The Travel Troubleshooter: You didn’t damage this car – no, wait, you did

Question: I rented a car through Enterprise at Chicago’s Midway Airport. I was taken to a vehicle that had a damaged fender. I called this situation to the attention of the rental attendant and he said, “No worries, I’ll just note it on the contract.”

When I returned the vehicle, all check-in procedures ran normally, and I was sent on my way. The next day, I received an unsigned email from “Damage Recovery Unit” asking for my insurance company information.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Global Rescue -- Global Rescue is the world’s leading provider of medical, security, evacuation and travel risk management services. Founded in 2004, Global Rescue has exclusive relationships with the Johns Hopkins Emergency Medicine Division of Special Operations and Elite Medical Group. Global Rescue provides best-in-class services that identify, monitor and respond to client medical and security crises. Learn more about Global Rescue.

I immediately contacted the agency by phone. A representative advised me to email them a copy of my original contract, which noted the damage. So I did. The next day I received another email from Damage Recovery Unit that said, “claim and invoice information was on the way.”

I phoned the Midway location from where I had rented the vehicle. A representative at that location claimed not to have a copy of the contract stating, “we don’t keep those on file here.” Within three days, I received another email from Damage Recovery Unit, with an estimate and an invoice.

Clearly, no one had read my letter or looked at the contract attached. I couldn’t get through to Damage Recovery Unit by phone, and the Midway location, which I was able to reach, didn’t have any paperwork on my case.

I think I am the target of what may well have been a very lucrative summer vacation scam set up by the rental agency and this mysterious DRU agency. What do you think? — Janice Stickley White, El Dorado Hills, Calif.

Answer: I think I’m getting tired of answering questions about fraudulent damage claims on rental cars. Obviously, if there was pre-existing damage that was noted on your rental car, then Enterprise should have signed off on your car, thanked you for your business and let you be on your way.

If there had been damage to the fender that you were responsible for, an Enterprise representative should have noted it when you returned the vehicle and asked you to fill out a damage claim. The company shouldn’t have broadsided you with a form letter a few days later, demanding the name of your insurance company.

Is this a widespread scam? It’s hard to tell. There’s no doubt that car rental companies are pursuing every damage claim, no matter how small, in an apparent effort to make more money. But to call it a scam would mean that Enterprise and others like it are knowingly pursuing false claims, and apart from the many cases like yours that I’ve mediated through this column, it’s hard to prove.

There are a few things you might have done to prevent this from becoming a claim. When you picked up the car, and the representative promised to note the damage, I would have asked for another car. Enterprise shouldn’t be renting you a damaged car.

If it were the last car on the lot, I would have double-checked the notation to make sure it was accurate. And knowing that you were driving a damaged car, I would have asked for a manager to sign off on the car when you returned it. Also, note the name and phone number of that supervisor, just in case Enterprise has second thoughts.

One other thing: Calling Enterprise was probably the least efficient way to contact it. A brief, polite email, disputing its claim, works the best. I like the fact that you copied the insurance authorities in Illinois on your correspondence — that underscores the seriousness of your grievance.

I contacted Enterprise on your behalf, and it dropped the claim.

23 thoughts on “The Travel Troubleshooter: You didn’t damage this car – no, wait, you did

  1. I doubt that the Department of insurance has any authority of Enterprise or any other company except insurance companies

    1. Except it’s damage recovery unit was asking for the OP’s insurance info, opening them up for such involvement.

    2. I imagine it might vary by state, but I assume Enterprise is asking for insurance info so they can contact the insurance company, as another driver or their lawyer might if involved in an accident (I believe it’s not required that you go through your own ins. co).  If they do file a claim with your insurance, at that point claiming damage known not to be caused by that driver would be insurance fraud.

        1. Highly unlikely.  Insurance fraud would be under the State Attorney General or the local District Attorney’s office.

          Department of insurance generally has no jurisdiction over either you the consumer or the car rental company

  2. Given the fact that the preexisting damage was clearly noted on the original contract, as I understand the story, I would not’ve wasted my time trying to call them, too. I would’ve responded to the demand letter as indicated, but instead of supplying my insurance information I would’ve enclosed a copy of the original contract, with the damage notation highlighted with a sharpie, and a polite “frak off” letter.

    Any follow-up letters that appeared to have ignored my initial response would’ve simply resulted in the same response, and after a while I would’ve stopped responding altogether, at least until things progressed to whatever happens beyond the initial letter stage.

    One thing that’s missing from the story is the explanation from Enterprise why they harassed this guy despite his iron-clad story. Of course, it would’ve been simply the expected corporate double-talk, but I think that at least they need to be pressed for an answer, until they squirm.

    And in addition to the Insurance Department, another helpful destination for this kind of correspondence would be the state’s Attorney General’s office.

    1. Make them squirm???  How exactly.  They have thousands of people in their bureaucracy whose job it is to push paper and wear you down.  The state commissions can annoy them but little else – they don’t have the time or money to pursue these practices or they would have already.

