should definitely get involved. You should have contacted the FBI.

  9. I want to know who the 5 people who voted yes. I have to assume they are liberals who don’t know the value of a dollar.

  10. why in God’s name would anyone want to vacation in Mexico? I live in Southern California and we all know what a hell hole Mexico is, with it extremely violent drug cartels, exponentially high crime rates, shady business practices, famously corrupt police and “legal” system, etc. There is nothing you can do in Mexico, that you can’t do in the United States, be safe doing it, and more importantly, be protected by American laws. Mexico is a hair away from being a Third World country. Don’t believe me? Ask anyone who lives in So Cal who has been to Mexico.

    1. We also live in So Cal and travel to Mexico several times a year. Friend owns a condo in Rosarito. Haven’t been shot at or kidnapped yet. Lovely restaurants and shops that cost significantly less than comparable place in the US. To each his own.

    2. Goodness, they weren’t sneaking around the back streets of Juarez… they were in Cancun. Should we use Watts and East LA as the reference point for all of Southern California? No doubt there are parts of Mexico I wouldn’t go, but I could also say the same for any major city in the U.S.

  11. I’m in the midst of planning our summer vacation, and these kinds of stories scare me. I’ve learned through Chris’ advice to be very cautious, and photograph a car before I drive it. I never would have checked the coolant, though I have asked once when the car was serviced (it had a low tire). I’ve turned down cars with damage, and I’ve returned cars that just drove badly. I used to shop for the best deal on rental cars, but now if a car company has appeared in this column I tend to avoid them. So long, Thrifty.

      1. I guess they have, but the problems with Thrifty, Enterprise, and Budget SEEM to be the most difficult ot resolve. I hope that staying with one company might show me as a responsible renter – but I do try to take precautions like photographing the car. I’m a pretty frequent renter of cars, and have only had problems with Hertz a couple of times and both times they resolved it quickly. You gotta trust someone sometimes at least a little. Don’t you?

  12. If I am renting somewhere that I am concerned about (NYC, foreign, etc.) I inspect the car at pickup and photograph anything unusual, then photo the entire car at return so I have time-stamped photos of windshield, sheet metal, etc. It probably saved me a claim in France, but I showed the dated photo from pick-up and Hertz never tried to charge me.

  13. I’m chucking. “A surprise $600 bill for my Mexico car rental” sounds about as surprising as “A Nigerian prince who surprisingly isn’t real.”

  14. The car may had a problem but… usually you have a temperature gauge in the dashboard, or at least a warning light (or both!). The OP didn’t bother to look it?

    1. True enough, but lots of people ignore the gauges on their own cars. On a rental? They’re driving until the engine seizes up or they see smoke pouring out from under the hood.

      1. I remember few years ago in USA, I wanted to check the tires pressure in a rented car. I tried it in several gas stations, and no one had the air device. In fact, some people didn’t understand why I’d like to check it…

  15. I’ve never had a moment’s problem with a car rental company except for Europcar in Italy on one recent occasion. I’ve always given American Express the credit because I don’t think any of the companies will go up against them. My philosophy is that the company has to prove in MY language what the surprise charges are, If they can’t do that, I’m not going to pay. I’m not calling a foreign country and getting the runaround by a sleazy manager. Relax and let AmEx take care of it. And no, I don’t work for them, I’ve had my card since I was 24 and they’ve never let me down.

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