Molly McMullin recently rented a car from Enterprise while her own car was in the shop. What happened after she returned the car, however, left her talking a blue streak.
A few hours after she returned her rental, the Enterprise office in Edmond, Oklahoma, called her to tell her she was on the hook for damage. Like every renter who contacts us, McMullin says she didn’t cause the damage.
In this case, I’m likely to believe her. Why? It wasn’t a ding or a dent. Enterprise claims she spilled blue paint in the trunk.
“I’m panicking, because I had nothing to do with any blue paint in the car,” she wrote. “The man I spoke to told me that he personally knows the previous renters, and they would not have spilled paint in the car. I feel like I’m being set up to pay another person’s bill.”
That’s a common complaint. But blue paint in the trunk is a pretty uncommon claim. And while we have reported on the ways that Enterprise measures damage, spilled paint doesn’t fit the mold. We need to backtrack to figure out what happened when McMullin rented the car, and maybe even a couple steps beyond.
McMullin says that when she rented the car, an agent did a walkaround inspection with her, but neither she nor the agent opened the trunk. She saw the paint for the first time on the second day of her rental, when she loaded groceries into the trunk. The paint was dry.
This probably would have been a good time to call the Enterprise office to let them know about the paint. But she didn’t think twice about it. She simply returned the car the next day.
Contractually speaking, any damage discovered at the end of a rental may be charged to the last renter. And if Enterprise is doing its job, that is, inspecting vehicles at the end of each rental and before beginning the next, we wouldn’t have so many cases of whodunit to investigate.
But, alas, we do. Enterprise should have inspected the vehicle before renting it to McMullin. If it had, and had the agent opened the trunk during the inspection, the paint would have been discovered.
Why would the Enterprise agent tell her anything about the previous renters? Shouldn’t his knowledge of the car’s condition be based on his thorough inspection of the vehicle at the end of each rental and before each rental begins?
It should. And that’s why Enterprise should fess up and not force a bill on McMullin owing to their lack of due diligence.
Spilling coffee or soda can happen to anyone. But not anyone can spill blue paint.
McMullin engaged in a series of phone calls to the Enterprise office about the damage. The conversation, however, kept shifting back to the last renter of the car. We already heard that the agent who phoned McMullin personally knew the last renter. Another agent then shared that the last renter had purchased the optional Collision Damage Waiver (CDW), which would have covered the damage. McMullin, of course, declined the coverage.
Well, I’ve rented plenty of cars in my day, and a few times I’ve opted for the CDW. You know what happens? The agents completely forego the walkaround inspection. You know why? The inspection is only valuable to the rental company if they can pin damage on the customer. If the rental company is picking up the tab for any damage caused, an inspection becomes an unnecessary exercise. Could the last renter’s personal relationship with the Enterprise agent, coupled with the purchase of insurance, have perhaps caused the Enterprise agents to break inspection protocol?
I think we might be onto something.
In the meantime, the manager of the location called McMullin to offer that they “split the bill,” and McMullin would only have to pay half, or $400. Again, if Enterprise had followed protocol, it would insist she pay the entire bill. Something here isn’t quite right.
Strangely, the manager insisted to McMullin that on the day she returned the vehicle, all of the trunks on the lot were opened, and that’s when the paint was discovered. Was it monthly trunk inspection day? No, says the manager, who told McMullin they open all the vehicle trunks every day.
The Enterprise version of the story is hard for me to believe. In my experience, a vehicle walkaround inspection typically allows the agent and renter to observe and damage to the paint and body and make notes on the rental contract. The agent usually checks the mileage and fuel amount, and on a rare occasion, I’ve had the trunk opened to confirm the spare tire is present. The agents never check the car’s interior for damage.
McMullin has written to the Enterprise executives whose contact information we publish on our site. So far she has gotten the manager to cut the bill in half. Could getting corporate involved thin this case completely?
Update: We contacted Enterprise, which took the position that McMullin caused the damage to the car. It nevertheless called the circumstances “unusual” and decided to drop the claim against McMullin.