Should I settle this damage claim with National?

Should I pay or not?
Mike Kay needs your help.

A few weeks ago, he rented a car from National in Washington. When he returned the vehicle, an agent showed him a scrape on the passenger side panel (see image, above).

“We were positive it did not happen on our watch,” he says. “The car had been parked in ways such that that damage could not have occurred.”

But he admits he had a weak case. He failed to check the car before renting. It was late at night, and his kids were cranky. No time for an inspection.

“Now they are demanding our credit card number without telling us first how much the repair will be, and threatening a collection agency otherwise,” he says. “Can they get away with heaping that insult on the initial injury?”

No they can’t, I replied. I told him he shouldn’t give National his credit card until it sent him a bill, and until he agreed with the bill. And I said I’d help him if National unleashed a collection agency on him.

I talked about the problem of questionable damage claims in a recent article for the trade publication Auto Rental News. The bottom line is that while they’re bad for consumers like Kay, they’re probably worse for the car rental industry.

National followed up with a $267 repair bill, plus charges for loss of use and diminution of value. But when Kay pushed back, it offered to settle the claim for half the amount and to drop the extra charges for loss of use and diminution.

“We’re inclined to accept the offer to rid ourselves of this nuisance,” he says. “Unless you suggest otherwise.”

Here’s a copy of the invoice (PDF).

In order to help you with this decision, here’s the second photo of the damage.

My response? If Kay thinks he is or thinks he might be responsible for the damage — in other words, if it could have happened on his watch — he ought to pay. But if he’s certain this was a pre-existing condition, he shouldn’t.

But I agreed to put this out to you, dear readers.

Look at the pictures. Check out the invoice. Consider the circumstances.

What would you do?

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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  • Gretchen Beck

    Once again, the moral is –Take the necessary 5 minutes to inspect the car and mark any damage BEFORE you drive away in it. 

  • Sonya

    No brainer here. You didn’t check, your lost. I go as far as to take pictures and do a video walk around before I take the car. Heck, I mark the car in the pre rental chart every little ding I see!

  • sirwired

    $130 is more than worth it to make this go away.  The invoice is reasonable for the damage incurred (even at the original amount), the damage was noticed on return (as opposed to some bogus claim weeks later) and the consumer has no way of showing it didn’t occur on his watch.

  • y_p_w

    I agree that it might be worth $130 just to make it go away.

    That being said, this appears to be surface damage with no serious damage to the body.  I’ve had stuff like this buff out with $3 worth of rubbing compound and a terry cloth.  If it were my own car and the paint was actually scraped off to the base plastic, I’d just buy $5 worth of touch up paint.  When you have a bumper completely repainted, it’s just going to be scratched again.

  • Jeremy

    It seems to be a completely legitimate estimate from an actual body shop.  Given no one can prove who is at fault, I think the offer to go 50/50 on the repair costs is completely reasonable.  The sum of $130 is pretty small compared to other things we’ve seen here.  Still it’s pretty shady of them to threaten the collections without first presenting an invoice… that kind of behaviour has to stop.

    (And I do wonder if National will actually have the repairs done fully, or just pocket the $130 and get some touch up paint themselves.  Too bad there’s no way to pay the body shop directly…)

  • Carver Clark Farrow II

    Whether National pockets the money, does the repairs themselves, or pays the body shop doesn’t matter.  Its National’s perogative what to do with the $130

  • backprop

     Do you suppose National would let him come over and give the rag and buffing compound a try? ;)

  • Cybrsk8r

    While I think he should settle to get it behind him.  I have to question the agency’s claim of “dimunition of value”.  It seems pretty ludicrous that a scratch, which doesn’t even appear to have deformed the panel, will lessen the value of the car.  The agency likely knew that part of their claim was weak which is why they gave him a “break”.

  • john4868

    Ditto to the previous posters. The damage wasn’t documented prior to his rental and its there now so its his responsibility. Take the offer and run.

  • emanon256

    I know this is nit-picky of me, but in both photos the car is on grass and gravel, and rental contracts clearly state that a car cannot be taken off road.  I am assuming either the rental company took these photos, or the customer took it when it was pointed out to him upon return.  In either case, if the rental company has the car off-road, does that give them cause to simply void everyone contract?  You can clearly tell I don’t trust rental car companies.
    It’s hard for the OP to prove his case if he didn’t check the car beforehand.  While I tend to think rental companies are shady and charge many people for the same damage that is pre-existing, the OP didn’t check.  Regardless of how he parked, it still could have happened. If I were the OP, I would offer to pay the $267 only unless they can prove that they were sold out of cars and had to turn a customer away while the car was being repaired.  I don’t think they will be able to do so.  As far as diminution of value? What a joke.  If the car was repaired, they were made whole.  It’s simply a scratch.  I would refuse to pay that and laugh if they took me to court. 
    I would bet $10 they never even get the car repaired that they just got an estimate, and they will try to pin the scratch on future people who don’t take before photos.

