Nothing ‘E-Z’ about this $1,361 car rental repair bill

When Julie Mehta returns her Chevy Impala rental to E-Z Rent-A-Car, an employee points out a missing fog light. The cost: $1,166. But it’s not her fault. What should she do now?

Question: I’m really hoping you can help with a car rental issue I’m having. I recently rented a car from E-Z Rent-A-Car in Atlanta. It was late in the evening. My friend and I got in the vehicle after I asked her to do a walk-around with me, but there was no employee available to walk with us.

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We didn’t notice anything wrong with the car. When I returned the car, an E-Z employee claimed that the passenger side fog light was missing, and pointed it out to me. I had to sign an incident report prior to leaving.

The fog light can be missed while walking closely around the car, but it is noticeable when you’re far away, which we never were. E-Z is charging me $1,166 for this damage. I do not believe it was caused by us. I asked to see the last few rental slips, and E-Z said it would show them to me. But it hasn’t.

I asked for the camera footage, which would show us leaving the lot, and I’m positive it would show the fog light missing as well. But the company will not release it unless I take this to court.

The price E-Z is charging is obscene, and it’s throwing in some additional random charges, like painting the vehicle, which makes the total bill $1,361. I checked BBB, and this place has more than 300 complaints, many similar to mine. I feel defeated. What should I do? — Julie Mehta, Jamaica, NY

Answer: Did you say a missing fog light? That’s kind of hard to overlook. But E-Z sent you images of a red 2014 Chevrolet Impala with a gaping hole where the light should have been. Indeed, in a darkened garage you might have missed this.

Had you taken pictures of the car before leaving the lot, those might have saved you. In fact, if you had reviewed the images, you could have immediately reported the problem to a manager and requested a different vehicle. There’s no way you should be driving a car without a light. It’s unsafe and probably illegal.

By the way, you don’t have to sign anything when you return a vehicle. If a car rental company insists you take responsibility for something you didn’t do, then you need to speak with a manager immediately. Ask him or her to review the previous rental documents to see if someone reported the damage at that time. Don’t sign and leave.

If you do sign the documents, you’re admitting “I did it,” and that limits your options. E-Z could send you a bill for whatever it wanted — a new light, a paint job or “loss of use” on the vehicle. You, or your insurance company, would be responsible for paying it. Not an ideal situation.

By the way, you could have appealed this to a manager at E-Z. I list its executives’ names and numbers on my website.

As it turns out, there were more images of your rental: closed-circuit video of your Impala leaving the rental lot. You asked E-Z to see them, and it told you it would be happy to pull them, if you got a subpoena from a court.

I asked the company if it could review the footage one more time to make sure nothing had been missed. After checking the images of your car, it decided to drop its claim against you.

Should E-Z have let Julie Mehta off the hook?

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56 thoughts on “Nothing ‘E-Z’ about this $1,361 car rental repair bill

  1. A car rental company damage scam story… Shocking!

    Great job getting them to drop the claim Chris!

    Just have to get people to be more alert when renting vehicles.

  2. Obviously the answer to this is yes if they supposedly checked the footage and then decided not to charge her.

    The larger issue is that this is just another scammy rental car company trying to charge for pre-existing damage.

  3. Definitely a scam. However, did the LW check the BBB before or after this incident? If it was before, then she should of noticed all the red flags and gone elsewhere to rent a car. And ALWAYS take pictures! Glad you were able to help.

    1. I’m sure it was after. Are you in the habit of always checking the BBB before doing business with a company? I would like to think that it would be unnecessary for things like car rentals, hotels, airline tickets, etc.

      1. I don’t check the BBB, however, I do check out customer complaints on various blog sites. When I am searching for a vacation rental, I check for the reviews. If they have a low star rating and too many complaints, I skip them and look elsewhere. For car rentals, I don’t check for the BIG national agencies, but with one that I never heard of before – yes, I will check reviews. Not necessarily the BBB, though. I always take pictures! It has saved me a couple of times.

  4. This is one of the scammiest damage claim stories. E-Z could have used the images from CCTV to convince the renter to pay the bill, but instead told her to go take a hike. Shame, shame, shame…

  5. You can tell a claim like this is a scam when the company drops it like a hot potato as soon as an Internet reveal is threatened. Good work, Chris!

