Did it really cost Enterprise $550 to fix a “tiny” dent?

Laurie Richardson rented a car from Enterprise for just one day, but, unbeknownst to her, she racked up $550 in damages from what appeared to be a little dent. Can our advocates help her repair her reputation?

Question: I’m a Navy veteran and a stay-at-home mom to my two-year-old, as well as a part-time student. My husband is on active duty in the Navy. We have regularly been customers with Hertz and Enterprise.

We began going to Enterprise more frequently because the location was closer, the customer service and cars were always great, and I never had any issues. I even rented a car from them for a month this past summer, with no issues. Until now.

On Dec. 14, I rented a car from the local branch for one day. My husband and I share a vehicle and I accidentally had booked a medical appointment on a day that he was working, so we needed an extra vehicle.

The employee that rented me the vehicle and I both inspected the vehicle together as part of the initial renting process. He told me to ignore any scratches, dents or marks under two inches and to regard them as normal “wear and tear.” Everything looked good, so we finished up the transaction, and I left with the vehicle (Ford Fiesta). This car was driven for only 30 miles.

The next day, upon returning of the vehicle, the same employee went outside to inspect the car. He came back inside, asked me to come with him, and we both went back out to the rental car. He asked me if I had noticed a “dent” on the rear car door. There was a dent about one to one-and-a-half inches in diameter (smaller than the “two inches or less” guideline). I was honestly in disbelief for a moment, that he was actually calling this a significant dent. I replied to him that I did notice it, that I had no idea of how it got there and that it definitely was not from me. He said that he would definitely have noticed it prior to renting the car, but I find that hard to believe when I barely noticed it until he had pointed it out to me! He said he was going to file a damage report. I told him that I wasn’t going to sign anything because I was not responsible and that this dent was definitely within the “two-inch normal wear and tear” guideline.

He said he would keep my $100 deposit and not charge me $500 deductible because the repair should be “pretty reasonable.” In fact, I probably could have used a $25 dent puller to fix it myself. About a month later, I got a statement from their Damage Recovery Unit, claiming that I owed them $446 (actual cost was $546, minus the $100 deposit). I noticed that they decided not only to fix the rear door, but that they also did some “repairs” on the front door. I received a call yesterday from the branch manager explaining that he was actually confused by this too, but was told that since the dent was so close to the other door, that they needed to “blend” it.

I felt scammed. I disputed the claim, and I called the Damage Recovery Unit to check on the status of my dispute. Apparently, it is “still under investigation.” After doing some research, I have found that this happens all of the time with rental car companies. Can you please help me? — Laurie Richardson, Annandale, Va.

Answer: So sorry to hear about your car rental experience. We hear stories like yours all the time. This case is extremely frustrating because you had the car for only a short time, and it seemed like the agent who checked you in didn’t think that the damage would cost very much to repair.

The first mistake you made was not documenting the condition of the car before you drove it off the lot. We encourage renters to take photographs of the vehicle in order to avoid instances like this. We list suggestions about renting a car on our website.

Among the tips are to photograph or videotape every rental car before you leave the lot. At a bare minimum, you should take shots of the front, back and sides of the vehicle, as well as the interior. It is impossible to over-photograph or videotape the car. If you’re shooting still images, and you have the option to timestamp the photos, make sure that function is activated on your camera. Hold on to your photos for at least six months after your rental. That’s the longest we’ve seen a car rental company wait to file a damage claim. After that, feel free to delete these files.

You communicated several times via email with members of the Enterprise location, as well as their Damage Response Unit, and you were not satisfied with their response. Many of your letters had an angry tone (there are several instances of using all capital letters, which is the equivalent of shouting). You might have escalated your complaint by writing simple, polite letters to executives of the company, whom we list on our website. Start with the lowest executive, give them a week to respond, and then continue up the corporate ladder.

Instead, you told your story by posting to our forums, which are read by our advocates and industry customer service executives.

“I received lots of good advice and suggestions,” you said of the response to your post. “The people who responded ultimately were the ones who encouraged me to fill out the help form that you responded to.”

Our advocate contacted Enterprise on your behalf. A representative from Enterprise’s Damage Response Unit called you and knocked $100 off the repair and set up a payment plan for you to pay the balance. “I felt like I was out of options because I didn’t want this to go to collections,” you told us. “I have excellent credit and I don’t want it ruined due to this. I’m just ready to move on from all of this.”

You did, however, learn a valuable lesson from this experience.

“I will never again rent a car without taking numerous pictures of the vehicle beforehand. I encourage everyone to do this so this kind of situation doesn’t happen to you.”

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