  • Barbara N

    It’s an inexpensive lesson…if they settle on half the amount.

  • BillCCC

    Settle. For the first time that I can remember there is actual documentation attached to the problem. I hope we see more of this.

    One other thing, always check a rental vehicle before you drive it away.

  • y_p_w

    Tell that to my insurance company.  When I’ve had to get my car fixed for body/frame damage as a result of a covered collision, they would only pay through an auto body shop.

  • Preston

    TAKE PICTURES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    NO EXCUSES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Rachel

    I agree that the OP should settle.  He didn’t inspect the vehicle and has no way to claim the damage wasn’t done on his watch.  However, the claim seems to be excessive for the damage presented.  If I were the OP, I would insist on getting a quote from a neutral, third-party body shop to see if the quote is in fact legit and not just some body shop partnering with National to make more money off some poor schmuck.  

  • Carol Czakoczi

    Interesting that they took a Chrysler to a Cadillac dealer for repair and it says the color on the car is Green, sure looks gray from the pictures in the article, are you even sure its the same car in the photo as the one they repaired? If it is, then $130 is more than reasonable, I bet the renter NEVER forgets to check it BEFORE driving off another car rental lot.

  • y_p_w

    I pulled out an old contract, and the only thing I saw was in the jacket.  It only said (in the “jacket agreement”) that the renter agrees not to take the vehicle on unpaved roads or off road.  They’d be hard pressed to actually prohibit me from parking in a well-maintained gravel parking lot, which the photos appear to show.  Or perhaps taking a rental on a car ferry, which is both off road and unpaved.  Heck – I know of a local bridge that’s not paved by uses a metal grate for its entire surface.

    Technically I don’t think a parking lot is an “unpaved road” nor “off road”.

  • Rachel

     I just noticed the same thing!  How can you trust an invoice that doesn’t even get the car color correct?  I would be very suspicious of this estimate. 

  • Kip Hartwell

    I also would pay $10 for the ability to see how many times this ding has been payed for already.  I bet it is a number above zero.

    But take the 1/2 bill and run.  Unless you want to fight on principle.  That they tried to inflate the bill then charge lose of value for something that was repaired is criminal.  It is either repaired properly (and it better be at that price) or it is diminished, not both.

  • Office_Bob

    As someone who’s been in a similar situation due to my own lack of checking the car I rented, I agree that he should take their discounted offer and pay.

  • IGoEverywhere

    If Mike knows to contact you, he must read your columns. Guess what, ignore National and let them put a collection agency on him. Then all that National gets is 50%. they won’t do it. But, back to reality; he should know that he screwed up by not inspecting the car, no matter how tired, how nasty, whatever excuse there was. Do not settle Mike.

  • TravelingSalesman


    The aggravation isn’t worth the relatively small amount of money.  You’d need to spend thousands of dollars out of your pocket to fight this, and it’s a toss-up who’d win.  You really could fight this all the way to the supreme court, where they’d get a good chuckle as they toss the case in the trash, along with years of your personal time and heartache.

    I have real sympathy for you, not inspecting first.  I have been there, late at night, cranky kids & wife, nasty weather.  Who wants to spend even one more minute on the way to the hotel!  Still, it could have been a $5,000. repair you missed in your rush.  I believe in photos taken BEFORE leaving.

    CAVEAT:  Send them a personal check NOT a credit card.  Too many chances for them to escalate the actual amount charged with a card.

  • Jason Hanna

    Had someone run into me and their insurance company had my Chevy Colorado pickup repaired at a Honda dealership. That’s not unusual.

    As for the color.. That.. Smells like someone had auto-complete on the computer, typed in “GR” and it filled in Green rather than Gray and didn’t notice it.

    A quick web search on the dealership mentioned in the invoice, you find their website, and clicking on the “Collision Center” link..

    “Our collision facilities are so universally respected that they are the direct repair center for many major insurance companies along with being the collision center of choice for other dealerships, countless fleet owners and even our own family of Moore customers. ”


    “Our staff of highly trained and certified technicians can return your car to showroom condition, regardless of the brand of car you drive, in the fastest possible time.”

