Who’s responsible for this bump in my bumper? By Christopher Elliott | February 2, 2012 FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest Chris Benzinger has a problem with National Car Rental. The company sent him a surprise repair bill, but it isn’t really telling him what he did to deserve it. A few months ago, he rented a Dodge Charger in Sarasota, Fla. And then he received an invoice from National in the mail. There was damage to his rental, and he was responsible, it said. “They wanted me to pay $501.10,” he says. “My insurance deductible is $500.” Benzinger asked for documentation, including repair bills and pictures of the damaged car. He hadn’t conducted a visual inspection of the vehicle before and after he rented it, so he wanted to see what he’d allegedly done before paying for it. He exchanged emails with National for six weeks, with no luck. Finally, he reached a manager by phone. The manager says that their process has multiple check-points and they couldn’t have missed the damage. However, no one walked around the car with us or even mentioned it when we checked out. Also, they have no pictures of the car because he says that “just isn’t feasible.” We are at a stalemate that I feel like I’m going to lose and I don’t know what to do next. I was highly suspicious of the bill. First, why would National refuse to send him a photo of the damage? And second, why would it charge the amount of his insurance deductible, almost down to the penny? What are the odds of the repair bill coming to almost exactly $500? I contacted National. It sent me a photo of the damage (above) and the following response: Our Damage Recovery Unit has circled back with the local manager and confirmed that this customer will continue to be held responsible for the vehicle damage. Please note this was only the second time that the vehicle had been rented (it had less than 100 miles on it) and the damage is quite significant. True, that’s some dent. And if Benzinger didn’t inspect the car before or after he rented it, then it’s really his word against National’s. If National can produce a photo of the damage, it’s very difficult to dispute a claim like this. Benzinger is disappointed with the outcome of his appeal. I feel like I should be treated better as a customer. They really didn’t protect me by not spending sixty seconds reminding me to look over the car when we took possession. After that, the process really gives you the run around once you’ve got damage. Car rental employees don’t always suggest a rental inspection. It’s almost as if they’re encouraging a customer to take the car sight unseen. If you don’t check the car, you could get a surprise bill that difficult — or impossible — to dispute. As for the $501 bill, I’m still skeptical. I’ve seen too many bills come in at $498, $499 and $501 in previous damage cases. Being that close to the average deductible means the car rental company gets the maximum payout without involving an insurance company. That seems a little scammy to me. FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest Christopher ElliottChristopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at email@example.com. Got a question or comment? You can post it on our help forum.More Posts - Website - Twitter - Facebook - LinkedIn - Google Plus Fly, Icarus, Fly If you don’t bother checking before/after, it’s your word against theirs. They have picture proof. Case closed. As an aside, I wonder how these people manage to find Chris, because it’s OBVIOUS they aren’t readers of this site if they don’t know Car Rentals 101… http://www.dreamtravelblog.wordpress.com Elmo Clarity What I find strange is that National wasn’t able to produce any pictures until Chris got involved. I hope there was more pictures than just the one posted here because this one doesn’t show the license or any other identification that this is the car the OP rented. Did National ever send the itemized bill for the repairs? Since it is over his $500 deductible, depending on his insurance, it might be worth it to file the claim with his insurance. I bet if National got a demand letter for information from an insurance company lawyer, they would change their tune pretty fast. Cybrsk8r I also think the license plate should be shown in the photo. Yes. It maybe a photo of a white Charger, buth they could have easily found a suitable photo on their computer and sent that off. I think there should be a law requiring rental agencies to provide documentation, conclusive before and after photos, and a repair invoice, for any damage claim which the customer, or his insurer, ends up paying. That would go a long way to stopping damage claim scams. Elmo Clarity And the photo needs more than just the license. It’s easy to move the license from one car to another for the photo. Really need something like a video that pans from the damage to the VIN of the car to prove it is the same car. The fact the rentals have not been required to prove documentation has emboldened certain rental companies (surprise, surprise, surprise… It’s another National/Enterprise/Alamo damage scam) to take it to this level. Raven_Altosk I posted about this in yesterday’s column–the magical super close to the deductible repair! It’s a total SCAM. I’m willing to bet