Are car rental companies double dipping on damage claims?

One of the most common complaints I get from car rental customers is that they’re being charged for damages that they weren’t responsible for. They wonder if the companies are double-dipping — charging multiple customers for the same repair — as at least one franchisee has admitted to doing. But proving that kind of behavior is difficult.

Not to Cynthia Plume, a reader who I advised on her recent damage-related grievance with Thrify.

When she picked up her rental car at the airport late at night in Sarasota, Fla., there was no apparent damage to the vehicle. “We drove it several miles to our home,” she says. “The next morning, as we walked into the garage to leave, we noticed that the front end of the car had been damaged.”

She called Thrifty to report the condition of the car, and was told not to worry about it. The damage was pre-existing, and a representative assured her that anyone reviewing the file would see the report and she wouldn’t be charged.

That didn’t happen. After she returned the car, she received a $700 bill for the dent.

She called me to find out what to do next. I urged her to send a cordial but firm email to Thrifty, asking to substantiate the charge with repair records.

Thrifty backed down almost immediately, sending her a letter that her case had been “closed.”

Plume phoned the company to find out what had happened. “A customer service representative looked up our reservation, and she could not explain it because the file did, in fact, show a damage report prior to our rental,” she says. “It also showed our phone call and the customer service rep’s notations related to the previous accident report.”

The Thrifty agent went on to say she had “no idea” why Plume received a claim.

“Strange, huh?” she adds. “Double dipping? Maybe. Bogus claim? For sure.”

If you suspect you’ve been the victim of a double-dipping scam, send me a note or leave your comments below.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Kristin

    I used’s “Name Your Own Price” feature for a rental car for my nearly two week trip to Oahu Hawaii. I was there to spend time with my boyfriend who is stationed there and does not have a vehicle. I arrived at the Alamo near the Honolulu Airport at close to 11:30 pm as my flight did not get in until late. My boyfriend and I went in to the counter and I denied the 12 dollar a day insurance (I was renting the car for two weeks so it would have cost me an additional 168 dollars). After giving them my information I was told to go out into the dark lot and an attendant would be out there to help me. After about 20 minutes and going back into the office twice the counter clerk finally told us that we could pick from any mid size vehicle in the row… I was tired and could barely see – the clerk suggested we take a 2011 Toyota Corolla and that the keys were in the vehicle. It was very late -and I had just made a 14+ hour journey and wanted to go to sleep. NO inspection of the vehicle was done and it was so dark in the lot that any minor damage would not have been seen.

    At 6am the next morning I had to drop my boyfriend off for training and when I parked the car I noticed what looked like paint smudged into the driver’s door of the vehicle. I had assumed that it was there from a previous renter. The vehicle was great… Brand new with less than 2k miles on it. About a week into the rental I was on base driving straight on a road that has parking spots on the right hand side. One of the vehicles had started to pull out of the spot as I was passing him. I froze, I didn’t know what to do so I tried to swerve. His vehicle very very lightly hit the passenger wheel and the panel near the wheel and also the passenger door. He immediately admitted the accident was his fault (He said he couldn’t see past the other parked cars and didn’t see my car coming). He asked for my phone number. That’s it. I took down his car insurance information, his phone number, etc. Then I immediately called roadside assistance and told them what happened. They said they needed a police report. I then went to the Military Police station and attempted to file a report. I sat in the cold waiting room for over an hour with a 102 fever, a kidney infection, and a severe sore throat only to be told that they had some things going on and I could wait (they did not know how long it would be) or I could return another day.

    I was not able to return the next day, because, like I said, I was very very very sick and in pain. I returned on Saturday and they could not file the report for good reason, since I had driven the vehicle off base. However the officer talked to the people at Alamo, explained this, and told them that I was in the office *to prove that I attempted to file a report. The alamo person was very rude and short to him on the phone and seemed to not understand what was going on.