    Sounds totally legitimate, and I agree with the vast majority of people here.. The offer from the rental company is reasonable. In fact, it’s more than that, it’s a heck of a deal. They’re fully within their rights to push for the full repair cost AND, technically at least, the loss of use. I disagree with the ‘loss of value’ charge.

    The whole “I parked in a way that this never could have happened”.. How was that? With a security guard watching the car the whole time? That could be anything from s shopping cart dragging along the side to some kids walking through a garage with a screwdriver dragging it down the side of a car, either one, while not the FAULT of the renter.. They are liable for.. They can’t know it didn’t happen on their watch, and they didn’t check it ahead of time.

  • Not_a_Criminal

    Unfortunately, if you didn’t inspect and note the damage, you are pretty much stuck.  If it had been pointed out weeks later, I’d have a different answer, but it was noted upon the return.  

    If it’s dark – you get the representative to note that fact IN WRITING that a proper inspection is not possible.  If they don’t, I make ’em move the car to a well-lighted area so I can walk around with the video function on my phone.  I also get the rep to walk around with me upon the return, again I record w/video to document the condition the car was in upon the return. Easiest way to protect yourself from that kind of claim by a rental company.  
    Good job in getting the bill halved, though.  That doesn’t happen often.

  • Linda

     Actually, a friend of mine has a Ford but was sent to the body shop at a Chevrolet dealer. We both thought that was strange, but I guess it doesn’t make any difference if the job is well done.

  • scapel

    I once returned a rental car tha I know I put a scratch on. It was so small the check in agent didn’t see it. I told her it was on the back left fender. She still didn’t see it.
    I suspect that it might have been several check in agents missing the scratch until on saw it and blamed it on the last renter.
    In my case it was in Hawaii and I was afraid that the salt air would start a rust spot, so I wanted to take care of the rental company.
    Well they wanted to charge me $750 which my car insurance would pay, but I thought it was too much so I disputed it taking care of my insurance co. I had pictures of the scratch. I finally got the rental company to settle for less with the insurance company. It was a lot of hassle and aggravation. Now I wonder if I should had just let it go, but then someone later on might have been accused. Is honesty still the best policy?

  • john4868

    I used to work for GM as an enginneer in one of their assembly plants. Buffing compound doesn’t work on deep scratchesd like that. The paint film just isn’t think enough anymore. Also, metallic grey is incredibly hard to color match on a spot repair. You can almost always see it after the repair. We almost always had to repaint an entire panel for any scratches.

  • Carver Clark Farrow II

     Sure, if you owed something on the car then it was really the finance company that was making you go through the auto body shop, not the insurance company.  That’s to protect their investment.  Nothing to do with this situation here.

  • Chasmosaur

    In DC if you have a good body shop, you have a good body shop. My Dad has one he goes to that’s an hour south of his house – it’s the only one he trusts.

    You also don’t know if this particular fleet is predominantly made of up GM cars and that’s the contracted body shop for the National franchise.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    That’s dirt cheap for any sort of body work. He needs to settle it RIGHT NOW before National changes its mind. He doesn’t have a leg to stand on and would be on the hook for anything they felt like charging him.  And next time, take a look at the car before driving off!

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Totally agree with you. There’s no way that’s buffing out.

  • Chasmosaur

    You know, I always find it amazing that people always say this:

    “We were positive it did not happen on our watch,” he says. “The car had been parked in ways such that that damage could not have occurred.”

    As someone who grew up in the Northern Virginia/DC area? Parked in your own driveway that’s not even true.  Just being in a car on the roads of NoVa, you can get your car nicked and scratched without noticing.

  • Carver Clark Farrow II

     That is terrible advice. 

    First, its not true all National gets is 50%.  It depends on the type of collection agency  and the relationship between National and the agency.

    Second, the $130 is a great offer. If this goes to collection they will try to get 267 plus loss of use plus diminution of value.  And true they are mostly BS, it takes takes time and energy to deal with these bottom feeders.  Plus, if he misses the 30 day dispute window, his credit gets a nasty ding.

  • Joe_D_Messina

     A body shop is a body shop. The Caddy dealership will order in the paint and/or body parts from the exact same place the Chrysler dealership would get them. 

  • Carver Clark Farrow II


    If its a legit agency they will absolutely not screw around with adding additional charges provided you have a copy of your settlement agreement.  They risk their license by screwing around for a few dollars.

    Also a credit card is a far more secure transaction means than a check.  If the agency was fraudulently inclined, with a check you’ve given them access to your bank account which they could easily generate additional debits for.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    They’re already offering to settle with him for half price. If he stiffs them, they’ll let the collection agency go after him for the full amount and still get their 50%.  Plus, his credit will get dinged.