this is a franchise operation, especially since they didn’t want to take a bloody picture of the damage. If the OP has no choice but to pay it, I say show up at the counter with a bag full of pennies and make the manager stand there and count them, all the while telling other customers how he was scammed. sirwired My view is: Once the return agent prints out the receipt, it’s all over (unless its an unattended return.) It doesn’t matter if they later have pictures to prove the car is a smoking wreck; once that receipt is generated they should be barred from further charges. The car could have very well been wrecked by one of the rental company’s drivers. Also, ALWAYS rent your car with a credit card that will cover whatever your insurance won’t. Elmo Clarity I would suggest doing with nickles. I remember reading some time ago that pennies were delcared to be non-legal tender in the sense of paying off large sums. A merchant is legally allowed to refuse payment in pennies but not in nickles. It was all spured by people paying traffic fines and other things as a protest. JT Nope. Once they accept the car back into their possession, then there are no legitimate damage claims. Just as it’s our responsibility to look at the car going out, it’s their responsibility to look at the car coming back in. I can’t stress that enough. Why is it that some people think that the burden of proof is still on the consumer once the car has been delivered back to the lot!?! It’s just as likely that an employee did it or possibly that this is even a different car and, as such, National cannot prove that Chris damaged the car. For all we know, this picture could have been taken a week after he dropped the car off. For all we know, this is a different car. FYI, National tried to pull that scam on me 20 years ago. It didn’t work then and it shouldn’t work now. Do what I did, Chris – tell them to stick their damage claim where the sun doesn’t shine. john4868 I have very little sympathy for anyone that fails to do a pre or post rental inspection and then gets a bill for damage. Having said that, this situation is one of the few exceptions to that rule. At the very least, a rental car company should provide proof of damage and expenses (pictures, pre & post rental inspections and a written estimate from an independent company for repair) when making a claim. In this case, the manager stated there were no pictures and then suddenly they find them with nothing identifying the vehicle? Far too suspicious for me. Also, the amount being so close to a routine deductible amount plus the delay in notifying him seems to be geared to keep an insurance investigator out of the process. Let them take you to court to show cause. There they have to prove their case. kimber It would be interesting to survey people with lower deductibles to see if they get mysterious $500 bills. I suspect that they don’t and that would say a lot about how legitimate such claims are. Makes me glad that my deductible is super-low… it wouldn’t be worth their time to try to scam me. BillCCC ‘He hadn’t conducted a visual inspection of the vehicle before and after he rented it’ That kind of says it all. Car rental companies will start the invoice as soon as a customer admits this. Unless this is the first time he has rented a car there really is no excuse for not inspecting the vehicle before leaving. This seems to be expensive lesson week at the TT. Jeanne_in_NE I’ve always wondered that, too. One local news station has a news segment that airs consumer problems – generally the same problems, over and over. Doesn’t anyone read/watch until *after* the problem occurs? Raven_Altosk Good to know! :) absherlock I would agree that this is probably a scam, but I still voted yes, considering it a “Stupid Tax”. “I feel like I should be treated better as a customer. They really didn’t protect me by not spending sixty seconds reminding me to look over the car when we took possession” – Really? It’s their fault because they didn’t remind you not to be a moron? Man, deciding who’s worse in this case is like trying to figure out which team I hate more this Sunday… SoBeSparky And guess who owns National Car Rental? None other than the champion of rental car complaints, Enterprise. So expect just as many complaints about these scams with National. That said, how can a consumer not read anything at all, and just rent a car. oblivious to the contract they just signed? I voted “yes” as the consumer opened the door wide by failing to do a semblance of diligence when renting and returning. Stephen Weihman Inspecting the car before driving off the lot is the renter’s responsibility. If you fail to spot damage and then turn it in damaged, you’re on the hook. Assuming that this is an attended return and not a drop-off, inspecting the car when returning is the rental company’s responsibility. If they fail to spot the damage when a car is returned and give you a receipt without damage noted, then by the same rules they should be on the hook. Going back days and weeks later and telling a customer there is damage should not be allowed. Anyone else notice that nearly every one of these close-to-deductible claims seem to be from the Enterprise family of companies? The same companies that ask your deductible amount when renting? Funny how that works, isn’t it? It’s the reason I will never rent from one of them, no matter how good their rates are. len It’s pretty easy to figure out how much a claim of that nature should be. The bumper could cost $200. Labor could be $100. Paint & Materials could be $200. $500 is probably pretty accurate for a claim like that. john4868 The only exception I see to this JT is if you leave the car in a “after-hours” drop off (unmanned). At that point you are excepting added risk that the car might be damaged between when you park it and when they pick it up. ClareClare Okay, we can all pretty much agree that the OP should have been more careful when he picked up the car and when he dropped it off. Fine. BUT just because the OP failed to take pictures before and after doesn’t mean he’s NOT being scammed here! The big tip-off here is that “they have no pictures of the car because [the manager] says that ‘just isn’t feasible.’” What kind of BS response is THAT? And NOW they suddenly come up with a photo for Chris? We don’t know (a) if that’s even the car the OP rented–for Pete’s sake, they could have gone over to some supermarket parking-lot and photographed any old white car with a dent! (b) whether this same car has been rented out between the OP and the date they contacted him–this might be the next driver’s damage, or the driver after that? Chris has certainly posted stinky car-rental cases before, but this one positively reeks. Don’t just throw up your hands and tell the OP to eat the loss simply because he didn’t photograph the car himself. If this manager wants to defraud his customers on a regular basis–which, as we all know, seems to be SOP at National/Enterprise–he should at least learn to do it correctly! pauletteb You have’t had any auto repairs lately, have you? In my neck of the woods, $501 would be extremely low for the supposed damage, which makes the whole thing even more suspicious. rarnold2000 Charging a customer for damage to a rental car without providing the customer with any documentation except a generic photo of a dent in the bumper of a mysterious white car? That is ridiculous. If the law allows that then the law is, indeed, an ass. Phillip Mendenhall If they can’t provide proof that he actually did it, then they shouldn’t be charging him for it. Period. MikeInCtown I agree. The manager says no proof can be provided and then suddenly provides proof. I’m wondering what could have caused that damage. Almost looks like he ran into a tire. A curb wouldn’t have done that, and most bumper are much higher than that. Kevin Mathews Last year when we went to the beach, un beknown to me, they raised the toll on the road down to the Outer Banks on the weekends, basically doubling it. I literally counted out every penny I had in my change tray in my car and gave the attendent $4.00 in pennies… The Toll Lady looked at my like I was crazy and only then did the “Cash Only” lane suddenly have credit card ability… Nancy Dickinson “They really didn’t protect me by not spending sixty seconds reminding me to look over the car when we took possession.” Really? As an adult, the OP needs to be told? Sorry, I sided with the rental car agency on this one. They almost lost me when they said a photo wouldn’t be “feasible” until Chris asked for it and it’s dubious that they produced it weeks after the “accident”. However, the OPs stance of “It’s their fault for not making me a more responsible renter” is what lost me. Andre_K_FL With all the time that’s past, that picture could be of any car. Even if Mr. Benzinger was at fault National should have fulfilled their responsibility to prove he was actually at fault for the damage when he requested proof. So they need to drop this claim. Nancy Dickinson This is the BEST idea I’ve heard in a long time! Too bad that language isn’t included on the contract. “By accepting this vehicle at the termination of this rental, National agrees it is w/o defect and the relationship is terminated at this signing.” Put the onus on them to make inspecting the car at the end of the rental “feasible”. Nancy Dickinson We’ve had a low deductible for years and have never been tagged like this. Once I DID return a car that had been broken into, window smashed, glove box damaged, etc. Once I put the rental agency (National) in touch with my insurance company (USAA), I never heard another word. However, I was returning a car last year that showed a ding on the door from someone parked next to me. I was told, “Don’t worry about it” and also never heard another word. IGoEverywhere I think that picyures are essential befor you leave and I make an employee go over the car before I turn on the engine, then I check it again. Good gravy, haven’t you had enough car complaints. Tell them enough is enough, the people that are complaining to you were just plain uninformed or stupid. Let’s get back to bashing TSA and the airlines, or at least cruise ship captains that trip. DChamp56 Chris, did you check the exif data on the photo you got for a date stamp? Is it within a few hours of the guy returning the car? If not, possible scam big time. Just a thought. sirwired They have picture proof of nothing. There is a picture taken of (what we assume is) the car some undetermined time after it was returned. If the picture was taken at return, then the excuse “it was like that when I got it” usually doesn’t work. But that’s not the case here. This damage could very well have occurred after the return (say, on the way to the car wash), and the location doesn’t have a leg to stand on. No court would uphold a claim for damage where the claim does not occur until after the receipt is generated. (Not that doesn’t prevent car rental places from trying.) The car rental place had an opportunity to inspect the car on arrival (unless this was an unattended return.) If they didn’t do so, it’s their problem, not the consumer’s. Joe Farrell Exactly. Tell them to stuff it – unless you drove it into a post and pushed in the bumper. A photo without a date is not proof. What Chris needs to ask for is the rental history of the vehicle. This means we need to see the 30 days before and 30 days after the OP rented the car. Was it rented AFTER his incident and before they made the claim? Did the rental AFTER accept CDW? See why this is important? These are all questions I would ask if I were representing someone or an insurance company. If they cannot prove three estimates then they are done when it comes to the damage amount. In 75% of these cases I would think the claimed damage is cumulative, or happens before or after the claimed rental or occurs while the vehicle was in the control of the minimum wage car wash and fuelers. In 25% of these cases the renter is responsible for the claimed damage and is either clueless it occured or is trying to use the scammy practices of this industry against it. But, its not what you know, but what you can prove. Finally, why is it ALWAYS National, Alamo or Enterprise? bc I take objection to “they didn’t protect me by taking 60 seconds to inspect the car” wait….THEY didn’t protect YOU??? Seriously??? Did you type this with a straight face? Last time I checked, it was my job to protect myself from unscrupulous business practices. This aside, if no damage was noted when you returned the car you should be off the hook PERIOD!! I don’t give a damn anymore what these car rental places say. Once I hand the keys back to a representative, ANYTHING could happened to that car and I should no longer be responsible. If it isn’t noted at the time I hand the keys back, it’s their responsibility. They give us the line, you should inspect the car before it’s driven off the lot, well, they need to follow their own advice. Inspect the car before taking possession because after that it’s on them! Joe Farrell Why would a car rental company put that language n their rental agreement? hahaha And I tend to use credit cards that I do not mind closing if I have a dispute with the company – this prevents them from charging me after the fact when I refuse to pay. . . Fly, Icarus, Fly It would be good to know whether other photos were submitted and Chris simply did not post them all. But my point is, National has “a” picture. The OP has nothing. I’d be willing to bet that without Chris’ help, the OP has a 1% chance of National backing off its claim… Carver Clark Farrow II Joe I respectfully disagree 1. The car has only been rented one other time 2. The photo is proof that the car was damaged at some point 3. I’m sure national will get some one to testify that the photo was taken in the normal course of business, and can establish that it was taken after the rental was returned and that no one else has rented it. 4. Three estimates are not a legal requirement, at least in California. The OP can use other estimates to reduce a damage claim however. 5. The Ops admission that he didn’t do a post return hurts. However, he has defenses. His best defense is that the picture doesn’t include the license plate or any other identifying marks so how do we know its the same car? Carver Clark Farrow II Joe, Sorry bud, that’s just not true. If they ran authorization on the card, they can force a charge through, even if its closed. Joe_D_Messina If only it were as easy as telling them to “stuff it.” Sadly, it is not. This guy may well be getting the shaft, but he’s got little to help himself. No photos of his own and he never even checked out the car before or after. It got damaged somehow and that amount of damage can easily exceed $500. I’m actually surprised the bill wasn’t more than that. And, while it could be just a matter of how Elliott paraphrased his conversations with the person, I’m a bit put off by the fact that he never seems to flat out deny he could have caused the damage. That is a very obvious dent and it’d be hard to have the car any amount of time without seeing it, so the most likely argument from him would be that the car was fine when he had it and somebody else damaged it later…yet he never really makes that claim. Instead, he talks about how they never did a walkaround when he turned it in, then later on he talks in general terms about how the whole process is unfair. But nowhere does he get indignant about being falsely accused, which is how I think most people would react. LeeAnneClark Scam. Plain and simple. SooZeeQ I used to work at a large car rental company, and if you knew the level of competency of their transporters, you would know that it is less likely the renter caused this. In the day of smart phones – take dated pics at the time of the rental and the return and keep the photos for several months. Linda Jordan Same old story different day. Car Rental 101! Dick Jordan Having answers to a few more questions would help one determine whether National acted properly in demanding that Mr. Benzinger pay for damage to the vehicle. How soon after the car was returned was Mr. Benzinger notified of the damage? Is there a date/time stamp on the photo taken of the damage? Is there a record of where the car was driven (and by whom, including National employees or car transport companies) after Mr. Benzinger returned it? Was the vehicle repaired immediately after it was returned by Mr. Benzinger and before it was subsequently rented? Did the very next person to rent the car perform a visual inspection before driving the car away from the rental location? Was Mr. Benzinger given a diagram of damage (or lack thereof) to the car that had been prepared by National after it inspected the vehicle prior to his rental? Is there a record of where the car was driven (and by whom, including National employees or car transport companies) between the time it was last inspected by National and before Mr. Benzinger rented it? Were Chris or Mr. Benzingerever given a copy of the repair bill? What would have an insurance company paid to a body shop in that part of Florida for making the repairs, and how does that compare with the $500.10 that National wants Mr. Benzinger to pay? emanon256 3. I’m sure national will get some one to testify that the photo was taken in the normal course of business, and can establish that it was taken after the rental was returned and that no one else has rented it. Except, the OP also has an e-mail from National saying that they have no pictures because taking one is no feasible. john4868 Yes but ultimately all you have to do is continue to insist you didn’t authorize the charge. Without a signature, VISA won’t stand behind the merchant. dave3029 I don’t know if this would help or not, but the last time I rented a car (airport rental), when I returned it I had the lot manager do a walk-around with me, noted that there was no damage, and had him write a note on my “final” receipt “NO NEW DAMAGE FOUND” and had him sign and date it. Joe Farrell They never had an authorization for the amount of the repair Carver- they had an authorization for the amount of the rental. Two completely separate transactions – they had an AGREEMENT that they could charge your credit card for any unpaid damage – but thy do not have a separate authorization before the card closes and VI/MC/DC/AMEX will reverse the charge . . . Joe Farrell Those are all assumptions Carver. I never said the estimates were a legal prerequisite to recovery – merely that the absence of independent estimates puts their estimates at risk. So what if they produce a corporate officer [required in Calif to testify to what you stated] with a lawyer [also required for a corporation in Calif] will destroy any effort at recovering their claim amount since the foregoing will cost far in excess of $500. BTW – you forgot one major fact in your #3 – that such is the vehicle rented by the OP. If the vehicle was rented after our OP returned it their claim is over – pure and simple. Joe Farrell It looks like it got pushed into a black parking lot retaining pipe protecting something – it also looks like you could a) push it back out and b) buff out the black scrape with some polishing compound. Thats not $500. We also need to see the repaired vehicle to see what they did. While they do not have to fix it – and can make a claim for reduction of value for the scrape – if they fixed it they know what it cost. If they did it in house [which is most likely] then they know what they spent on it. I dunno know about you guys but I rented LOTS of cars, usually when I USED to rent from Alamo and Enterprise – that have similar black scrapes on the corners of the bumpers – which were probably repaired by pushing the bumper back out since if it is not cracked its plastic and will pop right back out. Rebecca Whenever I have rented a car, I have signed a receipt showing a diagram of a car with places to mark damage before and after rental. I am curious if, when he turned the car in, there is a receipt showing the damage? And also curious why the OP didn’t keep the receipt? Rebecca I do something very similar whenever I rent a car, along with photos. And while I have gotten an attitude from several rental employees, I have never received a damage claim. dsliesse I agree the OP should have done better documentation, but that’s beside the point. It may be stupid to leave your house unlocked, but that’s still no excuse for the thief to come in and take your stuff. If the rental company didn’t do an inspection at the time of return, then they should not be allowed to “find” something later. It should be up to them to prove absolutely that the damage occurred during the time the renter was in possession of the vehicle. Out of fairness, this can include any damage not noted at the time of the rental; the renter has some responsibility, too. Jeremiah Johnson I know it’s a bit of an inconvenience but I have a personal policy of making the rental agent do a walk around visual inspection of any