Can this trip be saved? A chipped windshield and a surprise bill

It’s been a while since we’ve had a chipped-windshield story. This one comes to us by way of Kenneth Ross, whose wife recently rented a Toyota Corolla through Payless Car Rental in Toronto via Expedia.

“It was dark out and she walked around the car with the agent but didn’t notice the chip in the windshield,” he told me. “It was hidden behind the rear view mirror. She noticed it an hour later but didn’t think to call Payless because it was so small and the car she rented had lots more damage than that.”

You can guess what happened next, right?

A bill for the full amount is inevitable. And that’s exactly what she got.

When she returned it, she told the agent that it was there when she rented the car but she didn’t notice it.

He made her sign something acknowledging the chip and would not let her say that it was there at the time she picked up the car.

I spoke with the manager the next day and told him that it was not my wife’s fault for this little chip and that I would dispute any charges. I asked him to have his claims department talk to me before they did anything. They didn’t.

Payless charged us $815 Canadian for replacement of the windshield.

That seemed a little high to Ross, so he made a few calls.

I spoke with Auto Glass Canada in Toronto. The maximum charge to fix a chip in the windshield is $95 for a crack up to 10 inches.

For an entire windshield replacement on a 2010 Toyota Corolla, their total charge including labor is $345.

So, under any scenario, the charges are ridiculous and amount to fraud.

Looks that way from here, too. Except that the $815 bill probably includes some kind of “loss of use” fee to cover the company’s lost revenues from having the car in the shop. (However, these fees assume the car would be rented at a certain rate, which is not always true.)

Ross did some more digging. Turns out the Payless location his wife rented the far from has drawn the ire of other customers in the past. Here’s one standout:

Dirty vehicles, bad service, and the vehicle that was given to me was on then edge of having no brakes. These people should be blacklisted!

And another:

PLEASE spare yourself the aggravation, DO NOT rent a car. The prices seem too good to be true, and they are. Any savings you may think you are getting are eaten up with hidden fees/insurance requirements.

So what, if anything, can be done about this?

I think Ross needs to contact Expedia to let it know about this substandard experience. The online travel agencies offer Payless cars because they’re cheap, and consumers want cheap cars. But customers don’t want to get ripped off. If enough people complain, Expedia would refuse to list cars from this Payless franchise, or it could block all Payless cars.

I also think a credit card dispute might work. Payless has some explaining to do, and I imagine it will have a little trouble justifying an $815 bill for a chipped windshield. The Canadian Office of Consumer Affairs might be helpful in connecting him with an agency that can investigate.

But here’s the problem I have. Although I believe the Payless bill is too high, and needs to be adjusted, I’m not sure if Ross’ wife isn’t responsible.

If damage to a rental car, however small, isn’t noted when you pick up the vehicle, then you’re on the hook. That’s why it’s so important to photograph or videotape the whole car — inside and out — before you accept the keys. And it’s why you have to get an employee to sign that little ticket, where the pre-existing damage is noted.

(Photo: Casey/Flickr Creative Commons)

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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  • ChrisY

    It just makes you want to take transit, cabs, or walk, rather than deal with these companies who have an eye for nothing but revenue. 

  • Sam Varshavchik

    I disagree on principle.

    I would argue that small windshield chips are standard wear and tear. They may not happen all the time, and for everyone, but they’re just a normal part of driving on American highways. Once or twice a year I take a long 500 mile trip, mostly on the highways, and during the trip stuff I routinely get pummeled by stuff getting kicked up by other cars and trucks’ tires.

    In this case, I suggest that he ask for a copy of the original dated repair receipt, and a picture of the replaced windshield. Just some computer-printed letter is insufficient. It wouldn’t surprise me if this rental place tried to rip off more than one person for the same damage.

  • Brooklyn

    First of all, it’s unreasonable to expect people to photograph or video every inch of a car that may be picked up late at night in a dark parking lot in the rain! And not everyone has video or even photo capability on their cell phone.  Second, the price for the repair is absurd: a couple of years ago, I was driving a Hertz rental car in NM when a passing truck sent a rock into the windshield, chipping it. I returned the car the next day, reported the damage and insisted they give me a new car; the idea was to make sure that the chip didn’t turn into a major crack while the car was charged to me. The local office of my car insurance company (Geico) said that I probably wouldn’t be covered, but when I got back to NY I was told that rental car coverage depends on your state of residence – useful to know for the future – and that I would be covered after all.  To my surprise, when the bill finally came, Hertz charged me just $18 and I paid it out of pocket.

  • cjr001

    I agree on all counts.

    In this situation, with it being dark out, it’s likely that photos/video would still not have noticed this particular chip in the windshield.

    And considering what they found to be the cost of replacing a windshield – $350 – you’re looking at $470 for ‘loss of use’? How long was it to be out of commission, a month? Definitely a rip-off.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Where I live and drive, I get lots of chips and normally replace a windshield every 1 – 2 years.  Auto glass repair is a very competitive business.  One local company charges me $25 to come to my house, out in the country, to repair chips.  15 minutes and they’re done and the car is immediately driveable.  Windshields cost $200 – $350 (depends on make, model and year, profit margin of the company) and they’re driveable in an hour, but you do have to leave on the tape around the edges of the windshield for 2 hours or so.  They prefer that the tape be kept on overnight. I can’t imagine $500 or so of “loss of use” for taking a rental car out of commission for the maximum of 1 day a windshield repair/replacement entails.

    Helpful hint from my mobile glass repairman: if you get a chip, take a piece of clear tape and tape it over the chip.  It keeps out the moisture and dampens vibrations – keeping the chip a $25 repair job, rather than a total windshield replacement.  I’ve used that hint to preserve a chip over the weekend until I could get the chip repaired.

  • K.

    I agree that it’s normal wear & tear.  In Florida, windshield repair/replacement is required to have a zero deductible through insurance to encourage quick repairs.

  • BillC

    It looks like the bill is too high but that’s exactly what I would expect from a car rental company. I voted for you to stay out of it since he seems to be handling it on his own.

  • Asiansm Dan

    Horror stories with Car-Rent Business continues as long as Car-Rent Companies couldn’t resell their old fleet as before because the new cars are affordable.

  • AutoSlash

    Even if there was loss-of-use, how much could it possibly be to replace a windshield.  I’ve had it done, and I didn’t even get through half the day’s newspaper before my car was done.

    A Toyota Corolla is at best a midsize car.  Payless is a “value” company, so maybe at best it rents for $50/day?  Let’s call it $75 in taxes.  There’s still a few hundred bucks unaccounted for there.

    I’m a fan of mediating this one by asking Payless for a full accounting of the fees.  I don’t think the customer should be responsible at all for a small chip since it should be covered on wear and tear, but if they’re going to be on the hook for it, then they shouldn’t get gouged as well.

    We wrote an article on loss-of-use in our blog explaining what you need to know about it:

  • Josh

    I agree with this — most of the garbage these fraudsters charge exorbitant prices for is just normal wear and tear — minor scratches and dings are also part of having a car, generally not under the control of the renter, and don’t need to each be fixed at $800 a pop.

    A windshield can at least be argued that it needs to be fixed to prevent a worse crack, but as pointed out, a chip repair is $20, and even an entire windshield replacement costs less than $200 (hint: if you don’t go through your insurance, the price is a lot lower) and can be done in a couple hours, so there’s no meaningful “loss of use”.  And that’s assuming that general damage from the local roads that are authorized to drive on (and again, the driver can’t do much to avoid) shouldn’t be considered part of the rental company’s cost of business.

  • Phil

    Off the beaten track slightly, that little diagram that the rental car agemcoes give you is so small that it would be difficult to list all the damage one finds. I have often thought about making my own list, with a large diagram of the car so that all damages could be marked. Then have the agent sign my list of marked damages. I doubt however he/she would do this.

  • Raven

    I knew it was fraud the instant the OP mentioned Payless wanted them to “replace the windshield.” For a chip?!? No, you call one of those glass places and they’ll do it on the spot in less than an hour for less than $100US.

    Car rental agencies are surpassing used car dealers in sleaziness these days…

  • john4868

    I agree that he is responsible for the damage. Sorry but the “it was dark out” excuse doesn’t work for me. Anything that you don’t document on the rental contract you own. If its too dark to see, insist they move the car to somewhere with light before you except the keys.

    Having said that, the bill is an obscene amount. At most he owes $100C, the cost of a chip repair in that area and 1 days rental.

  • Beachglassandseastars

    I rented a car from Payless at SFO a couple of years ago.  Never again; low budget operation, had to take a short van ride to the agency (walk past all the big guys counters to get to the lonely random phone booth out back in the dark to call them)….the car was dirty inside and out, it creaked and groaned, had dents and scratches, stains on the seats – I took pictures of everything I could find.  They didn’t charge for anything, but did claim that we had agreed to purchase physical damage insurance coverage.  I know we had initialed the refusal but between the two of us did not have a copy of the agreement we had signed so no choice but to pay.

  • DavidS

    Does the credit card used to rent the car have car rental coverage? I had a similar situation (rear windshield busted out) and I spoke to the credit card company to make a claim. They told me the estimate from the car rental company was too high, even for loss of use. They told me they would work with the car rental company. I filled out a couple of forms and that was that…out of my hands. I got the feeling they are used to “negotiating” the costs down to something reasonable.

    Note to self: Payless…especially Toronto…do not use.

  • Chicky

    This is fraud. Period. I can easily see how she missed that chip. It was dark and behind the rearview mirror. Therefore, she wouldn’t have seen it until she was behind the wheel, and probably sitting at a traffic light, with a street light shining on the windshield, which hit the chip at exactly the right angle and lit it up.
    Even if the chip appeared after she rented the car, I’m sure she didn’t take a ball peen hammer to the windshield in a fit of anger, causing the chip. And $810 for repair? Unbelievable. This is not even plausible. Good grief.

  • CTP

    A chip in the windshield is not something a renter can control. There is nothing they can do to prevent that from happening other than not driving the car. Were the tires on the vehicle brand new, with no signs of wear? So far, no agency has tried to collect for low tire treads, and chips in a windshield should be viewed the same way – as part of the normal use of the car but perhaps with a low likely hood of actually getting one in every car that is rented.

  • Carver


    I have to disagree with your advice in its entirety:

    1.  Damages. Its not true that you are liable per se if you don’t notice and note damage.  That’s blatently false.  What you are laible for is damage occcured while in your possession that is not normal wear and tear. That’s not splitting hairs, that a huge distinction.  A chipped windsheld is normal wear and tear. No one in his or her right mind would replace an entire windshield over a chip that costs $25 to fix.  The should fight tooth and nail.

    2.  Photographs:  That may be reasonable if you rent once a year, but if you rent with any frequency, that’s just not reasonable.
    3. Loss of Use.  You are never responsible for loss of use unless the entire fleet is sold out.  That happens maybe 2-3 a year. Otherwise this cannot stand.

    A better solution would be to be proactive.  Anecdotally domestic airport locations of major brands seems to have the fewest complaints.  Franchise locations seem to have more complaints, and off-brands seems to have the highest complaints. 

    Join the car’s loyalty program.  Hertz Gold members don’t pay for minor damages to the cars.  I’ve been renting cars extensively for the past 15 years and have never been charged for damages.

  • Bill

    I only rent from “oughttier one” car rental agencies.  In fact, lately only from Hertz (although I have absolutely nothing against Avis).  I am often a frequent renter and I do photograph the car, before and after, every time.

    Years ago, I rented a car from a place called Holiday Rent a car.  The windshield had a pressure crack when I was in a parking lot.  Someone else was in the car with me.  They charged me for the windshield, even though this was no fault of my own.

    I found out later that this franchise was owned by a local car dealership.  As a punitive measure, not only did I never rent from them again (they are not in business anymore) but I also made sure not to make any purchases at all at the dealership.  Every new car I’ve bought has been somewhere else.