    After the police station I called back Alamo and gave them all the information I had on the other driver. I was probably on the phone with Alamo for close to an hour at that point. I was told that the agent took all the information I had given her and put it into the report they were going to forward to the claims department. A day or two later I was told that roadside assistance finished their part and was forwarding it to claims and that I should receive a call from claims. I was also told the police report would be available in two weeks, but the officer and even myself told them that there would be no police report, yet the file stated I told them I had filed one…

    Two weeks later and I received no call from claims. I called up customer service several times only to have the people not be able to help me. Today I receive a letter from their damage recovery unit telling me that I needed to file a claim with my insurance company and they needed a credit card number (I only have a debit card since I got ride of all my credit cards after an unfortunate bankruptcy). There was no information on the letter about the costs of repair or anything.

    So I called customer service to complain that it had been two weeks since the accident and claims still had not contacted me. The first person I talked to hung up on me when I told them to hold on (I needed to get a pen) and the second person told me they would get back to me in 3 business days about the matter. After I complained some more they finally gave me the number for the claims department.

    Everyone in the world is telling me I should have gotten the Alamo car insurance and then none of this would be a problem. But the accident was not my fault and I am not going to pay for someone else’s mistake. I have pictures of the damage that are dated to that day as well. Unfortunately the witnesses walked away as they told me to move my vehicle from the road… I could not get any of their names or numbers.

    Alamo has been nothing but a disappointment to me. I have rented from Enterprise and Hertz and have nothing but positive experiences from them. They throughly inspect your vehicles and even make follow up calls to see how the rental is going! Alamo customer service/roadside assistance/clerks/parking attendants were inept, rude, and seemed to not take down the information I had given them.

    I will not be using priceline (in case I get stuck with alamo) and Alamo rent a car ever again after this debacle…

  • Dave

    Has anyone ever been charged seperately for a dent and scratch in the same part of the car? If so you may well have been overcharged. I was originally charged c£900 by Avis for a relatively small dent and scratch on the rear of a car. Luckily I had insurance excess with Travel Jigsaw. Once they got involved it came to light that the true cost was only about £450 as the scratch and dent were able to be repaired simultaneously. I wonder whether this would ever have come to light if a 3rd party had not been involved.
    To add insult to injury, whereas Travel Jigsaw refunded the excess payment immediately, Avis took about 7 days to process their payment and have taken over that to refund the money they should never have charged in the first place. They obviously are processing far more payments than they can deal with!

  • Jwhitebball


  • Prayfon_may

    I recently rented a car in USA from Enterprise. When I pick up the car, I have walk around and try to show them any where they had damage on the car with large dent on front passenger side rim. I also prefer my insurance from AAA and deny to get their protection insurance. In fact, I truth them by didn’t check back anything on the paper. When I returned, the agent told me have to pay for that damage because it didn’t mark on the paper….no any where mark on the paper, But they said I won’t be charged anything and don’t worried about it, my money for the deposits will back to your bank account. After I got home, I check on the received bill, it was charged me for $250. So how can I do? Could you help me for this case? Please contact me at or give me a call at 1-626-818-9009.

    Please help me…
    Thank you.

  • Fernando

    I am being charged, apparently, for a lost tire and wheel $422! I can only speculate they are referring to the spare.  To be honest, neither me not the agent checked if it was there or not, neither at pick-up or return.  But I would think if they want to charge me for it, they should have checked when I returned the car.  I received a phone call and a letter one month later! They are charging me for something that I am not responsible for, and that is plain dishonest!

  • Hesimmons

    We rented a car from an Alamo location in the Orlando airport on May 8th . When we walked outside, the Alamo employee said to pick whatever car in a certain row. We did not look at the car for existing damage together. It was in a parking garage but from what I could see, the car looked fine. When we returned the car on May 17th, the Alamo employee also did not do a walk around to look for damage on the car, the Alamo employee simply handed me a receipt and said nothing. Almost a month later, I get a letter and a bill from Alamo Rent a Car’s Damage Recovery Unit saying that there was damage to the car that I rented. There was an amount and description of the damage. Actually I am surprised they didn’t charge me for the “lovebug” car wash! Now What??

  • Rob OConncll

    I just found your story doing a search on Budget damage reports.  The same thing just happened to me.  I rented a car for 2 meeting (5 hours!) and was told I was responsible for scratches on the front bumper.  The only phone number on the letter I just received put me in touch with a rep in India whos is no help.

