The latest car rental scam: hail damage?

A few years ago, car rental companies made a small but profitable change to their contracts. They said if one of their vehicles was damaged by an Act of God, you were on the hook for the car.

Since then, I’ve received reports from time to time about hail damage claims that may or may not be legit. Usually they get worked out long before I have to get involved — after a little back-and-forth, the claim is quietly dropped because the car rental company can’t be sure the hailstorm happened before or after the drop-off.

But Spencer Gorman’s case was a little different. In September, he rented a Nissan SUV from Enterprise in downtown Philadelphia. When he returned it, he says an Enterprise representative told him he needed to fill out a damage claim form since there had been a hail storm in the area. He says he began taking pictures of the vehicle, which he claims was undamaged by hail.

“I knew something was wrong,” he says. “I was asked to leave and she threatened to call the police when I started [taking] the photos.”

Gorman says Enterprise moved quickly on its claim. By the time he phoned his insurance company half an hour later, the car rental company had already filed a claim, saying there had been hail damage to the vehicle.

“The next day I noticed a $500 charge on my credit card, which had also been charged at around 4 p.m., just after my insurance company was called.”

Gorman searched for evidence of hailstorms within a 150-mile radius of his home, but couldn’t find any. His insurance company had doubts about the validity of the claim, and after conducting its own investigation, refused to cover it.

Then Gorman received a package from Enterprise with copies of photos of his car, none of which showed any damage to the car, he says.

I received a bill for $2,575, which had the $500 already deducted, and a nasty threatening letter saying I was responsible for damage to the car. There was nothing about hail being mentioned.

I am accused of damage to the right fender, the left fender, the liftgate, the hood, the roof, the pillars rocker and floor, headliner right and left sun visor and the map lamp, as well as the left and right inside panel.

No point of impact is mentioned, no accident, but the odometer is logged in at 15,968. I turned the car in at 15,216 miles.

Gorman thinks this is a scam. I asked Enterprise if it could review his case.

A representative called him back and here’s how the conversation went, according to Gorman.

The person you called on my behalf called me. He was rude and said, ‘Enterprise has every right to use black lights or whatever methods they deem necessary to see damage that a customer may not see.’

He said, ‘Enterprise has every right to charge renters for this damage.’

He said, ‘Just because damage is not visible at the time of rental does not excuse the renter. The contract is ironclad and Enterprise does not negotiate.’

That’s a strange response.

Certainly, a car rental company has the right to inspect for damage any way it sees fit, although black lights seem a little over the top. I agree, too, that Enterprise has the right to charge for damage to a car.

But there’s no excuse for being rude about it. And driving a car another 700 miles before making the repairs strikes me as odd.

This isn’t the first car rental hail damage claim I’ve received in the last few weeks. Are car rental companies capitalizing on the weather? If they are, it seems like a stupid way to make extra money. The law will catch up to them, eventually. Indeed, Gorman has taken this case to the FBI, asserting that Enterprise is engaging in insurance fraud.

I’m not sure. I haven’t seen photos of the car, and Enterprise’s response to my request for a review is so out of character, I just can’t believe it would act that way.

Is Enterprise trying to scam Spencer Gorman?

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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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