      1. Enterprise has an attorneys fee clause in their rental contract.  In Illinois, they have what is called a reciprocal attorneys fee provision which states that if there is an attorneys fee clause in a consumer contract then it runs in the favor of the consumer as well.  Pull out the contract.  Find it.  Note the damage on the form.  Write the following letter:

        “Dear Sir or Madam:  I received your claim dated XXX regarding a rental at your Midway office on [insert dates].  Be advised that the claim you are making was noted as pre-existing damage on the rental form when I checked the vehicle out.  Thus, your claim for damage and for insurance information is rejected.  I did nothing to damage your property and it was noted as pre-existing damage when I picked up the car.

        I refer to to Section ___ of the rental agreement which permits recovery of attorneys fees to a prevailing party under this agreement is entitled to attorneys fees.  I strongly suggest that you review this letter, and the proof attached hereto, and take action with the understanding that this is my last communication without seeking recovery under the attorneys fee provisions of our contract. 

        For the purposes of the Fair Credit Billing and Collections Act I deny that I owe you, your principal or any licensee or franchisee of Enterprise Rent – a -Car or its parents or subsidiaries any money not already paid arising from any business I have transacted with your company.”

        End of story. 

  3. Enterprise is one of the worst companies for this issue. I would agree that it is a scam, becuae it happens too often. I rarely rent from Enterprise because of this, but when I do, I make sure every scape, dent, crack, is noted beofre I take the car out, and many of their cars have damage.

  4. Is it just me or does it seem that Enterprise is mentioned in a great many of these stories? This is obviously profitable for the company since it continues to happen. I wonder if there is a ratio the companies use of how many clients balk at paying versus those that pay up. As long as the ratio is tilted in the companys favour it will continue to happen.

  5. i would send them a letter telling them to stop bothering you and if they persist then you will be charging them a $100 reading bogus claim fee

  6. The easiest solution is to not to analyze this at all, but just drop Enterprise and its subsidiaries, National and Alamo.  I do not try to squeeze the copper out of a penny, and I use a company which delivers honesty and consistent quality–Hertz.  Thirty years and no problems yet.

    As long as people want to “save” a dollar, they will feel cheated when the quality does not meet that of the “high-priced” guys.

    I agree, no more rental car stories.  Caveat empttor and move on.

  7. I rent from Enterprise for work because it’s the only game in town and as a state entity we get good discounts.  I rented a car from them Wednesday morning.  It was at a non-airport location (I don’t know which are corporate and which are franchises).  There appeared to be only one employee there who was helping a customer who didn’t like the initial car he’d been assigned and the phone was ringing non-stop. 

    The only thing the employee mentioned was that the gas tank was not full and was about to send me on my way.  I looked at the rental agreement and he had already marked “No damage” on the form before I had even had a chance to look at the car.  I said “Shouldn’t I examine the vehicle?” so we went out and walked around.  I saw something that could have been a type of dent or just the way the vehicle was designed, but we made a note of it.  Needless to say, I felt rushed and uncomfortable with the process.

  8. Yeah, my first thought when I saw the headline was, “ANOTHER one?” I’m sure one of the many attorneys who posts here can correct me if I’m wrong, but even if it looks like a scam, walks like a scam and quacks like a scam, until you prove intent, it’s a duck. And in this case, proving intent would be a circus of “he said, she said.” Everybody would get real dumb, real quick. “I don’t know nothin’ about no damaged fender on no rental car, Miss Scarlett!”
    I suppose the best any of us can do is make sure we cover our tails as much as possible and insist on ethical behavior in any way we legally can.

    1. IANAL, but I’m pretty sure that if the company has policies and practices that defraud people of money, even if the lowly pencil-pushers actually doing the work don’t “know” it’s fraudulent, it’s still fraudulent. There are plenty of corporations that have lost class-action lawsuits due to their fraudulent practices that illegally take money from people.

      And that’s what’s going on here.  Car rental agencies routinely take money from people without any proof that they are entitled to it.  They charge huge “damage claims” directly onto customers’ credit cards without authorization or approval, or any evidence that the damage was caused by the customer.

      An example is banks and their illegal practices in charging huge
      “overdraft fees” for debit cards – they are finally getting their
      comeuppance for ripping off millions of customers.  They automatically “opted in” their customers into debit card “overdraft protection” plans that would allow someone to make a debit purchase without having enough funds in the account, but charge them $35 for each one…and with no advance notification. So a person could go around shopping all day, getting 35-dollar charges for each purchase – and end up with hundreds of dollars in “overdraft protection” fees.  Happened to my daughter – she’d deposited a check from someone that bounced, so the bank removed the funds from her account and she didn’t know it.  She then made a number of purchases with her debit card that day – some as small as $3.  EACH ONE resulted in a $35 charge – to the tune of over $300. The total amount of her purchases that day was less than $50…for which she was charged over $300.

      These practices are now illegal, and a class-action lawsuit is in progress that will result in her, and millions of other ripped-off bank customers, getting back some small amount of these illegal fees. 

      The knowledge of the pencil-pushers at the bank had nothing to do with the fact that the practice itself was fraudulent.

