When Cliff Hampson checks his mail, he gets nervous. He’s wondering if he’s going to receive a bill from Thrifty Car Rental for damage to the car he rented last year.
Hampson wants to know how long after a rental car is returned the company can bill a customer for damage. And what can he do about a damage claim that arrives months after turning in the car?
That’s a question many car rental customers have, but it’s largely unanswerable. I’ll explain why in a minute.
Last November, Hampson rented a car from Thrifty. When he returned the car to Thrifty’s Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport location, Thrifty’s agent noticed a scratch on the rear passenger-side bumper. Hampson informed the agent that the scratch was there prior to his picking up the car, and the agent asked him to sign a form to that effect. But when Hampson asked for a copy of the form, the agent told him that he could not give him one.
The agent’s refusal to provide a copy of the form raised a red flag for Hampson, as did his telling Hampson that nothing else was needed from him other than his signature on the form.
According to Thrifty’s general car rental policies,
The renter and any additional drivers are absolutely liable for any loss or damage to the rental vehicle, even if someone else caused it or the cause is unknown, whether due to theft, fire, hail, flood, collision, vandalism, or any other cause, subject to limitations imposed by the law where the vehicle is rented. This liability will not exceed the full value of the vehicle, plus:
1. Actual towing and storage charges;
2. Loss of use;
3. Diminution in value, regardless of whether the vehicle is repaired or not;
4. All rental charges through the date you report the incident if not returnable or the return date, whichever is later;
5. Any out-of-pocket expenses incurred by us as a result of the loss or damage to the vehicle;
6. A reasonable administrative fee; and
7. Pro-rata license plate fees, all as allowed by law.
These policies seem reasonable on first reading. But Hampson has read horror stories — some of which may have appeared on this website — of car rental companies demanding payment from customers for damage claims three months after the conclusion of the rental period — or even later. He immediately contacted his credit card company (we don’t know which one), whose agents informed him that he has 45 days from the date he returned the car to file a claim to cover any damage costs.
But what if Thrifty sends him the claim later? It may. I’m not aware of any statute of limitations on the amount of time in which a car rental company may bill a customer for a damage claim following a car’s return. But credit card and insurance companies may still be willing to work with customers to get suspicious claims dropped.
Hampson contacted our advocates to find out what to do about a damage claim that might arrive months later. We directed him to our forums, although he hasn’t posted there as of this writing. Our FAQs also contain advice on how to fight car rental damage claims.
Among other steps, we advise car renters to carefully inspect and photograph their cars before driving them away from the rental facilities, and to note any pre-rental damage in writing. In addition, our contacts section includes executives for each car rental company, including Thrifty, which is owned by Hertz. Our forum and FAQs suggest writing to each executive, giving him or her time to respond, and then escalating to the next higher-level executive if you don’t get a favorable response from the previous one.
We hope that Hampson — and other car rental customers — will be able to get false damage claims dropped using this advice.