    This was years ago and I still hold it against them.

    A good rule of thumb I find is that when a business burns you, ,try to cost them a thousand times as much in lost business through whatever legal means you can.

  • Sershev

    I broke a rear window in the rental car not too long ago and the bill to replace it was $170. I can’t think the windshield would be much more. I also passed the bill to discovercard and they paid for it. At the same time I contacted my own insurance and they negotiated with Avis all the fees to be removed such as lost of use and service fee. I beblieve $815 for a windshield replacement is not reasonable amount. Althouth it may have some fees included in the total. Credit cards usually have rental car coverage policy as a benefit. They and your own insurance company will make sure a reasonable fee is charged for the damage and if needed negotiate with the rental company for you. Ever since I had a few climes with rental vehicle damage I choose rental car company based on how they may handle the situation, even if it cost a few dollars more. I think Avis is the best company to deal when there is a damage to the car. They don’t charge credit card upfront for the damage and bill you later and work with your insurance.

  • David

    We rented a car is Lisbon and heard the manager bragging to somebody about “damage” they had charged some guy.  Sounded like total BS but the manager didn’t seem to care that we heard because they were speaking in Portuguese.

    Well, we got to the lot and my wife circled the ENTIRE car and wrote “chips, dented, dinged and scratched” everywhere — in Portuguese.  Hint to those trying to rip off Americans — don’t assume we don’t speak your language just because we’re speaking English!

    Point – circle the entire car and write chipped, scratched, dinged and dented” on it.  You already have the keys and are driving away — what can they do?  Two can play the rental car game.

  • Tony A.

    Aha! This is the way car rental customers can justify why you should buy their insurance. They will look at all the chips, nicks, scratches, cracks, etc. and fine us to death until we agree that the easiest way to rent a car is to buy their insurance with it. Jerks!

  • Chris in NC

    I have never had a good experience with Payless. In the late 90s, I was forced to use them on 2 occasions due to a corporate contract with Payless. Apparently enough of us complained that our company finally severed its relationship with Payless. 

    $815 for a windshield replacement? Are you kidding me? If it was a crack, it would be replaced in less than 30 minutes for < $20. Even if the windshield needed to be replaced, it takes less than 1 hour, and should be no more than a fraction of the quoted cost. Heck, when I had my windshield replaced, the service tech did it in the parking lot in front of my office and the overall time took less than 1 hour. If memory is correct, you had to avoid using a carwash for 48 hours, but exactly how much did Payless want for "loss of service?"

    Please keep us updated on the outcome of this case!

  • Madchickenlittle

    Y’know  Chris, I take exception to your comment that the wife or anyone else renting a car is responsible for noting pre-existing damage.  I find it asinine that any company in business can charge for what is clearly a normal cost of doing business.  If you offer cars for rent, dings, scrapes, bumper damage from luggage, windshield chips…all these are normal costs of business and should be included in your forecasts and paid for accordingly. Let’s not be apologists for business!

    Airlines exclude “normal wear and tear” on luggage from reimbursement policies, cell providers exclude just about everything.  Name one time the customer gets the benefit of the doubt.

    I am TIRED of the consumer being the one who is holding the short end of every stick.  Cruises who tag on fuel surcharges AFTER the cruise is paid in full, fees for checking baggage, selecting seats, and sitting in a hotel room, after all your nightly rate doesn’t include a resort fee.  This is MADNESS.

    We need to stop rolling over for these ridiculous policies, and you need to stop putting the onus of being the perfect customer on to folks who may or may not travel very often.  Businesses are paying a lot of money to design websites that obfuscate the true costs, and are being EXTREMELY aggressive in pursuing costs they aren’t truly entitled to.  How is Joe Schmoe the infrequent traveller supposed to compete?

  • Joe Farrell

    maybe we should create a travelers booking association – and create list of preferred travelers, give those persons codes they can enter so the travel industry can track them – and we can then issue report cards on business practices.  You then can book only with approved providers who have favorable policies. . . . the AAA does this but only as to pricing and overt quality standards – no one is doing it for customer hassle factor and friendliness . ..

