How can you be sure I damaged my rental car?

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By Christopher Elliott

Months after her car rental, Diane Mikulis gets a bill for damages she doesn’t recognize. When she asks for a translation, the car rental company sends her case to a collection agency. Now what?

Question

My husband and I rented a car from Hertz in Munich last summer. The rental process was incredibly time-consuming and after 45 minutes at the rental desk, a five-minute walk to the garage and then another 30-minute wait in the garage, we finally received our vehicle.

It was parked in the travel lane, so we hurried to load our luggage and ourselves into it and get out of the way. We were not offered the opportunity to examine the car. It was also dark in the garage and the car was black.

When we returned the car an attendant took a flashlight and examined the underside of the car bending down so her eyes were about six inches off the ground. She stated that there were “scratches.” She also pointed out a depression near the right side of the back window.

Hertz Munich’s disputed damage charges

It looked like a design feature to us, not a dent since no paint was scratched or cracked. To see that it didn’t belong there, you had to walk back and forth to the other side of the car to see that the two sides were slightly different.

We were asked if we had been in an accident or any incident. We said no and wrote that on the sheet they presented us. When we asked what the next step was. we were told that we “may hear” from Hertz.

Months went by and we heard nothing, so we assumed there was no problem. Almost three months after we returned the car, we received an email from Hertz in Ireland stating that we owe nearly 1,200 euros for the damage. Photos and an itemized bill in German were attached. They suggested we contact them with any questions.

I replied stating that we had not caused the damage, and asking for an English translation of the bill and an explanation as to why the company waited more than 80 days to contact us. I received no response. Since then, we’ve heard from a collection agency.

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We didn’t damage the car. Can you help us? — Diane Mikulis, Ellicott City, Md.

Answer

Well, you had me with the employee and the flashlight. That’s too much. Unless part of the undercarriage somehow came loose and was dragging on the floor – and after reading the bill, I can tell you it wasn’t – then this would have made my scam alert go off. Big time.

But let’s pan back a little from this damage claim. You picked up a black car in a dark garage without inspecting it or taking photographs. Come on. When you’re renting a car, you have to take “before” and “after” photos because if they find damage, you’re guilty until proven innocent. (Related: I rented a clunker – now they want my cash.)

So much about the Hertz side of this case was wrong, it made you look almost blameless. The confusion when you picked up the car, the dark garage, the employee examining the underside of your rental, the long wait and then, instead of answering your questions about the bill, sending the matter to a collection agency. It just didn’t look right to me. (Related: Is this car rental damage claim for real?)

I contacted Hertz on your behalf. A representative responded to you, insisting that the bill was correct, but offering to reduce the bill by 25 percent. The company continued to refuse to provide you with a translation of the bill, so it’s unclear to me how someone at Hertz in the United States could be so sure the bill was right. (Here’s our guide to what you need to know before renting a car.)

That didn’t seem right to me. Either you damaged the car or you didn’t. (Related: Hertz demands an additional $658 one year after rental. Can it do that?)

I asked if Hertz was absolutely certain that the charge was correct. A representative contacted you and said it would drop its claim.

Should Hertz have charged Diane Mikulis?

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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 Rio de Janeiro.

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