  6. Fog lights are not headlights and are not mandatory. Most people never turn on their fog lights unless — there is fog! As long as the headlights work it would be very easy to not notice the fog light was missing except for the “gaping hole where the light should have been.” Not seeing the photo it is difficult to know how noticeable it actually was.

    This sounds like yet another scam by a car rental company. Make the renter pay for something that was already charged to who knows how many previous renters because most will pay without complaint when fighting it becomes too time consuming and expensive.

    1. Actually they aren’t even fog lights. They are considered driving lights because they are white instead of yellow, which cuts through the fog much better. (provides better visability)

  7. I rent about 30 cars for approximately 90 days a year. I had to Google where the fog lights on a 2014 Chevy Impala are located. That would be an easy thing to miss, especially if you didn’t know your vehicle came equipped with them. I’ll add that item to my walk-around checklist. I’m glad you were able to assist her here, Chris.

  8. Glad they backed off. But driving a car without a fog light is neither unsafe nor illegal. A missing headlamp would be a little more obvious, I hope…

  9. Someday, car renters will quit giving the excuse,” It was late in the evening”. You chose the flight, chose the rental company and you still use the same excuse. ” It was late in the evening”. Take 30 pictures, it is only 5 minutes tops. High, low, inside the trunk, inside the car for a stain. 5 minutes would have saved you 5 hours of agrivation. But quick using excuses of why you got messed over by the car companies. It is always the same old story.
    Great save Chris.

    1. “It was a dark and stormy night” and the rental car was in a poorly lighted covered parking structure. The rental company employee was hurrying me. I was told scratches and dents that small didn’t matter. No rental company employee was available to do the walk around with me. It was the only car available.

      Just stating the facts.

      I agree that renters should be more thorough in their own inspection of the car and take photos or video the rental before signing the rental contract.

      1. AND maybe have a LED flashlight with you! I have arrived after long arduous flights and been given those “stories” outlined by Mark. But even a quick inspection with a LED flashlight, running the dashboard controls, AND looking at the roof top, consumes approx. 10 minutes well spent. P.S. on Kauai, Alamo really does have a WRITTEN statement that scratches don’t matter. AND the staff at Alamo Kauai are great.

        1. You are assuming the TSA didn’t confiscate the flashlight from you, claiming it is a weapon you can use to take over the plane with. They’ll brand you a terrorist for merely wanting to protect yourself from the rental agency. LOL

          1. While I an no proponent of the TSA, I have traveled with a flashlight, nail clippers, and a nail file on 498 flights since 2008, and never once had them taken or even questioned. I know you only mentieond flashlights, but I always hear people make jokes about them taking nail clippers and files.

        2. My iPhone is the best flashlight I’ve ever had – if you have a smartphone, you have a flashlight. That’s what I use when looking over rental cars in the dark.

        3. The Alamo counter at SeaTac, however, is freaking awful. They allowed this woman who didn’t have a reservation to hold the rest of us up for at least 45 minutes after we flew in late for pre-wedding events and a wedding a few days later.

          There were only a few people in line, so I really think they should have handled all of us first. I don’t care that she was yelling and carrying on, they ultimately didn’t do anything for her, so it wasted her time and ours. She finally moved down the line and began yelling at the person behind another rental counter that didn’t have a line.

          We planned appropriately, so we didn’t miss anything, but we were dead exhausted after flying from one end of the country to the other. On top of that, it was the worst upsell we’ve ever had anywhere.

  10. I don’t know if there are any legal eagles still visiting this site, but if there are, what would happen if the LW went to court, got a subpoena, and was able to demonstrate that the damage was preexisting through the CCTV footage? Could you file charges against a company that asked a customer to pay for damage that it knew (or should have known through reasonable due diligence) was not caused by them? And if the subpoena yielded documentation that prior renters had been charged for the same damage, does that change anything? I guess my question is, if someone wanted to fight back in a case like this, is there any legal recourse?

    1. I’m not a lawyer (and I don’t play one on TV ;-)) but the most likely outcome of filing a court case against a rental car company is they would come back with a “Upon further investigation …” response and tell you you don’t owe anything and it was all a mistake.

    2. It depends what the rental car company’s legal strategy was like. Let’s assume you sue them for declaratory relief that you don’t owe them the money they are demanding. I think even sending them a draft complaint without filing it would likely achieve the result that MarkKelling suggests in most cases. (The fact that it only took a note from Chris in this case supports that conclusion.)

