Help! Hertz hit me with an $850 repair bill six months after I returned my rental car

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By Christopher Elliott

Hertz hits Joseph Meisinger with an $850 bill six months after he returns his rental car. Wait, six months? Yes, six months. Does he still have to pay?

Question

My wife and I rented a car from Hertz in Arizona for a couple of days with our kids. The rental went fairly seamlessly, we didn’t notice any damage to the car when picking it up. The representative did not give us anything to document damage, which was sort of atypical.

We returned the car without any damage, and Hertz did not note anything when we returned the vehicle. 

Six months later, I received a claim notification from Hertz that the car had $850 of damage during our rental period. There is no description of any damage, no evidence of repair — just a request for our insurance information or credit card number.

I told Hertz that we did not incur any damage during our rental and that it was concerning to us that nearly six months after returning the vehicle without damage, we received a bill for damage. Can you help? — Joseph Meisinger, Elkhorn, Neb.

Answer

Hertz should have noted any damage to your vehicle when you returned it. That way, it could have shown you the problem, and you could have signed off on it and agreed to pay for the repairs.

Sending a bill when there’s no clear documentation of damage is problematic. And six months later? That invites a lot of questions.

It turns out you had a lot of questions, too. You sent them to Hertz in writing. (Related: Oh no! Thrifty charged me an extra $250 for a car rental upgrade. Can I get a refund?)

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What kind of damage? Where did they have the car repaired? There was one more problem — a 600-mile gap between the odometer reading reported by Hertz and the one on your return. That means Hertz might have rented the car to someone else who damaged the vehicle and that the company was holding the wrong renter accountable.

How to dispute a damage claim with a Hertz rental car

If you’re certain that you didn’t cause any damage to your rental car, here are the steps to disputing a damage claim:

Firmly and politely tell them it wasn’t you

Sent a brief, polite email to the car rental company. Be as detailed as you can in your explanation, but keep your initial letter short. The car rental companies reject most of these rebuttals, but they are a necessary part of the claims process. You’ll need to get your denial on the record.

Send evidence of your innocence

Unfortunately, car rental companies have a “guilty until proven innocent” approach to damage. Send “before” and “after” photos and videos of the vehicle. You will need these to show that you didn’t damage the car, so don’t forget to take them while you’re renting the car.

If you receive a denial, send a more strongly worded email to the car rental company, restating your position

Now it’s time for you to turn the tables. Ask the car rental company for written proof of the damage. Copy your insurance company on the correspondence. By now, you should have received a repair estimate. Feel free to challenge some of the items, including loss of use, and diminishment charges. Repair bills often contain these inflated fees. With a little prodding, I’ve seen these charges lowered or even removed.

Appeal your case to an executive

Finally, I would recommend deploying the problem-solving escalation strategies detailed in my article on the topic. Appeal your case to a manager, a customer-service vice president, or the CEO of the car rental company. You might want to loop in your attorney and the insurance commissioner in the state in which you rented the car. I’ve spoken with damage claim companies who say if the damage is less than $500, they’ll often drop the claim at this point.

And if none of those strategies work, contact the Elliott Advocacy team.

How should you resolve this damage claim problem with Hertz?

Hertz did not send you any of the repair documentation or explain the 600-mile gap. So what then? A brief, polite appeal to Hertz might have helped. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of the Hertz customer service executives on my consumer advocacy site, Elliott.org. (Here’s what you need to know before renting your next rental vehicle.)

It turns out Hertz has done this kind of thing before. I’ve mediated cases like this one, and Hertz normally takes anywhere between two months and three months to send the paperwork. A representative told you it had a backlog of damage cases. (Related: Is this car rental damage claim for real?)

You could have gotten this dropped if you had “before” and “after” photos of your rental car. Always, always take pictures of the exterior and interior to prove your innocence just in case your car rental company decides to send you a late bill. (I have more information in my free guide on renting a car, which I also include on my site.)

I contacted Hertz on your behalf.  You received a message from Hertz’s executive customer service department. “I have received notification from our corporate claims team that the claim has been closed at this time, and you will not be held liable for the damages to the vehicle,” it said.

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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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