I didn’t damage my rental car, so why do I have to pay?

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When Katherine LaFaso returns her Enterprise rental, she’s charged $500 for damages she says existed before she picked up the car. But how can she prove it?

Question: I rented a car from Enterprise in Paramus, N.J., for a month while my car was being fixed due to an accident. It was the only rental available that day, and an Enterprise employee told me there was an open claim with some damages, which were pointed out to me. I was told I would be contacted in a few days to switch out the car for one without any damage, but that never happened.

When I returned the car, there was a more detailed inspection done by a different employee. The damage in question didn’t even look like damage; it looked more like bad repair work or an imperfection. But the bottom line is: I did not damage the car.

Enterprise charged my credit card $500 without my authorization, and my credit card company recently sided with me and credited my account. Enterprise’s damage-recovery unit is now giving me an ultimatum: Pay up, or we’ll send this to collections, and you could face legal consequences. What are my options now? — Katherine LaFaso, Paramus, N.J.

Answer: You could pay this bill — or fight it.

Here are the reasons to pay: Enterprise claims that you damaged its car, and if you don’t settle up, the car rental company will have to cover the damages. Also, your damage claim may be referred to a collections agency, and you might be added to Enterprise’s “Do Not Rent” list.

Here are the reasons to fight: Your claim raised several red flags that were so troubling even your credit card company sided with you in the dispute. There is the arbitrary $500 charge (despite the fact that Enterprise showed you no repair invoice). And any claim at or near $500, which is the normal amount of an insurance deductible, is suspicious, because it looks as if a car rental company is going for the easy money and trying to keep your insurance company out of its business. By your account, Enterprise lost the credit card dispute, which means it couldn’t prove that you were at fault.

I think this easily might have been avoided. First, never accept a damaged car, even if it’s the last one on the lot. If, for some reason, you feel you have no choice, then take lots of photos or videos of the vehicle with your phone. Document any pre-existing damage in writing, ask a manager to sign the rental agreement, and then get the manager’s business card. You’ll probably need it later.

If you’d shown Enterprise the images and a signed rental agreement with the damages documented, you never would have been charged $500, and you wouldn’t be receiving threatening letters now from the damage-recovery unit.
I’m getting a little tired of these cases. If car rental companies simply asked their customers to photograph their vehicles before driving them off the lot and offered a clear way to document any pre-existing dings and dents, then these cases would disappear overnight. I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t want to end these time-wasting claims, unless they are amazingly profitable.

I contacted Enterprise on your behalf. It reviewed the claim, and although it said there is “no evidence” to support the allegation that the damage was pre-existing, the regional manager who was handling this claim has left the company. As a result, Enterprise couldn’t clarify some questions and follow normal protocol. Enterprise dropped its claim.

Should Enterprise have dropped this claim?

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What happened to the repair records for my damaged rental car?

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After Jiuguang Wang is involved in a fender bender in Belgium, Europcar charges him $3,309. But it doesn’t send the repair records to his credit card company that insured the vehicle. Is he stuck with the bill?

Question: I am in desperate need of your help. I recently rented a car from Europcar in Brussels. I declined the collision damage waiver (CDW) provided by Europcar in favor of the CDW on my Capital One World MasterCard.

While I was renting the car, I was involved in a collision. As a result, the front left corner of the car was damaged. When I returned the car, I was billed an initial damage surcharge of 2,470 euros (approximately $3,309). Upon returning to the United States, I filed a claim with MasterRental and forwarded it all documents regarding the rental car and the associated collision.

A few months later, I received a call from a MasterRental agent, who stated that Europcar had no documentation for the damages. The agent advised me to contact Capital One directly to receive a refund for the extra charges I was billed for the damages.

I have opened a dispute through Capital One for $3,309. I don’t understand how Capital One can decide differently in the two cases, when they concern the same claim. I would like to get your help to appeal the decision with Capital One, or perhaps talk to Europcar so it can provide the necessary documentation to MasterCard so that I can be reimbursed. — Jiuguang Wang, Pittsburgh

Answer: Europcar should have furnished your credit card company with the documents necessary to process your claim. If your accident had happened in the States, the car rental company probably would have sent you a damage claim instead of charging you immediately, but “Charge first, ask questions later” seems to be the way things are handled in Europe.

When a car rental company bills you $3,309, it is obligated to show that it actually paid that much to repair your vehicle. You didn’t contest the charge, but Europcar needed to work with you to process your claim with Capital One.

I don’t think your credit card company has a double standard. It doesn’t determine if a charge is right, so it couldn’t have known whether the initial damage claim was legitimate. A separate department handles the insurance claims, and knowing big bureaucracies as well as I do, I think it’s unlikely that Capital One could have done the math and determined that the Europcar charge wasn’t legit.