      Let’s assume that they let you file the complaint instead of settling, then you got their CCTV footage (which would not be done by subpoena, because you don’t need to subpoena a party to the lawsuit), and then discovered it proved your innocence. You’d obviously be able to win your court case in that situation (or more likely, settle). You could get your court costs (because, in general, winners in US lawsuits get their costs, but not their legal fees). I assume there’s no provision in the car rental contract requiring the loser to pay the winners attorney’s fees, but maybe there is.

      I suppose you could try to amend your complaint to allege that they KNEW you didn’t damage the car and committed fraud in trying to get you to pay, but that might be hard to prove. That would be the best chance at getting a significant money from the company. And, even then, it wouldn’t be much to a big rental company.

      That said, your car rental contract almost certainly has a provision requiring you to arbitrate your disputes with them. So, after you filed your court case, they would file a motion to move the case to arbitration. You’d have to oppose that if you wanted to stay in a real court and get a jury trial. All in all, it would cost you a ton of money to fight the car rental company — far more than they claim you owe them. Probably even if the car were totaled.

  11. Things I didn’t do before reading this blog – take pictures of my rental car or even pay close attention to small bumps and scrapes. Love that you detail what she didn’t have to do (sign the paper) and how she could have handled the situation differently. Unfortunately, travelers often feel trapped in situations like this. Rental company reps can be intimidating and a stressed traveler rushed for time might just do whatever to get moving again. Good job resolving this one!

  12. I’ve had more than one annoyed car rental employee get exasperated when I point out every minute flaw in a car before I rent. I just politely, yet firmly, tell them I don’t want any gotcha moments when I return the car and prefer to have all problems noted on my rental contract. I usually do this while videoing my car with my cell phone. At least once I missed a major damage (2 inch gash that was hard to see at certain angles) and video saved my but!

  13. A few things about this letter and the response.

    LW says, “ I do not believe it was caused by us.”

    This is refreshing honesty for a car rental damage complaint letter. Usually they
    say, “I’m 100% sure there is no way in the world I possibly could have even been anywhere near being considered responsible for these damages.” Unless you’re with your car the entire time you have it rented, you can’t possibly be 100% sure of this. Kudos for this LW for not being falsely 100% sure.

    Chris said: “Did you say a missing fog light? That’s kind of hard to overlook. But E-Z sent you images of a red 2014 Chevrolet Impala with a gaping hole where the light should have been. Indeed, in a darkened garage you might have missed this.”

    Wait, what? So it’s hard to miss BUT there are pictures of a gaping hole BUT that’s missable in a dark garage. I just don’t understand what Chris is saying here. IMHO and experience, fog lights tend to be smaller, so it doesn’t seem crazy you might miss it, but I haven’t seen the picture I don’t know what the car rental facility was like.

    Chris said: “There’s no way you should be driving a car without a light. It’s unsafe and probably illegal.”

    Oh no!! My car doesn’t have fog lights. Am I being dangerous and breaking the law every time I drive? Please. It’s fine not to have fog lights. She didn’t say the main headlight was missing.

    1. It should be noted that some vehicles have the lower valance with the holes already in it for the lights but never came factory with the lights. if I got a car missing both lights I would never know they were supposed to be there unless I saw some wires hanging out or something. In that case the rental agency may try to claim I owed for two lights.

  14. I couldn’t vote today …
    If it was too dark for her to see a missing light, as she claims, I doubt CCTV cameras would have picked it up either. I also don’t read anything into them dropping the claim when Chris came calling. Its just as likely that they wrote a legit claim off to avoid bad press.

    It just goes back to what Chris has always preached… Take pictures before and after (I like the Record360 App for your phone that Chris has talked about) . Never sign anything admitting responsibility if you didn’t do it. Just walk away.

    1. When a person walks a rental they usually are standing up and within a couple feet of the car. This makes it more difficult to see things under a bumper which are recessed like a driving light. The CCTV camera would have seen the car coming from a much better angle which would have allowed the people to see one object in the hole on one side and no object on the other side.

