My rental stopped running and now they want me to pay $6,523!

Ep Photo/Shutterstock
Ep Photo/Shutterstock
Everything seemed fine with the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited that Vitor Soares rented from an independent rental company called Super Car Rentals in Aruba. But it wasn’t.

On the second afternoon of his two-day rental, the vehicle broke down.

“We tried to engage the reverse gear to get back to the correct path; the car simply stopped moving,” he remembers. “After that we immediately called Super Car Rentals, and they sent us a third-party towing truck to take care of the car.”

That’s when the trouble really started. The tow truck driver handed him a bill for $400, which he refused to pay, since he hadn’t dispatched the truck, and he considered it to be the car rental company’s responsibility.

This infuriated the tow truck driver.

“My friend,” the driver said, “someone will pay for that bill today! You screwed with the car, so you have to pay!”

Soares was escorted to an ATM, where he withdrew the cash for the tow truck driver. But he wasn’t done paying.

He explains,

Two days later, we got a phone message from Super Car Rentals saying that they had left an envelope for us in the front desk. Inside the envelope, there was a letter saying that we owned the company $6,270 because of the damage we supposedly had done to the car.

Along with the letter there was a “third party survey” of the Jeep. The survey explained nothing; all it said was that there was damage to the transmission.

Attached to the survey was a page from an internet seller of jeep parts (, with one item (the whole transmission for the jeep) added to the cart.

There was also a letter for me to sign in which I would agree to pay for all the costs incurred by the rental company due to the damage inflicted upon the car.

Soares refused to pay the new bill. Here’s why:

We rented a Jeep in good faith, and drove it around just to get to know the major tourist attractions of the island.

We did not drive the car to any exceptionally rough roads. We did not invent paths that didn’t exist. We drove to places hundreds of people drive every day using the same type of vehicle we were using.

Besides, our driver is a very experienced person that drives this type of car (4wd) in his home town. He knew perfectly well what he was doing.

He was also driving very carefully. He did not bump the car around like crazy. All of that means that this car should not have broken if it were in perfect or good condition before we rented it.

We are 100 percent sure that the car had been badly maintained.

That may be true, but here’s the way car rentals work: When you rent one, you accept the responsibility for it. If you damage it, you — or your insurance — covers it. And if it was a manufacturers’ or a maintenance defect, then you, the driver, has to prove it.

On the flip side, the car rental company must show that, 1) the damage was done while you were renting it, and, 2) provide adequate documentation of the damage. And on the second count, Soares’ claim came up a little short.

Although Super Car Rentals charged his credit card, I advised him to check back with his card. A company can’t just charge your credit card with that kind of documentation. It should have provided him with a credible estimate from a third party, if not also an invoice from the repair shop. It did neither.

I didn’t get involved in this dispute, except to advise Soares. A few weeks ago, I heard back from him.

I just would like to thank you again for your advice. After talking to you we looked through the issue and found out that yes, indeed, we had the right to file a charge dispute with Visa. So we did that. And then they tried to contact the rental car company, but the company never answered their inquiries.

So they decided to suspend the charge. It seems they are not charging us anymore after all. Thanks a lot!

I’m happy this was resolved in his favor. Did he damage the Jeep? Maybe, maybe not. But Super Car Rentals needed to send him and his credit card the documentation for the repairs. If it couldn’t, then they have to let him off the hook.

Should Vitor Soares have paid for the damage to his rental?

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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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  • sirwired

    “That may be true, but here’s the way car rentals work: When you rent one, you accept the responsibility for it. If you damage it, you — or your insurance — covers it. And if it was a manufacturers’ or a maintenance defect, then you, the driver, has to prove it. ”

    Since when has the renter ever been responsible for mechanical breakdown? Yes, the renter is responsible for damage to the interior and exterior of the car, but I don’t know of any rental company that requires payment for breakdown, unless you do something stupid/abusive like drive the car with the idiot lights on. This is why there is a CDW/LDW, but not a Breakdown Waiver.

    The renter has the burden of proof for collision damage, but not mechanical failure. That of course does not keep some rental companies from trying, but such a thing should never “stick”. And that’s a good thing, since neither your credit card insurance nor auto insurance is going to touch breakdown with a 10′ pole.

    As a side note, some rental companies do, alas, put the price of towing on the renter.

  • Raven_Altosk


    ’nuff said.

  • MarkKelling

    The credit card company “suspended” the charge. It did not remove the charge from his account. There is a major difference between the two. This doesn’t mean that at some point in the future the charge won’t be un-suspended and reinstated.

    The thing that bothers me about the account of the breakdown is the statement: “we tried to … get back to the correct path.” How far off the “correct” path were they? Does this mean they were on some muddy off road trail they should not have been?

    $400 sounds way too much for a tow on a small island like Aruba other than the tow truck driver knew he had the OP by the wallet or they were really in some isolated spot that was difficult to reach. The part about being “escorted” to the ATM makes me think of someone putting a gun in his back while he is standing in front of the machine waiting for the money to come out. Why didn’t the rental company pay the driver and add the charge to the bill?

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    “[B]ut here’s the way car rentals work: When you rent one, you accept the
    responsibility for it. If you damage it, you — or your insurance —
    covers it. And if it was a manufacturers’ or a maintenance defect, then
    you, the driver, has to prove it”

    That’s simply not true, at least in the US. I can’t speak for Aruba.

    The renter is responsible for all damage that occurs during the rental period, whether the driver’s fault or not.

    However, a mechanical breakdown, such as overheating, transmission problems, etc, is not “damage” within the legal meaning of the word. As such, the burden of proof and the burden of production lies with the rental car company to show that the driver’s action or inaction caused the breakdown.

  • sdir

    I’d like to know what they meant by trying to “get back to the correct path.” This was after the vehicle broke down, so I assume the transmission was behaving badly and making an awful sound. Yet they continued to drive it, not for safety reasons or to pull out of traffic, but to “get back to the correct path.” It’s appalling that any company would charge over six grand for so-called damage without a thorough and detailed explanation, but I still think we’re missing part of the story.

  • backprop

    I’m a little concerned about this sentence: “We did not drive the car to any exceptionally rough roads. We did not invent paths that didn’t exist. We drove to places hundreds of people drive every day using the same type of vehicle we were using.”

    That sounds like rationalization more than anything. What matters more is, was there anything in the contract about not driving where they were, even if “hundred of people drive [there] every day”?

    I wouldn’t immediately suspect the OP is guilty of anything. But if someone asks “Who was throwing rocks?” and one person volunteers “I didn’t pick up any rocks bigger than my hand. There are rocks almost everywhere. They’re hard to not pick up. Hundreds of people pick up rocks all the time!”…then I would wonder.

  • backprop


  • EdB

    But what about the $400? Was the OP able to recover that?

  • rn74

    Good question. I still can’t believe he paid it. I think I’d have told the tow truck drive, if you don’t want to collect from them, leave it here. Let them deal with it.

  • Christopher Elliott

    He did not recover the $400. That was paid cash. Also, the way it is and the way it is supposed to be — two different things. I’ve seen too many customers on the hook for maintenance issues. That’s the way it is, unfortunately. (But not the way it should be.)

  • Christopher Elliott

    What’s wrong with Aruba?

  • Christopher Elliott

    Please see my reply to RN.

  • SoBeSparky

    Law and justice in Aruba? Have your memories faded so quickly?

  • chantl01

    Aruba is notorious for rental car scams. I rented one there for a day and when I returned it they told me the spare tire was missing – and sure enough, there was no spare tire in the car. I hadn’t checked that a spare tire was there in the first place but the car was never out of my site for the day I had it. So the tire didn’t go missing during my use of the car. They charged my credit card for the tire. I tell everyone don’t rent cars in Aruba.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Some clarity might be in order.

    Customers are not liable for maintenance issues in the US. That being said, unscrupulous companies or their employees will often try to get the customer to pay for items for which they are not liable.

    If its worth the customer’s time and effort (it may not be) the customer should ultimately prevail. Of course, that might mean a small claims action in a geographically inconvenient venue.

  • Biff

    Chris, Does the name Natalee Holloway ring a bell?

  • Charlie Funk

    I share the curiosity of several who posted about exactly what “getting back to the correct path” and not doing various things “too much” means, didn’t bump the car around like crazy, etc. Inferentially – he was off the “correct” path, bumped it around “some”. That said, short of not only walking around the vehicle and photographing to document physical damage, checking engine oil level, transmission fluid level, coolant level and tire pressure, presence of a spare, etc., I’m not sure what the average renter should do to avoid situations like this.
    Jeep Wrangler transmissions are hard to break in my experience (owned three of them over the years, never had a problem) even with off-roading etc.

