Do I really have to pay for this broken windshield?

By | March 15th, 2013

1-IMAG0070Accidents happen. Even freak accidents, like the one Jonathan Perkins experienced in his Dollar rental car.

He’d rented a Ford Taurus in San Antonio. It wasn’t in the best shape, with 50,000 miles and a coat of grime on it, but it ran just fine.

“I drove the car two hours west, to a small town called Sonora, and stayed the night in a motel,” he says. “The next morning, I walked out to the car and got in, followed by my mom. As she closed her door, the rear window cracked, and fell into the car.”

The result? Well, see for yourself. The image above was taken right after the incident.

As you can imagine, Dollar wanted him to pay for the damage. But that doesn’t make any sense to Perkins.

“The window was fine when I walked to the car, and the only pressure that the window faced was potentially my mom closing the front door,” he says. “Does it make sense that it would crack?”

It does, if his mother is a green, 7-foot-tall superhero that answers to the name Hulk. Alternatively, the window was defective. I prefer that theory, and so does he.

But what does Dollar say?

Pay up, it says. It sent him a bill for $1,224, including $523, including $9 for “loss of use,” $606 for towing and a $35 “appraisal” fee.

“I called Dollar and complained that I did nothing to the car, and the rear window broke on me,” he explains. “They said that it was still my fault. “

Perkins said that was ridiculous. For example, who needs to pay an “appraisal” fee when it’s obvious the rear window was broken? And what’s with the “loss of use”?

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Most of the damage was covered by American Express, which he used to rent the car, except for the towing fee. Dollar wanted him to pay for that. Perkins would rather not.

I have AAA and could have had the car towed with them. However, they never offered that as an option when I called them originally, nor did they say there would be a charge for it.

I thought they realized they gave me a car with a defective window and were trying to right their wrong.

Personally, I don’t think my credit card should have even paid them, as it was something defective with the car. This was like a situation of hot potato where I was the one that had the car during the rear window break out, but I did nothing that would cause it. I do question the history of the car (especially because of the dirty shape it was in when I got it) but have nothing that I can prove.

He wanted to know if I could help persuade Dollar to drop the towing charge.

No doubt about it, Perkins was responsible for the car while it was in his possession. Was there a manufacturer’s defect with the rear window? Maybe, but he would have had to show that if he wanted to make that case, and he didn’t.

But a few things about Perkins’ rental didn’t sit right with me. The vehicle was ancient and should have been auctioned off a year ago. His description of the vehicle was also suspicious — doesn’t Dollar clean its cars before giving them to its customers?

In other words, while Perkins didn’t prove there was a faulty windshield, I believe this was a problematic rental. Enough so that I asked Dollar to take another look at this case. It did, but found that the claim remained “valid” — in other words, we’re not going to remove the $606 towing charge.

It added,

We understand it can be frustrating to deal with damage issues. We did review the vehicle history, maintenance log and system and do not find any previous damage, claims or issues with the vehicle.

I wish this one had turned out differently, but for the rest of us, there are a few educational opportunities. First, don’t accept a high-mileage vehicle in substandard condition. Those are more likely to run into trouble.

Second, when something happens to your rental car, take lots of pictures (you’ll need ‘em later). If you believe you received a defective vehicle, you’ll have to do some extra sleuthing to prove it.

And finally, ask your car rental company who is liable for the towing bill, and if it’s up to you, find out if you can use your own service. Had Perkins done that, he might not owe Dollar another $606.

Should Dollar have dropped Jonathan Perkins's claim?

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