Tim Carpenter thought he had done everything he could to avoid a frivolous damage claim on his rental minvan.
He took pictures of his vehicle before he picked it up and after he returned it. He noted every pre-existing scratch and dent in the paperwork.
But he thought wrong.
An Alamo representative at Orlando International Airport informed him that “none of that mattered” when he brought the minivan back and that his vehicle, which had a small scratch on the rear bumper, would be processed by the company’s claims department.
“Three weeks later a series of claim letters started arriving in the mail, demanding payment of over $750,” says Carpenter, who works for a federal agency in Oklahoma City. “When I questioned the damage amount, based on the amount of damage that was noted, I was told that the entire rear bumper had to be replaced. And there was ‘loss of use’ associated with that. I asked for documentation of the repair, but was told that was ‘company property’.”
Carpenter’s story is hardly unique. Try as hard as motorists might, more of them are getting dinged by the dreaded car rental damage scheme. Although there are no reliable statistics on the number of these claims, a recent reader poll found that just over half of respondents believe car rental companies are pursuing every claim, no matter how small, with greater fervor. An almost equal number say the claim game is being played the same as it always has been.
Alamo eventually dropped its claim, but only after Carpenter forwarded his photos to the company, along with an email promising he would file a complaint with the insurance commissioners in Florida and Oklahoma alleging insurance fraud. Alamo also apologized for the incident and sent him a free coupon for a weekend rental after he posted his story on my site.
I think it’s important to acknowledge the car rental industry’s side of this issue. When a car, truck or minivan is damaged, the company has every right to ask the customer or its insurance company to pay for the damages. If you didn’t buy the optional insurance from the rental company, and you harmed the vehicle, you need to make things right.
But customers argue that many of the damages for which they’re being dinged are minor – tiny chips, dents or scratches that, on any other car would be considered normal wear and tear. They’re also turned off by what they see as a racket to sell optional (and to the car rental companies, highly lucrative) insurance coverage. What’s more, they regard the “no claim left behind” philosophy as nothing more than an effort to profit from inevitable damage that comes with using a car – not unlike a hotel charging its guests for wearing out a carpet or burning out light bulbs.
I can certainly see both sides of this argument. If you damage a rental car, you should certainly pay up. But going after motorists for little scratches and adding hefty – and highly theoretical – “loss of use” surcharges, crosses a line. There are ways to push back, though.