  9. Christopher wrote: “Is this a widespread scam? It’s hard to tell.”

    Are you kidding me???  Come on, Christopher, let’s be real here.  You’ve been writing about this scam for years, and there is MORE than enough evidence to openly state that this is a well-known, widespread scam.  There is no doubt whatsoever that many car rental agencies pursue claims that they know are likely fraudulent…and there have been plenty of cases in which it’s clear they were fully aware that the customer had not caused the damage they were being asked to pay for.  In addition, they have attempted to charge exorbitant rates for trivial “damage” ($800 for a tiny windshield chip that could be repaired for a fraction of that). 

    Hard to tell?  Not at all.  At this point the only thing I see stopping them is a class-action lawsuit.

    In the meantime, every person who rents a car needs to be aware that they are entering into a transaction that has a high probability of ending up in an attempted scam, and protect themselves.  Never rent a car without taking detailed, time-stamped digital photos of the entire vehicle, both at time of pick-up and at drop-off.  Especially photograph even the slightest cosmetic defect, no matter how small, because that teensy scratch on the trunk that’s been there for a year can give a rental agency a reason to try to criminally defraud you out of thousands of dollars. 

    Don’t expect an attendant to be there to note damage upon pick-up, or lack of damage upon drop-off.  And even if one is there, he is not your friend – he is likely in on the scam, and possibly even paid extra for successful damage claims.  And if you get an attendant to inspect the car and note no damage upon return, even THAT doesn’t protect you!  How many stories have we read in here in which the agency attempted to claim that the attendant “didn’t notice the damage” because it was dark, or wet, or dirty…and STILL tried to hit the customer with an enormous claim?

    Car rental agencies are criminal organizations with a long history of scamming their customers.  If you haven’t protected yourself, you are vulnerable. 

  10. I don’t know if there is a rental car company out there that doesn’t have issues.  A number of folks seem to like Hertz but the last time I rented from them they gave me a car that was absolutely filthy and had numerous dings, dents, and other damage.  Took forever to find a attendant to look at the car and – to his credit – he cringed.  I do typically rent from Enterprise only because they are the preferred company for my organization and – so long as I document everything (including photos with the agent who reviewed the car with me) – I haven’t had any problems.  Knock on wood. 

  11. i rarely rent cars, but when i do i typically only rent from Dollar, as i have had good experiences with them, and they have great deals at the LAX location.
    here’s my question, though: they don’t assign the cars. they don’t even know which car you have until you drive out.  their set-up is that you have a certain “row” you can choose from, you pick what car you want without any help (there are no employees there while you pick, it’s all done on your own), then you drive to the exit booth and hand the guy your papers. there is no walk-around. the lot where they store their cars is in a warehouse, which doesn’t offer great lighting, especially for my cell phone camera/camcorder which doesn’t have a flash.  when you return the car, it’s in a drop-off lane. the attendant just notes the mileage and you’re off.

    luckily i have never had any issues with the folks or the cars here. but what are your suggestions for this type of set-up? i don’t want to be surprised with one of these bogus claims one day. thanks everyone!

    1. There are reports of this scam from Dollar.  And they are not the only agency with this type of set-up.  It’s a perfect situation for the scam.  You need to protect yourself – bring a digital camera with a flash, and use it.

  12. BTW – we had a reservation at Enterprise at San Luis Obispo airport Tues Aug 2 . . .we said we would be arriving at 11am.  We landed at 11am and taxied up a couple of moments later.  No Car.  The FBO called up and they had no cars, no ideas when they would get cars, and were sorry, wait til we get one and well get it over to you when we do. . . . if it were not for the FBO renting us their crew car, we’d probably still be waiting. 

    Enterprise hires kids right out of college.  Their job is to upsell, upsell,  upsell.  I know – I worked there for 2 hours once.  Bigger car, CDW, personal goods, insurance, etc etc is how you make money.  If you simply do your job and rent the cars you barely make minimum wage – yet – they want college grads who they train as ‘management trainees.’   They had not discovered the damage scam yet, and it probably one of the management trainees who figured out they could bill for every scratch after every rental and pad the profit margins.   Thats funny because Enterprise cars are generally the bottom of the barrel with lots of ‘living,’ dings everywhere, worn seats, etc etc etc.

    1. And for a counter-experience:

      The local I usually rent from is in the heart of town, not an airport location. I never have any upselling done. No trying to get me to rent a bigger car, or take insurance I don’t need.

      Several of the cars I’ve rented lately had only a couple of thousand miles on them, little damage, clean.

      The problem for Enterprise is that you can get a completely different experience from location to location. Just as you can at any chain hotel, chain restaurant, etc.

  13. I had this issue with Enterprise once. I travel often and haven’t had this happen many times, but they tried to ding me on some odd dent that didn’t appear unless you had the right lighting. Managed to talk my way out of it, but wishing I had looked at the car better before renting. Enterprise is otherwise a good car rental resource. This only happened once out of the 5 or 6 times I’ve used them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: