Is this the end of the car rental “ding” scam?

dingRecent news that Hertz would begin photographing its cars before they’re rented got me wondering: What about the “ding” scams that have made the car rental industry millions of dollars over the last few years?

You know, the one where you rent a car, return it completely undamaged, and a representative points to a tiny ding or scratch on the roof or the underbelly, where you couldn’t have possibly known to check for pre-existing damage.

Is this the end?

People like Nancy Westcott must be wondering. She recently rented a car from Enterprise, where she said no representative bothered to walk around the vehicle and check for damage. They didn’t miss the inspection on the return.

I was settling my bill when a representative came up and said I had damaged the car. I was speechless since there was no way the car had been damaged while in my possession.

Westcott spoke with a supervisor, who gave her the bad news.

She said she had no way of knowing if I was telling her the truth. She said she would have to write it up as damage which occurred while the car was in my possession. She kept me waiting for well over an hour. She did not return my paper work (lease agreement) which I had initialed and signed under duress and I was so upset I failed to request that she give it back.

Her total bill came to $775. There’s just one problem: Westcott kept her rental car parked in her driveway almost the entire time, and says she closely monitored the vehicle.

Had the car been photographed pre-rental — or at the very least checked by an Enterprise representative — this could have been avoided.

Reader Edward Stone, who rented a car from Avis in Seattle, shares a similar experience.

I noted no damages when I rented the car. Upon return to Seattle, the Avis agent cited an inconsequential blemish (about the size of a dime) on the rear bumper which I had not even noticed at the time of rental. They insisted on filling out a form on which I noted that I was unaware of any damage to the car.

Earlier this week I received a packet from Avis asking for over $460 in repairs. I carry rental car insurance both through my own personal insurance and also through my platinum credit cards so I called Visa to bring them into the loop.

Here’s where it gets interesting. His credit card company told him this was a scam.

· Visa requires a claim be filed within 45 days of the “incident”; I received their charge on the 45th day after the return of the car. If I had not been diligent in calling Visa immediately, the claim would have been outside their window. That is apparently standard operating procedures for the scam.

· Most private auto insurance, mine included, has a $500 deductible for this type of claim — the total charges alleged by Avis was $460 — an effort to keep the insurance companies out of the discussion.

· The photos provided showed no evident damage to the vehicle so now we have a “he said, she said” situation in which most renters would lose because the value of the time required to protest is greater than the cost to settle.

Stone, who is retired and says he has “the time and determination to fight this claim” is not letting Avis get away with this. I contacted Enterprise on Westcott’s behalf, and it dropped its claim against her.

I think no one has a problem paying for damage to a rental car — particularly if they have the “before” and “after” photographic evidence.

But the “ding” scam has gone on long enough. Hopefully, this will end it.

(Photo: kfisto/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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