    What did you end up doing??

    Thank you, Rob

  • JSW9

    My 77 year old mother had to rent a car from Enterprise when somebody backed in to her own car and she took it to the body shop for repairs.  When her car was ready, the body shop took posession of her rental car and said they’d take care of getting it back to Enterprise.  A couple of weeks later she received a $440 bill from Enterprise for repairs on the car that Enterprise said it was returned damaged!  They said it doesn’t matter if it wasn’t damaged when she returned it to the body shop, that she was still responsible.  What rights does she have?  Does she have the right to demand a picture of the damage, an invoice, etc?  This sounds like it could be a scam.

  • Reeds20

    I rented a car from thrifty over 4 months ago, at the airport on panama city fl. I checked the vehicle over by myself, due to the distance between the vehicles and the rental desk inside. I drove the car for 3 days, without incident, i returned vehicle full of gas, i parked it in the same spot from where it was originally, no one came out to check the car with me. Now suddenly 4 months later I received a charge on my bank account for $621.00 even from thrifty at the same location. I had to cancel my card and make a fraud claim afraid someone used my card. Then called thrifty, who claim it was not fraud, but they are claiming I damaged the door handle 4 months ago, and tried to contact me by mail, NOT!!! she admitted the wrong address 1828 not mine at 1829, now I’ve demanded the claim untrue but still have the $621 out of my hands! HELP

  • Adoptapetnow

    I had this exact thing happen in Memphis to me last month with Enterprise.  The man who went out with me opened the door and started talking about how much he loved the state I was from etc etc. I sat down and drive off.  He didn’t even bother to tell me anything about the car.  the front fender had a black mark on it no dent etc etc still fighting it.

  • Anne

    I rented a car from Dollar Rent a car, associate of Thrifty, and my story was
    exactly the same as Cynthia.  when I collected the car from the airport, I did not see any damage.  When I arrived home, I noticed a dent and immediately phoned the customer service agent notifying them about the dented spot.  The lady on the phone said “No problem, I will take note of the dented spot.”  I then asked her that I would like to return the car and exchange for another one, she mentioned that I needn’t have to, and can continue my journey, and that she will take note of the complaints.

    When I return the car, I courteously informed the checker and went to pay up my bill.  Believed me, don’t take any car when no one walks you around with the car to check it properly before u drive out of the airport or office.

  • Isabella james

    what is the total price of minivan from 02/25/2010 5PM to 02/28/2010 5PM?,__Coupons_Deals.html

  • Awallace95

    Just returned from a trip to Germany and found that Avis in Frankfurt is doing the same to us.  I can’t prove it, yet, but am in the process of disputing it.  We didn’t do ANY damage to the car and the ‘damage’ on the car were surface scratches.  However, we were given a bill for $1,860.40 USD and said we had purchased insurance, but it only covered $1,168.07.  This is the condensed version.  I’m just not sure how we will get our money back that they have already charged our account.

  • former enterprise customer

    Also hit by Enterprise for $275 for 3 small dents in roof that weren’t obvious in the dark garage where I inspected the car but were obvious in the extremely well lit area where I returned. There had been no hail in the area, so it had to be previous damage.

  • tropicalrider

    DO NOT RENT ANY VEHICLE FROM DOLLAR RENT A CAR, THEY ARE CROOKS.  When they ask if you want insurance and you say no you already bought it, they try tyo slide it in anyway and rush you through the sign-in process.  when you return the car you find that a 465.00 charge has become 798.00.  when you call to complain, they simply say “we don’t know what conversation you had with the desk clerk but you signed it so we refuse to do anything. If you ask for their legal department, they give you a p.o. box number

  • Dipankar Ganguly

    Enterprise at Philly airport did the same
    with me. When we rented the car, we walked thru all the side but who the hell
    will think about the roof of the car. When we went to return it at the airport
    return one tall guy pointed out that and later they sent me a bill of $500 for
    a tiny little almost invisible scratch on the roof of the car. Now I want your
    suggestion to how we can defy by not paying the amount.

