How can you be sure I damaged my rental car?

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.

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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.

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. We asked what the next step was and 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.

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.

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.

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.

That didn’t seem right to me. Either you damaged the car or you didn’t.

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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43 thoughts on “How can you be sure I damaged my rental car?

  1. The intriguing part of most of these rental car damage claim polls is that even when the scam test smell-o-meter is pegged there are always votes that the mark should have been charged. Is the nature of these surveys such that someone can identify a poll respondent? I ask because I wonder if it is the same group of subscribers voting yes each time.

  2. I always do a walk-around inspection when I pick up a rental, but never thought of taking pictures. I’ll definitely do that in the future.

    1. Or take video. Also try to include something in the video that shows you are still in the parking lot or garage. For instance, include that the car us still in the area where you pick the car up or, if you have an inspection sheet that you are supposed to sign off before leaving the parking lot, include that in the picture or video to prove that this was taken BEFORE you left the property. Lastly, I try include video that gets down at eye level to catch any dings that THEY may try to ding me for.

  3. I have to say, I’m a little surprised that Hertz, which has a decent reputation, would resort to this sort of shady business. I’ll have to be more careful in the future when I rent from them.

    1. It seems this is a European problem and not a US Hertz one. For the most part, whenever I see hertz mentioned in one of Chris’ columns, it is a location outside the US. I have been renting from Hertz for over 20 years and have never experienced anything but friendly professional service from them. There have been a few US based location problems talked about here, but it seems most of those are also franchise locations and not corporate ones.

      1. For my part, I rented cars in Canada and Australia and, maybe i’m lucky, but never had any troubles even for some minor dents and scratches,.. Always document (on their document and with pictures) your rental before leaving and at arrival and nothing will normally happens…

      2. Yes, I have always been happy with Hertz. I may have misread the above, it read to me as though this couple, from Ellicott City, MD, were on vacation, then came home to MD and months later received the email from Hertz Ireland. I assumed they contacted Hertz US to help solve this problem, I know I would have, and were treated poorly. I can’t imagine Hertz US saying they couldn’t help them (?!)…..If that wasn’t the case, it’s still the Hertz logo and reputation, regardless of where in this “small” world a customer rents a car. We should all receive the same, good Hertz treatment, no?

    2. As others have said, it seems to be more of an overseas problem with Hertz, where they seem to run things a bit differently.

      Either way, through Christopher’s blog entries, we’ve seen horror stories from every rental company, so everybody should remain vigilant about these scams.

  4. A year ago I fell victim to a scam like this. Luckily I’d recorded the non-damage smudge on the bumper before I drove away from the pickup lot. To get them to back off, I complained to this site, where I’d first found Chris. But I also wrote to the collection agency and the car rental company threatening an action for unfair debt collection practices and I cc’d the departments of consumer protection in each state where the debt collector, pickup and drop off were. (The Munich folks might not have that option but Hertz US offices would suffice.). This is a very common scam, so common that I’m wondering if the rental agencies have some incentive to the local agents to collect, or disincentive if they don’t, or whether the agencies’ insurance carriers impose penalties if they’re not given a customer to collect from.

  5. When returning a rental, I always do a video walk-around, with voice over and a visible copy of that day’s local newspaper placed conspicuously in the shot. Also, be sure to inspect the interior very carefully, before and after your rental period.

  6. even if you had taken photos , a tiny depression in the bodywork would not show up. at least photos would prevent them claiming you’d written the car off. but if they can charge 1,200 euros for a tiny ding who is safe?

  7. When renting in europe, NEVER use Hertz. When it comes to bad stories about car rentals in Europe, whether overcharges, hidden mandatory insurance, or damage claims, Hertz has the most on this site.

  8. I had an interesting experience just last weekend, US but not Hertz. My mom and I were renting a car. As I was busy taking pictures, the agent kept telling my mom that pictures never help and are a waste of time. I should add that there was a paper sized scrape on the front bumper. The nice agent said she noted it on the form but wouldn’t let me circle it on the “previous damage” area of the form. By that I mean she physically put her hand over it. She said it was fine if it was smaller than a dollar bill. Right. I wouldn’t sign, so she got huffy and got a manager. The manager was much more helpful and ended up just giving us a different undamaged car. First, the woman just seemed to be waiting to find someone to charge for the damage. But it did leave me to wonder if the photo evidence has helped anyone in the past?

    1. On my last rental, I took pictures of the car before we left the lot in Cocoa Beach, FL. When I returned the car in Orlando, FL 3 days later, the return agent started to go over the car with a fine tooth comb. He stopped at one scratch and said he would have to write that up. I said I would be happy to show him photos of that in the before picture, as well as photos of 3 other things he missed (and then showed him where they were), at which point he signed that the car was fine and gave me my receipt and huffed off.

