A “little dent” in my Enterprise rental adds $500 to my car rental bill

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By Christopher Elliott

Carri Schoeller is charged an extra $500 after she returns her rental car to Enterprise. The reason? There’s a small scratch on the bumper. Didn’t they say little scratches don’t count? Yeah, but talk is cheap.

Question

We rented a car from Enterprise in Phoenix. When we picked up the car, a representative inspected it with us. My husband noted a couple of small marks, but she said we shouldn’t worry because “anything under four inches” was waived.

We drove on some dirt roads, so the car was quite dusty when we returned it and to say the representative eagerly went around the car like Sherlock Holmes looking for clues would be an understatement. She found a small scratch on the left rear bumper, which appeared to be possibly from someone backing into us, as we knew it wasn’t done by our usage.

The mysterious repair bill surge

Before one could blink, we were hauled over to the processing office and our $256 bill jumped to $772 — of course, taken from our credit card without our authorization. Trying to get through to the rep assigned to handle our claim is impossible as she never is available on the phone. But her assistant was very helpful in informing us that the bill for repairing what he even admitted from the photos was a small, quite insignificant flaw was more than $500.

When I challenged him on how in the world a small dent could cost $440 he said actually anything under a thousand from a shop is a bargain.

This is a total preplanned scam and the way the check-in rep went over ever square inch of the car with such enthusiasm there is little doubt these folks are being cut in for finding things wrong with the cars.

We are reasonable people and understand that even if someone backed into us if there was a small scratch we would be willing to pay a small amount to cover what is fair for repairing it. But more than $500, including an “administrative fee” is totally unacceptable. — Carri Schoeller, Orlando, Fla.

Answer

Your suspicions are understandable. Why would one employee waive you off, while another one goes over the car with a fine-tooth comb? And why deduct the $500 from your credit card immediately when the full repair costs aren’t known yet? Whatever happened to the damage estimate? Weren’t you entitled to receive a repair bill, detailing the work that had been done on your rental?

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Unfortunately, your case is becoming all too common. Car rental companies don’t even wait for the paperwork. If there’s damage to your car, they charge you right away. Never mind procedure.

But there are three things about your story that I find troubling, and that Enterprise had nothing to do with. First, you found scratches on the car. Why didn’t you note them on your rental agreement? Talk is cheap. You can almost be guaranteed that the person checking you in won’t be handling your return. So what if the second employee doesn’t know about the four-inch rule?

Rental car tips

Take pictures of your rental car and note all damage, no matter how small the dings, chips and scratches. (Here’s our ultimate guide to renting a car.)

Second, did you say you’d gone off-roading in your rental? Most car rental agreements forbid drivers from taking their cars on an unpaved road. Even if they don’t, it’s a good idea to stay away from dirt roads in a rental car. Chipped windows, the most common car rental damage, often result from pebbles kicked up by vehicles in front.

Finally, and perhaps most problematic, is that you agree that damage happened to your car while it was in your possession, though not by your usage. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter. If the car was dented when you had it, you’re responsible.

My advocacy team and I think both parties made mistakes, but we wanted Enterprise to take another look at this damage claim. It did, and notified you that it had dropped the claim and refunded the $500.

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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 Panamá City.

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