  • Madchickenlittle

    It’s a good start, I am just deeply disappointed that it’s necessary.  I myself would participate.  I find that the more I travel, and these days between work and leisure I travel a LOT, the more frustrated I am that I can’t ever know up front exactly what to expect.

    Flight delays are no big deal to me, but the whole customer service issue makes me crazed.

  • jamiru

    I agree with Madchickenlittle on this. If there’s pre-existing damage on a car that a rental company would charge me for, then why are they renting me the car? If companies would prefer not to fix chargable damage to their vehicles then why not keep a specific log sheet for each car that provides a comprehensive list of damage that the rental company is aware of and decided not to fix that’s reviewed pre-rental (ideally including whether or not a renter has been charged for that damage), rather than having both the rental agent and customer go through the time consuming “hunt for existing damage” routine?

  • doctork

    My girlfriend rented a car from Payless via Hotwire. She was going to pick it up at Ft. Lauderdale Airport.  Payless said it had no cars left at the airport. She had to go to a different location, 15 mi. away. I told her to return it to the airport. She wouldn’t listen. I was there and followed her to the far away site to drop the car off.  Then I took her to the airport.  I told her to complain and wrote to Chris.  He was willing to intecede.  She did not follow up.  Later she got angry when her T-Mobile Blackberryy broke.  I offered to replace the same model.   She wanted the top model. I offered  to put $50. on account.  Never  got a call from  T-Mobile to  pay  $50.   She fullly paid for  itt.    Avoid Payless & Hotwire.  Also, some people  can”t be   pleased

  • Charles

    First rule of rental cars: always use a credit card that includes rental car insurance! Every time I read one of these stories I have to ask the obvious question: why are you fretting over this?

    We rented a car from Hertz in St. Martin. We hit a pothole (they are massive there) and damaged a tire. Hertz charged us $100 for the tire replacement. When I got home I filed a claim with American Express, so I know how the process works. Here’s what they do: they immediately put a hold on the damage portion of the payment! You don’t have any leverage when dealing with a rental car company, but the credit card company does because they hold the purse strings. This ensures the rental car company provides the documentation to prove the claim and Amex does any fighting with them about the charges. It took a few weeks and we were credited with the $100 from AmEx.

    Had I gotten that $815 bill the OP received, I would not be griping, worrying, fighting with Payless, or seeking the help of a consumer advocate. I would pass the bill to American Express. From there it’s their problem. There are a lot of things that can be a problem from travel. Rental car damage charges just should not be one of them.

  • Friendsbooksale

    You say not to pick up a car unless you’ve photographed or videographed the interior and exterior.  So is your advice never to pick up a car at night, in the rain, in snow, etc?

    I’ve also had agents who refused to sign the previous damage form because “we never charge for something like that”.  That one took almost 2 hours to persuade them to sign the form.  Luckily, I had the time to do it, but that’s not always possible.

  • David Burlison

    Well done unique travel site-very interesting/informative..nice photos.


    (Feel free to post on our forum)

  • Jikinn

    We usually rent from Enterprise, and I go over the car THOROUGHLY before we drive it off their lot. The employee who is with me (different person each time) always says that the damage has to be more than 1 inch (or something like that – I don’t remember the specifics) for them to mark it on the card. Otherwise, the boss makes them write up some sort of paperwork, blah, blah, blah. This is new – I’ve never heard this before this year. We’ve rented here three times, and so far, I haven’t had any trouble about little scratches that they wouldn’t mark on the card. But after reading so many of Chris’s columns about rental cars, I may start videotaping the entire car, just to be on the safe side. I can’t afford to pay for damage I didn’t cause, and I don’t want the stress and aggravation of fighting with anyone over it.

  • Dep Johny

    windshield are the most common type of damages for a car. and for these
    damages company should not take charges and the most car rental
    companies just replace the part damage by windshield when they get
    spread. windsheild damages are always not viable to you and comapny so
    if the compnay is taking something then it`s wrong and fund should be