  9. I’ve luckily not (as yet) had a rental car company claim that I damaged its vehicle. But I have picked up cars in dark parking garages where it was impossible to inspect the vehicle for damage before driving off in it, and where there was no convenient place outside and near the garage to park and photograph the car.

  10. You know, people who use the national communication networks (phones, internet) to commit fraud are committing a crime in this country, called wire and mail fraud. Fraud means “obtaining money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations or promises.” 18 United States Code § 1343.

    If somebody is deliberately lying about damage to a rental car and threatening collections action, this would not only be a crime but also a basis for a civil action fo recover damages. Even if you can’t get the Federal or state prosecutors interested in a car rental fraud situation, a few civil actions should be enough to make this nonsense stop.

    For more info, I suggest that you have a look at, which I found in about 10 seconds on Google by searching “wire fraud civil action.” I’m sure a more thorough search will turn up a lot more.

    1. Yes this is true, two of us got screwed by Budget Ireland 2 years ago Ashley and myself, Zoltan, just check on youtube, and look for “budget rent a car fraud Ireland”. We got billed two different time for $ 1,800.00 two different time for a “transmission repair” after less than 6-10 km distance respectively. Had to hire a local solicitor, and after about eight months we got our refund /check to solicitor for us/ once they had notice of the court date. Scam A-Z The repair company is owned by the parent Budget of Ireland, so they were doing an inside phony repair job, since they know, that our recourse is only civil court,

      Zoltan Santa Cruz, CA.

  11. My family just got back from a week in Utah where we
    rented a car from Hertz. I found it very interesting that they did not
    provide the “previous damage” form anywhere in the paperwork that we
    were handed along with the car keys. I had to go back into the office,
    stand in line again and get an agent to pull out the previous damage
    form for me – and then he walked around the car with me marking
    everything that I pointed out.

    This was a car that had about
    28000 miles on it, and had paint scratches or dings on every
    side of the car. Every fender corner was scraped. I still can’t
    believe that they thought anyone would take that car off the lot without
    pointing out the prior damage that already existed, and I resent a
    little that they made me take my time and effort to track down the form
    needed to (hopefully) protect me from their claims.

    1. I truly believe that Hertz is the biggest ripoff among all major rental companies. 95% of the time, they are more expensive than other agencies. This would be fine if they were offering a quality product, but my most recent Impala had rips on the seats and reeked of cigarettes, and had over 32000 miles. Work, unfortunately, dictates that I use Hertz.

      By contrast, all my personal rentals over the past 20 years or so have been with Enterprise, whom I have NEVER had an issue with. Last car was a Camry with 7000 or so miles. And Enterprise was $22/day LESS than Hertz. I don’t understand why they have such a crappy rep on here, except maybe that the insurance hard sell is pretty high pressure. Then again, when my Enterprise rental was damaged in a parking lot hit and run, I owned up to it, instead of trying to pass it off as pre-existing damage, as I suspect many try and do.

      1. It’s obvious by your statement that you have not followed this blog for very long. Otherwise, you would know that Enterprise and their family of rental companies has the worst reputation here for ripping off and scamming their customers than any other rental companyl

        1. Considering that Hertz is involved in this particular story, and they’ve appeared pretty regularly in Christopher’s columns over the years, I think you’re being a little disingenuous when you say they have the worst reputation.

          I’ve rented regularly from Enterprise and Hertz, and have never had an issue with either. Enterprise regularly walks the cars with me, while Hertz does a ‘pre-check’ before I show up, and I have to go tell them if I find anything. Enterprise, meanwhile, has been wanting to know more about what the renter’s car insurance situation is. I’ve rented cars from both from locations where the cars are in broad daylight, and where the cars are in the basements of hotels or airport parking garages.

          ALL car rental companies have their problems, and one’s view on one
          particular company or another is simply in the eye of the beholder.

          1. I’m not sure what blog you are reading but Hertz does not come up regularly in here from what I have seen. Almost all domestic rental car complaints have been against Enterprise and the other companies under that group. Hertz does show up every so often and almost always from a foreign rental. If you go back to the last domestic Hertz rental problem, I’m sure you will go past a dozen or more Enterprise based ones to find it.

        2. I’ve personally never had an issue with Enterprise. Sorry if you’ve had bad luck with them. I personally wouldn’t judge one entire car rental company off a few hand picked articles on this website. Chris probably deals with hundreds of rental car cases; he doesn’t blog about all of them.

          I was merely pointing out my crappy experience with Hertz. Also, it is true that generally, they are more expensive than other agencies. I question what one is paying extra for. Some people just like paying for a brand name, I guess. As I said above, I have loads of experience with both companies, and if my compNy would allow it, I would go with enterprise every time. The agents are friendlier, the cars are better, and the rates are more competitive.