  • jerryatric

    Rented from Alamo, same company as National. First “pick any car in row 2” – only 1 car there! Since it was nightime & had never driven this type of car requested some quick review of just a couple of features – none coming. Brought car back & no one checked it out, so took photos ffront back & sides, just in case. While waiting for shuttle, realized I forgot my GPS but not in car. Was returning to report it missing & some guy comes out of a shack & asks me if it was mine. He watched me forget it, waited probably hoping I would not come back & take it home.I was only 1 of 2 people waiting for the shuttle so he knew who the GPS belonged to!
    Service in this & most other companies is none existant!
    Re U.Airlines. Are they losing money? Serves them right! They are total A**es!!!

  • bc

    I’m sorry, it’s stories like that this that make me doubt the veracity of rental car companies damage claims. Pushing back immediately gets them to drop all the loss of use charges and settle for half the claim amount, really? When my company has been target by scammers who send invoices for things we never ordered, cutting the bill in half is always the first tactic they use to get you to pay up because they know their claims are tenuous. Also,diminution of value?? Really, they’re getting the car repaired, right? So how is the value lowered? 

    I think there tactic all along is to send highly inflated bills, expecting most people will just pay it or at least settle for a lesser amount.

  • y_p_w

    The lienholder wasn’t involved.  I’ve done this a few times, including when I still had payments on the vehicle and when I had clear title on the vehicle.  In all cases the insurer paid directly to the auto body shop.

    I suspect that part of it is that they can get negotiated discounts that I won’t ever find out, but frankly that doesn’t bother me.

    The only time an insurance company will cut a check directly to the insured is if they declare a total loss.  I’ve been there too.

  • J

    “He watched me forget it, waited probably hoping I would not come back & take it home.”
    That seems like an awfully big assumption. Maybe he was busy and didn’t see you get out of the car, but checked the car after you left and was holding it for their lost and found.

  • J

    If I handled damage claims the way rental companies seem to (not enough time to go over the car at return, checking it out after the fact, trying to track down the renter), I would probably add on the extra loss of use fees as well. But only because they probably have a poor collection rate and get a lot of push back and really, really need the negotiating position. Are there people who get incorrectly “dinged” with damage they didn’t notice when they checked out the car? Probably. But I seriously doubt that’s the case on every claim. I bet there are plenty of people who are responsible for the damage that never end up paying too.

  • jerryatric

    If he was so “busy” how come on my way back to  to the office he came out of the shack with the GPS in his hand? As I clearly stated – there was only 1 other customer there waiting for the shuttle. And this fellow had arrived before me.If he found the GPS in the car why not take it to the office first & ask either of us if it was ours?

  • emanon256

    Well if someone purchased the damage waiver, and returned the car with damage, I am would not put it past the rental car company to say you voided the contract by parking in an un-paved lot, and therefore have to pay for the damage too.

  • judyserienagy

    We’ve all been there but this is an important reminder of how important it is to do the initial check.  National is quite generous in this settlement IMHO.

  • bc

    My biggest bone of contention is they don’t want to set-up a system that would be easy to catch these types of things by checking before each rental and after return. As a matter of economy, it is likely cheaper for them to just take their chances with damage claims vs the additional payroll costs associated with managing an pre/post rental inspection program. It’s a risk vs reward decision, I understand that. The problem is, they attempt to shift too much of the cost onto people they are able to identify. They claim damage, weeks or months after a car has been returned and provide little or no substantiating evidence in their case and inflate their claims with diminution of value charges and unsubstantiated loss of usage charges. They then coerce people into paying with threats of negative credit reporting. Ultimately, the reason they fold so easily is because they know their claims would not hold up in court. 
    I don’t truly think they make up damage, but I think when they do find damage after the fact they just start sending demands to people until they find someone willing to foot the bill. 
    Finally, I have no problem with people being charged a reasonable amount to repair damage that occurred while the vehicle was in their possession but giving inflated bills with erroneous charges makes all their other actions suspect and only serves to damage their position. 

    Keep it fair, keep it simple and they would be better off.  

  • Charles

    I’ll ask the same question I always ask in these cases: did they rent the car with a major credit card? If so, have they checked to see if they have rental car insurance on that card? Most do. If so, hand the bill to them. They will take care of it. I really think most people don’t realize they have this benefit on their credit card or assume there is a deductible (there isn’t) and end up paying something they were insured for and didn’t need to pay themselves.