  15. So, on the basis the claim was dropped it automatically is a scam? What rubbish. Perhaps they realized they were on a hiding to nothing and it wasn’t worth the effort once all you professionally qualified opinion providers got on board…

    In reality, maybe it wasn’t noticed on pick up because it wasn’t missing. Maybe a previous renter bumped the bar enough to loosen the fitting and it finally fell out on this rental. Who’s responsibility is that? Technically, the renter who had the car at the time. Perhaps the company came to the same conclusion and dropped the claim

    Seriously, you people need to stop crying scam every time something like this happens. It’s pathetic. Unless you spend 24 hours a day with your rental you can never claim with 100% certainty that damage didn’t occur during your rental.

    1. If the light fell out in the parking garage of the rental place, staff should have noticed when they went to pull out the car and saw it on the ground. Period.

      1. Umm, did the renter not leave the car park? Rented a car a just drove it round the car park and then returned it? Don’t be a arse.

          1. Ok. Agreed. It’s just that there’s been a lot of talk on this site about keeping everything civil….

        1. It seemed to me you were suggesting it happened with the previous renter and wasn’t noticed during the check-in. I thought you were suggesting that someone ran into something while parking it back in the garage and the light fell out while it was parked. Which is possible, but I would think someone should have noticed it on the ground while pulling it out for the next customer.

    2. No, my judgment of a scam was on the basis of the fact that E-Z told the renter that it would pull CCTV footage if she got a subpoena from a court. That’s not an expected reaction when a party has nothing to hide.
      E-Z was the party that was making a claim. Burden of proof is theirs. CCTV footage was supposed to substantiate their claim.

      1. Well that depends who owns the cctv footage Maybe the cost and effort to obtain it wasn’t worth the hassle.

        The astute amongst you may notice I use the word maybe a lot. That’s because I have no idea of the facts, just like the rest of you keyboard warriors who automatically cry foul without any knowledge of what actually occurred.

        It may well be a scam. But it equally may well not. You’re a bunch of sanctimonious monkeys with too much spare time on your hands. Idiots.

        1. Of course, we don’t know all the facts, but based on the article, we do know some facts, such that E-Z told Chris that it decided to drop its claim against the LW after checking the images of the car. So apparently, the CCTV footage had been accessible to E-Z.

          1. Ahh, no. We don’t. Chris says he asked they check the footage one more time. The claim was dropped after. May or may not have been a result of viewing the footage. Only EZ know for sure the reasons for not upholding the charge.

            You’re assuming they looked at the footage and dropped the claim, nothing factual about it.

        2. The cost to obtain it is maybe a couple dollars. Basically the cost for an employee to sit through a couple minutes of video footage based on the rental time. Since everything is digital these days, you go back to a given period instantly and watch the time frame in question.

  16. There are a few names that are notorious. Most have limited locations around the country like E-Z. I stay away from them like the plague.

  17. Between $1,100 – $1,300 for a missing fog light??? If E-Z claimed body damage, that would have been one thing. But to claim that much to replace a fog light? The LW should have just walked out. Yes, this does sound like a scam.

    1. Let’s look at this rationally. Realistically, the only way a light will fall out is from an impact. Maybe, just maybe, there was an impact. Perhaps that’s where the charge for painting comes in.

      I think it quite possible the renter has had a minor impact with a curb or parking bollard, caused damage to the bar and resulted in the light falling out..

      I also think it could br possible it was missing at the time the car was rented and was not noticed.

      Who knows?

      My issue here is how many people jump on board crying scam and shenanigans on the basis of a vague description and not one ounce of factual knowledge of the event. Too much spare time I feel.

      1. I agree. I was basing my comment on the fact that nothing was said or claimed by E-Z about any body damage, just the missing light. If there really was body damage the cost may be more realistic. Then the question goes back to “they said, she said”.

  18. We don’t know for sure if E-Z should have let them off the hook or not. However, since they reviewed the footage and made this decision, we can reasonably conclude they should have..

  19. Yaaay, another scam put to rest! Of course it’s possible the renter did the damage, but highly unlikely. A reputable car rental company would have written her a detailed letter explaining why a missing light that she did not notice should cost more than a thousand dollars. They love to charge your credit card for whatever and hope you don’t notice. I’ll betcha 30% of the renters scammed don’t ever make a fuss – a great revenue source for the car rental agency. Isn’t it time to decree that rental cars are delivered to renters in a well-lighted place instead of a dark garage?

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