  • EliseinLA

    I received a claim from my rental car company for damage that I know did not happen when I had the vehicle.  I was not notified when I returned the vehicle but only received a letter a month later.  Is there a specific time rental companies need to bring damage to your attention and document it or – as it seems here – can they just assign damage at will to any of the customers that had the car that day?

  • Sinea

    Beware Dollar-Rent-A-Car in Anchorage, AK. I rented a car, returned it without incident. An agent checked me in, walked around the car and examined it, noted gas tank full and odometer reading, and gave me a receipt. A week later I got a phone call at work from a collection agency. Dollar had claimed I damaged the car and was attempting to collect a debt for over $3000. When I refused to pay, they filed a false claim with my insurance company for the damages. The first collector who called me said the damage was a scratch along the side. But the body shop bill included headlamp replacements, hood latch replacement, all kinds of fender work on both sides of the car, extensive finish work, plus 16 days worth of “out-of-service” rental fees and an “administrative fee”. All for damage that did NOT happen when I had the car. My insurance agent agrees that it’s a fraudulent claim, but says that this is a common scam in the car rental industry and there is nothing that I can do. The insurance company is going to pay Dollar’s claim–against my protests–and now Dollar is coming after me for the additional fees. What a scam.

  • timb499

    I rented a truck from the Budget in Richmond BC… appeared
    when I came back that there was a minor chip I windshield.   as I didn’t have anything hit my windshield
    figured it was there prior but as I had paid insurance thought with.. anyway
    they charged a $1,000.00 deductible and afterwards returned $300.00 so charged
    to have the windshield replaced when any other company etc would have done the
    chip repair for $50-$75.. when asked for a copy of invoice from car company
    they refused.. after further research found this is a common scam with budget….
    Letters to their “head office” were never answered as is the case of CBC – tv
    investigation that Budget basically would not respond to  c attached Link

    so as far as I am concerned 


  • Kathy

    I rented from Enterprise at the Philadelphia airport.  Had no incidents, no problems with the car.  Upon return they claimed I was responsible for a small scratch low on the driver rear quarter panel.  They charged my credit card $500 for a scratch that was less than 2″ long.  I am not responsible for this damage.  I am disputing the charge with my credit card company and have also contacted my auto insurance provider St. Farm.  I will not pay this, if I have to fight all the way to small claims court I will! 
    Do not give in to these scams – ever.

  • Andrew Smithson

    For me it is budget rental on a moving truck I rented. They claim I damaged a tire and expect full reimbursement.
    The interesting thing is they contacted me ninety days after said rental return.
    Nothing noted after inspection by agent, supposedly they found it after I left.
    This seems like a bogus claim if I have ever heard one.

  • Tom Guenther

    Enterprise Rent A Car – We’ll pick you up so we can JACK YOU UP!

  • Ricky

    Alamo rental picked up mini van at Indianapolis IN no one walked around car with me. I looked the car over and saw no damage. When I returned the van the attendant asked if I filled the van up I told him no I prepaid for gas then he went straight to the top of the van and said I damaged it. There was nothing on top of the van all the luggage fit in the rear the van was not parked near any trees or anything that could have damaged it. They told me that I damaged it I know I did not. What should my next steps be.

  • Fog Geoge

    Once the car is accepted by the rental company at check in that should be the end of the rental. Why would it take two to three months to contact someone to say there was damage when the check-in clerk did not see it? How could they possibly know it was me that caused the damage after many rentals before the damage is located? I am sure they charge all the customers who rented the vehicle since the damage was found but not found by the customer.

    I rented an older car from Budget and drove it home and then to the airport (no accidents, parked in my own driveway all night) but there was some damage on the left fender I did not notice.

    Even the clerk who checked the car in said it looked “old”. It had rust on it and I live in a dry climate so I knew I didn’t do it. Two or three months later I got a call from them saying they wanted $550 to repair it. I knew I didn’t do it and yelled at them and they finally backed down. I am sure they tried to get money out of as many people as they could.

    There should be a website that rental companies must post all information about a vehicle (VIN, make, model, etc) that has had a payment from a customer for damages That way if you rent a car you can check to see if there was any previous attempts to collect money for the same damage.