  • Michelle C

    Sure the guy could keep fighting it, but the hassle may not be worth it.   Pay the 130.00..or counter offer $100 then call it tuition of life.  You must check the vehicles with every rental.   If this guy knows to write to Chris then he knows how predatory car rental companies are.    

  • Mark Dixon


  • grizfan

    This is the reason we have started taking photos of every single scrape and ding in the rental cars we rent — and we note them all on the rental agreement as well.  We’ve had the agents tell us “Oh, I’m sure that’s nothing — too small to worry about.” Yeah, right!

  • Michael__K

    True.  However in general the customer in these situations has an interest in verifying that the vendor isn’t double-dipping (i.e. charging multiple customers for the same damage).  

    What can a customer can do to protect themselves from that possibility?

  • jennj99738

     If you’re making a claim through your own insurance company, yes, I can see them requiring payment directly to the body shop. If you don’t fix it, you could claim the same damage again later in another accident.  Some damage can be seen as old, preexisting damage, but not all.  Then the insurance company could pay for the same damage twice.  Your policy may require this as well. 

    If you were making a claim through the opposing party’s insurance company for something like this, generally, they’ll just give you a check and make you sign a release.  They don’t care if you fix it or not.  And by you, I don’t mean you personally.  ;)

  • jennj99738

    The customer can take the time to inspect the car and note any damage on the paperwork and photograph it and do the same thing when the car is returned.  Then, the customer has proof he didn’t cause the damage.

  • Jen Armstrong

    I completely understand that dealing with tired, cranky kids at night isn’t the ideal situation for inspecting a rental car. Maybe it was there, maybe it wasn’t, and there’s no way to say either way now. At least the OP isn’t being charged for loss or use or diminuation of value. It’ll probably cost much more in time and trouble than the billed amount, so just pay it and be done with it!

  • sershev

    Contact the credit card company you paid for the rentals with and send them the bill. They should cover it without affecting your own insurance rates.

  • mom_in_amarillo

    I think I’m going to avoid renting a car unless my life depends on it.  130 is an OK settlement…but I still agree with other posters…if you don’t double check, it’s on you to prove it wasn’t already there.  

  • Michael__K

    If the customer doesn’t do this, do they deserve to pay for damage that someone else also paid for?

    Of course, the vendor could take the time to photograph the car too and thus ensure that they bill the guilty and not the innocent.

    BTW, not every single person who rents a car has a camera-equipped phone with them.   And a scratch may not even be visible in an indoor-garage flash-photo of the entire length of the vehicle.

  • Carver Clark Farrow II

     The insurance company conned you. They’d rather pay a body that they have a relationship with, and they will try to get you to agree.  But you weren’t required to actually fix the damage.

  • Joe Farrell

    That looks likes normal rental car wear and tear to me. I don’t think I have EVER seen a rental car without several of those scrapes and dings unless it had less than 1000 miles.  Especially now that cars are being kept for a year longer than they used to be. 

    The whole loss of use thing is a total scam but we’ve beaten that horse dead – the fact that they’ll drop that claim so fast is evidence of that. 

    The only way, however, that I would pay them is if they sign a release.  And that release needs to contain a non-disparagement and non-reporting/ future rental discrimination clause so they don’t black list you.

    Once you offer to pay and send them the settlement agreement, their lawyers will tell them not to sign – whereas if YOU made a claim against them  – and they paid you money you’d be signing a release if they paid you money.  So you need to tell them ‘its just a standard release.’

    With the agreement to pay them their requested amount – once the lawyers tell them not to sign – that will be the last you hear of it . . .

  • Cybrsk8r

    Yea, I think I would go with a money order in this case.

  • MarkieA

    I guess my only concerns about that are that National, 1) could quite easily pass this damage along to several unwitting customers and get paid many times over for the same damamge, and 2) now has a “devalued” car. Are they going to adjust this value appropriately, so that the next time someone damages the car, the “full value” of the car isn’t used?

  • technomage1

    I have my questions about the invoice – for example, the removal of the wheelhouse cover and taillight, and the time estimate for the repair – $130 is a small price to pay to make this go away.  Check and document the next time, lesson learned.

  • mythsayer

     The problem with that in this case is that if this guy DIDN’T damage the car, National might be running a scam and pulling this on everyone.  I’m not saying they did.  But if I was SURE I didn’t damage the car, I would be wondering.  So, I think the guy should pay for sure, because he didn’t check the car.  But I think he is also within his rights to make sure the car gets fixed.  Because if I don’t see that my money went to fix the damage that I supposedly caused, I’m REALLY going to wonder whether I caused that damage…