I didn’t damage my rental car, so why do I have to pay?

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By Christopher Elliott

When Katherine LaFaso returns her Enterprise rental, she’s charged $500 for damages she says existed before she picked up the car. But how can she prove it?

Question

I rented a car from Enterprise in Paramus, N.J., for a month while my car was being fixed due to an accident. It was the only rental available that day, and an Enterprise employee told me there was an open claim with some damages, which were pointed out to me. I was told I would be contacted in a few days to switch out the car for one without any damage, but that never happened.

When I returned the car, there was a more detailed inspection done by a different employee. The damage in question didn’t even look like damage; it looked more like bad repair work or an imperfection. But the bottom line is: I did not damage the car.

Enterprise charged my credit card $500 without my authorization, and my credit card company recently sided with me and credited my account. Enterprise’s damage-recovery unit is now giving me an ultimatum: Pay up, or we’ll send this to collections, and you could face legal consequences. What are my options now? — Katherine LaFaso, Paramus, N.J.

Answer

You could pay this bill — or fight it.

Here are the reasons to pay: Enterprise claims that you damaged its car, and if you don’t settle up, the car rental company will have to cover the damages. Also, your damage claim may be referred to a collections agency, and you might be added to Enterprise’s “Do Not Rent” list.

Here are the reasons to fight: Your claim raised several red flags that were so troubling even your credit card company sided with you in the dispute. There is the arbitrary $500 charge (despite the fact that Enterprise showed you no repair invoice). Any claim around $500, which is the typical insurance deductible, seems suspicious. It appears that the car rental company is aiming for a quick payout and trying to exclude your insurance company. By your account, Enterprise lost the credit card dispute, which means it couldn’t prove that you were at fault.

I think this easily might have been avoided

First, never accept a damaged car, even if it’s the last one on the lot. If you feel you have no choice, then take lots of photos or videos of the vehicle with your phone. Write down any pre-existing damage. Have a manager sign the rental agreement. Collect the manager’s business card. You’ll probably need it later. (Here is our ultimate guide to renting a car and our guide to handling a damage claim.)

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Had you presented Enterprise with the images and a signed rental agreement documenting the damages, you wouldn’t have been billed $500. Consequently, you wouldn’t be receiving threatening letters from the damage-recovery unit. (Related: Do I really have to pay for this chip on my hood?)

Car rental companies could ask customers to photograph their vehicles before leaving. They could also provide an easy way to document any pre-existing dings or dents. This would quickly resolve such cases, and make it more fair for customers. I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t want to end these time-wasting claims unless they are amazingly profitable. (Here’s why it is important to take as many photos as possible of your rental vehicle.)

My advocacy team and I contacted Enterprise on your behalf. The claim was reviewed. The company stated that there’s “no evidence” to support the pre-existing damage allegation. The regional manager overseeing this claim has since left the company. As a result, Enterprise couldn’t clarify some questions and follow normal protocol. Enterprise dropped its claim.

Should Enterprise have dropped this claim?

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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. He is based in São Paulo.

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