vehicle I rent. I have a friend that had a similar incident happened to Chris Benzinger and he was also held responsible for damage he insists he did not do. I make the rental agent notate on the rental agreement any scratches or dents found on the vehicle prior to me ever getting into the vehicle. What are the chances that a rental agent or an employee of the rental agency could damage a car and then pass it off onto a previous renter to keep themselves out of trouble. Carver Clark Farrow II That depends on how you read the article. I read it that its only been rented twice, the OP being the second renter. Also as far as corporate offices go, if its a franchise, then the owner is a sufficient corporate office. Finally, if its a small claims matter, then no attorney is necessary, or even permitted. Carver Clark Farrow II its not a signature, but rather the swipe that VISA/MC care about. Carver Clark Farrow II That might be, but my point is that closing the card has no effect on the transactions. jennj99738 While obviously you’re correct that in California, no attorneys are permitted, that is not true in every jurisdiction. In Nevada, for instance, I’ve repped both individuals and companies in Small Claims. We actually have a calendar set up for attorneys. However, it is equally untrue in Nevada that a corporation is required to be represented by an attorney in Small Claims. A corporate officer will suffice. (In courts of greater jurisdiction, however, an attorney is mandatory for corps). However, I have no idea what the law or practice is in Florida where this occurred. I also read this as Mr. Benziger was the second of two renters. If I were him and I filed a Small Claims case against the franchisee, I would subpoena all of the documentation filled out and signed at the time of rental. I’m very surprised no one filled out an inspection report at the time, whether or not an actual inspection was done. jennj99738 I would ordinarily agree with you but places like Bumper Medic are pretty cheap, though and they specialize in coming in under the deductible so people feel like they don’t have to file a claim if they caused the damage themselves. I would want to see the repair estimates and then that the repair was actually done. Fly, Icarus, Fly Not sure what world you’re living in, JT, but it must be a nice one. Too bad it’s not the one the rest of us live in. If your premise is true, then you’d need to wait for every car to be thoroughly washed, road tested, inspected, etc. So if you’re 5th in line returning a car, would you be willing to wait 5 hrs to return it? Didn’t think so… You ask: “Why is it that some people think that the burden of proof is still on the consumer once the car has been delivered back to the lot?” Answer: That’s the way rental cars work. Your only choice as a consumer is to rent one or not. Fly, Icarus, Fly True. Sounds suspicious. But then again, what we’re reading is the OP’s paraphrase of what the car company sent. I wonder if the “not feasible” part came after a request to see before / after pics taken by the rental car company. Surely, taking a photo of the damage before it goes in for repairs is reasonable. For the company to take before / after pics of every rental is currently not standard. Perhaps it should be. But then again, that would mean more personnel and higher rates for everyone… http://www.dreamtravelblog.wordpress.com AgentSteve Why is it that we all seem to have “common sense” answers to a very straight-forward dilemma? The bottom-line is simple: do a walk-around BEFORE you leave the car rental; annotate any damage; and have a car rental person SIGN your copy. The same applies to when you return the car. It’s no brain surgery here! All rental companies follow the same “basic” rule: check before and check after! It doesn’t matter if you are renting a trailer, power tools, tables and chairs, etc. Once the asset is in your possession, you have accepted responsibility for its care and safe keeping. What do you say to your neighbor or friend who borrows something from you and returns it damaged? Personally, I refuse to leave any car rental facility, until I have checked and rechecked the car – before AND after! Case closed; end of conversation! John Honovich That $500 claim is nowhere near as bad as mine. Purco/Hertz is demanding more than $900 for ‘damage’ that can hardly be seen. Take a look at their photo of my ‘damage’ – http://twitpic.com/8f1a3h nativenewyorker It’s funny how there seems to be no consistency, even within a rental car company. This summer I rented a car from Sixt in Lille, France and the agent went with me around the car taking pictures from every angle as we walked. She pointed out rub marks in one or two places. I returned the car to the French side of the Geneva airport where Sixt has you park in an unattended garage and then bring the keys to their counter in the adjacent terminal. So they have no way of knowing whether you returned the car in the condition you received it in or (barring some real impact damage) it was damaged by another parker in the garage. Fortunately for me, no questions were raised. Cheryl Emerson With such a considerable dent, it is really hard to believe that no one saw it at check-in, even if you were not looking you would see it!