Some might contend that your case is a good argument for buying a car rental company’s insurance. I disagree. You were fully covered under your Capital One policy. The CDW offered by Europcar would have been an expensive and unnecessary cost.

I might have pressed this issue with Europcar in writing. Email addresses for its employees follow the convention: firstname.lastname@europcar.com, and a little Internet sleuthing would have turned up the name of a manager or supervisor. The company needed to furnish you with the documents; it can’t just charge you based on an estimate.

I contacted Europcar on your behalf. A representative emailed you the damage appraisal receipts, which allowed you to make a successful claim with your credit card company.

If a car rental company can't document damage, should a customer have to pay?

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My infant daughter doesn’t have a ticket – who’s responsible?

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Allison Ruark’s infant daughter doesn’t have a ticket. Who’s responsible for this mess?

Question: Earlier this year, I booked tickets through Expedia.com for myself and my infant daughter to fly from Johannesburg, South Africa, to Billings, Mont., on British Airways. Our return flight was from Chicago to Johannesburg.

I purchased an infant-in-lap ticket for my daughter, and the confirmation I received from Expedia showed a fare of $283 for her ticket. A few weeks later, I got an email from Expedia alerting me to the fact that it could not ticket my daughter’s reservation.

Unfortunately, I didn’t notice this email from Expedia. I also later realized that Expedia had never charged me for the infant ticket. My Expedia profile showed that the itinerary was “booked and confirmed,” and my infant’s ticket was marked “ticketing in progress.”

I arrived at the Johannesburg airport two hours before my flight, and the British Airways agent at the check-in desk told me that she could not locate a ticket number for my daughter. She asked me to go to the ticketing desk in the terminal. I did, and for more than an hour various agents worked steadily to try to ticket my daughter.

I still do not understand exactly what the issue was, but my best understanding is that they were not able to modify the Expedia reservation, nor were they able to ticket my daughter separately from my reservation. At any rate, the flight closed while they were still trying to ticket my daughter, and I missed the flight.

The British Airways agents insisted that it was Expedia’s responsibility to rebook me, so after 2 1/2 hours at the ticket desk, I left the airport, checked into a hotel and called Expedia. After many hours on the phone, Expedia offered to refund the ticket. I had to buy another ticket, which cost nearly a thousand dollars more than the cost of my original ticket. I also incurred the costs of more than a day in a hotel, and meals.

In Expedia’s view, it fulfilled its responsibility by sending me that email notification about my daughter’s ticket, and it had no responsibility to follow up with me by phone or by posting information alerting me about the problem in my online account. In British Airways’ view, Expedia is at fault, since the airline had no idea that my infant was not ticketed prior to my attempted check-in at the airport.

In my view, they both bear blame. Expedia should not sell a fare that it can’t ticket. I also believe that Expedia had a much greater responsibility to alert me to the issue, through follow-up emails or by phone calls, or by putting information in my online account, where I would have seen it.

It seems to me that British Airways also should be able to tell, prior to check-in, when a passenger has not been ticketed, and then be able to issue an infant ticket onsite. Several agents worked on the issue for more than an hour and could not get it done.

Neither company is admitting any responsibility, and neither one has done anything to reimburse me for the extra costs incurred. Can you help? — Allison Ruark, Corvallis, Oregon

Answer: When you’re acting as your own travel agent, you have to stay on top of things. On domestic flights, infants are not required to have their own seats. But on international flights, they’re charged a percentage of the adult fare. British Airways’ infant fare is 10 percent of the adult fare, when the baby sits on an adult’s lap.

Expedia should have notified you about the failure to ticket your daughter, and simply sending you an email wasn’t enough. A phone call or a follow-up email would have helped. Its system should have been able to detect that you had tried, but failed, to buy a ticket for your baby and that you were about to fly without your daughter’s airfare. Certainly, British Airways could have had a more flexible system, too.

Ultimately, a quick check of your itinerary at least a week before your departure date would have revealed the missing ticket, and then none of this would have happened.

As I reviewed your correspondence, I think you might have benefited from using the phone, email or possibly even social media to fix your problem. An email to the right person at Expedia or British Airways (I list the executives for both on my site), or perhaps a message sent to either company’s Twitter account, might have led to a quick resolution.

I contacted Expedia on your behalf. The online agency refunded most of the extra cost of spending the night in a hotel and rebooking a new ticket. Expedia also issued $400 in coupons to cover your other costs it couldn’t reimburse.

Should Expedia have reimbursed Allison Ruark?

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