          Also, this idea you have that Hertz only has problems in Europe is so misinformed its laughable. Google “hertz damage scam” and you’ll see what I mean. Also, for what it’s worth, Enterprise rents WAY more cars than Hertz, so naturally they will have more damage claims. You should do your research using multiple sources, not just a few hand picked articles on a blog site.

          1. “Also, this idea you have that Hertz only has problems in Europe is so misinformed its laughable.”

            I never said they only had problems in Europe. Only that most of the problems reported on this blog that involve Hertz are ones that occur in Europe. There has been reports of problems with Hertz in the US on here. But as I said, the vast majority of the US rental car problems discussed in this blog are with Enterprise family.

            “Enterprise rents WAY more cars than Hertz, so naturally they will have more damage claims.”

            I’m curious as to what information you have to support that claim.

          2. Hey, Edb, here’s a direct quote from post a little bit down:

            “It seems this is a European problem and not a US Hertz one.”

            This implies that US Hertz locations do not have problems with damage scams. A quick search on the internet tells a different story.

            Also, as to the Enterprise statistic, from Forbes:

            “Enterprise is now the largest car rental business in the U.S. (by sales, employees and fleet), and has more than 7,700 rental offices serving local neighborhoods and at airports worldwide.”

            Once again, I urge you to do your research using a variety of different resources, instead of making mass generalizations based on a few blog entries from one website.

          3. Let’s not stop the quote there. I also said in that statement, “There have been a few
            US based location problems talked about here, but it seems most of those are also franchise locations and not corporate ones.” Take the whole thing in context and I didn’t say it was a European only problem. I stated that there were reports of problems in the US. YOU are the one that read the implication into my statement.

            As for the question about your statement, I just wanted to see information that backed it up. I wasn’t denying it. Just asking for support to it.

            And again, my statement was in regards to this website. As I said, if you have followed this blog for any length of time, you would have seen more complaints about Enterprise than Hertz.

          4. There are a few highly biased individuals who post here frequently and believe their personal experience MUST translate universally.

  12. Gee, these stories about rental car scams scare the stuffing out of me.
    I think I will continue to take the bus/train/trams when I go overseas.

  13. There is an interesting article in today’s New York Times about a pattern of apparently fraudulent behavior in car rentals. The article looks like yesterday’s news from this site.

  14. Anyone else ever get the urge to rent a car, get the full insurance, and then kick the door in before you return it?

  15. I think the renter should follow up and make sure the case has actually been removed from the collections office and not “forgotten.”

  16. Good job! I worked as a car jockey for a car rental agency and know first hand the check in process was a through and through scam! Bad on Hertz.

  17. Wait, is Hertz Ireland buying claims from Hertz Germany now?

    This one has some red flags. No, not the black car in a dark garage; unfortunately, parking garages are often not lit very well, but they are often used out of convenience, not to screw customers.

    No, the major red flag is that an employee brings out a flashlight and practically lies on the ground. As soon as that happens, you KNOW they’re trying to find damage to screw the customer.

  18. Not as simple to check out car rental agencies as I would like. I have been reading here for months now about the damage claims by the agencies and hoping they were isolated.

    Trip coming in the fall to WA and OR. Found E-Z rental and read comments on Yelp – all great so we booked. After this article I checked BBB and they have complaints but an A rating. HOWEVER, I checked TripAdvisor and found a number of VERY bad comments, all about damages. Some say E-Z looks under the car and from unusual angles (like we’ve seen here).

    BBB complaints (legitimate?) are mostly about billing for extras consumer did not want. I have spoken to their office and been assured I know what to bring and what we will be charged ($200 deposit plus rental cost). Other rental agencies are SIGNIFICANTLY more ($40-50 per day).

    We will take pictures, of course, but we are renting at night. They have stated they will inspect with us. Still they could challenge later.

    As I said earlier, it’s not simple anymore. Who to believe? What to think?

  19. We just picked up a Hertz car at LHR. Based on the stories I’ve read here, I tried to take pictures of the car to document its condition prior to our taking it out of the lot. But all I got was reflective pictures – it was a shiny car and the sun was out. So we marked up the form for every scratch we found and are just going to hope for the best.

  20. As far as I know, we can see this in 2 ways, the car rental company should have showed the car to the customer in light, or else, the customer whatever urgent should have spend a minimum of 5 minutes to demand to check the car once. So its neither the fault of the company nor the fault of the customer. Regarding the charging, the company could have considered. Car Rental

  21. Recently rented a car at MIA after dark. Took the CDW because it was only a one-day rental. (For multi-day rentals I use AMEX Premium Rental Car Insurance.). The car was sandwiched between two others in the garage (was almost impossible to open the door and enter) and the garage was dark. It would have been impossible to properly inspect the car for damage prior to leaving the rental agency’s area of the garage.

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