Reviews for the German car rental agency Sixt on the online review sites Yelp and TripAdvisor fall into two distinct categories. One category consists of four-star and five-star reviews, loaded with praise for the professionalism of its staff and the excellence of its cars. These reviews are the ones Sixt itself touts on its website.
But after a bad experience with Sixt last year, Bart Shachnow noticed that there are a lot of reviews of the other type — one-star and zero-star — and probably wanted to leave a review of his own. Many of the reviews indicated that Sixt has a reputation for pursuing its customers for wear-and-tear damage claims. Car rental companies, for whom damage claims can be significant sources of profit, don’t like to discuss those claims.
Shachnow rented a car from Sixt in Munich. When he arrived to pick it up, he was told that it was not “road ready” and had not been properly inspected. He was offered another car, and being in a hurry to reach his destination, accepted it.
According to Shachnow, “there was never any walk-around or car condition check conducted by Sixt at the originating rental agency, nor did they offer any paperwork for me to check for any damages.” He took photos of the car “simply out of an intuitive sense that they were not trustworthy.”
His instincts were right.
When Shachnow returned the car in Vienna a week later, Sixt did not inspect the car at that time. Three days later, however, Shachnow received an email from Sixt claiming that Shachnow caused $3,000 of damage to the car, including scratches to the bumpers, spoiler, and aluminum rims, as well as a missing tire air compressor. Shachnow forwarded to Sixt his photos of the car that showed no damage.
Sixt refused to back down. It responded:
We are checking our cars after every return according to a station-wide homogeneous standard. By doing so we have noticed a new damage after your return (which are also seen in the pictures you sent).
You have confirmed the condition of the rental car described on the rental agreement before takeover. If you notice new damage you have the obligation to inform us before takeover according to our contractual agreement. We have checked our papers once again and can unfortunately find no evidence for such information.
After revision of all given information and your objection we have to inform you that the damage must have occurred during your rental period. Therefore we kindly ask for your understanding that we have to insist on compensation of our claimed indemnity.
As a “gesture of goodwill,” Sixt extended the timeline that they were giving Shachnow to pay the claim.
Shachnow demanded that they show him photographic evidence of their own in proving their claim. Sixt forwarded photos of its own, as well as a chart of the car with areas circled, where it alleged that Shachnow had caused damage.
At this point Shachnow contacted our advocacy team for assistance.
Sixt’s Terms and Conditions are unambiguous:
The lessee undertakes to treat the vehicle appropriately and with due care, to observe all the regulations and technical rules which apply to its use, especially to check regularly that the engine oil level is sufficient and to observe when vehicle services are due and to check regularly that the vehicle is in a roadworthy condition and to properly lock the vehicle. The lessor’s vehicles are non-smoking vehicles in principle….
If ever the vehicle is damaged during the rental period the lessee is obliged to notify the lessor in writing and without undue delay of all of the details of the incident which led to the vehicle being damaged. For this purpose the lessee should complete all of the points on the form for reporting an accident, which can be found with the vehicle papers, carefully and truthfully. The form can also be requested from the lessor at any time by telephone or can be downloaded from the lessor’s websites.
The lessee or driver must take all measures, which are expedient or conducive to clearing up the case of damage. This particularly includes them having to answer the lessor’s questions concerning the circumstances of the case of damage truthfully and fully and them not being permitted to leave the scene of the accident until it has been possible to make the necessary findings and particularly the findings that are of importance to the lessor for assessing the damaging event or without allowing the lessor to make such findings….
In the event of damage to the vehicle, loss of the vehicle or breach of the rental contract, the lessee shall be liable, in principle, in accordance with the general rules governing liability. In particular, the lessee must return the vehicle in the condition in which he took possession of it.
So if Shachnow had actually caused damage to the car to the tune of $3,000, yes, he would be responsible for paying that much to Sixt.
But the damage didn’t occur while the car was in his possession. And as Shachnow realized from reading the online reviews, Sixt has a tendency to extract exorbitant payments from its customers for normal wear-and-tear to its cars — so much so that this behavior serves as a “profit center” for Sixt.
This story does have a happy ending. After our advocacy team got involved, Shachnow received a letter from Sixt advising him that “After reviewing all given information … we waive the damage compensation.”