  • Guest

    Are you kidding? You are actually judging and entire country on that? If that is how you feel about Aruba, I shudder to think how you must feel about the USA.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Good to know. Thanks for the warning.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Both a hotel and a car rental agency tried various scams on me. I went diving there once and vowed to never go back.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Rental car and hotel scams in my case.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    Notorious for rental car scams

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Maybe he’s just exceptionally honest and explaining they bounced around a bit on the rough roads. But the next part after that sentence you posted, where he makes a point of explaining the driver was experienced driving 4x4s, also struck me as a little odd. Were they offroading to the degree they needed somebody with special experience to drive? I tend to believe the OP, but if the transmission got damaged by getting it hung up on a rock or something, that’s an entirely different story in terms of who is responsible than if it just decided to go bad while they were driving around normally.

  • EdB

    Chris, on a off topic subject….

    When I try browsing your stories from my phone using Chrome, after the page loads, it gets redirected to the Goggle Play store for the Candy Crush Saga app. It is redirected via Xadtrack.king.comX. You might want to talk to your web provider about this as it prevents me from even reading the stories. I found several reports of this ad redirection when I googled Xadtrack.king.comX. (NOTE: remove the X’s for the actual site. Don’t want to post links to a possible scam site.)

  • Christopher Elliott

    Looking into it now.

  • Jason Hanna

    But there can be different interpretations of ‘maintenance’. Someone who rents a car and is driving it down the road and has a radiator hose blow out is not responsible for that radiator hose. However, if they continue driving it until all the water is pumped out and something important in the motor breaks because of that.. I would feel they are responsible.

    That being said.. The renter response would likely be “Oh, I never noticed the temp gauge going past H and then dropping to C or the clouds of steam at red lights..” Or whatever.. Which could possibly come back to the renter as being negligent for NOT noticing it.

    Onus would be on the rental company, IMO, to prove abuse or negligence in a mechanical breakdown situation.

  • Tanya

    I have a slight problem with the OP here. If you have been to Aruba, you know that many of the tourist/historic sites to visit are off the beaten path. Very bumpy dirt roads, and yes there are paths that others have made, and go often in 4×4’s, but you could easily go too fast and cause damage to a car. We took a tour that utilized old hummers, and when we asked the tour guide about the maintenance on the vehicles he said that they were constantly being worked on due to the rough roads and terrain that the vehicles drive on.

    The OP states that they did not drive through exceptionally rough roads or bump the car around like crazy. I do think more proof was needed, but not sure the OP should be completely off the hook. Hopefully the OP had insurance to cover the tow via reimbursement.

  • Christopher Elliott

    The good news is: We haven’t been hacked. The bad news is that two ads (Google and Lijit) are not playing nice. If you clear your cookies, the problems should fix itself. Here’s more information on the quirk:

  • Christopher Elliott

    Natalie Holloway drove a Jeep?

  • Christopher Elliott
  • JenniferFinger

    Whatever the case, the car rental company needed to prove that the damage took place while Vitor Soares had the vehicle, with real documentation, and not just charged his card without it. Yeah, Aruba is infamous for scamming customers and other things, but wherever this took place that wouldn’t be acceptable. And the charge has only been suspended-his credit card may still demand full payment in the future if they determine that whatever documentation there is doesn’t indicate that Soares was rented a bad vehicle by the car rental company rather than him and his party abusing it.

  • larry

    This is one reason why when I rent a car out of the USA, it is from known legit companies based in the USA such as Hertz, Avis,etc. I also use American Express Primary insurance @ $19.95 per rental.

  • naoma

    Years ago I was on a Caribbean Island (can’t remember which one). We drove the car a short distance and returned it — saw what we wanted to see. They were going to charge us for miles
    that would have equaled driving around the ENTIRE ISLAND. We got it straightened out — but it was one big hassle.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    Sorry, but a transmission simply doesn’t break that easily. Sounds like this small, independent company wanted someone else to pay for their ruined vehicle.

  • MeanMeosh

    It could be even more complicated than that. Rental car agreements sometimes forbid taking their vehicles on dirt or gravel roads, period, or on specific roads that are known to be dangerous (the Dalton Highway in Alaska and the Mauna Kea summit road in Hawai’i come to mind). I rented a Jeep in Hawai’i a few years ago, and the agreement specifically said driving up the Mauna Kea road was prohibited. I went anyway, but with the knowledge that if the Jeep ended up getting damaged, I’d have been hosed. Point is, they might not have done anything to damage the transmission, but if they were on a prohibited road, it doesn’t really matter. The rental company will hold them responsible anyway for violating the rental agreement.

  • sunshipballoons

    How is this resolved? The rental company will probably just send this to a collection agency now.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Well, I guess all we have to do is bring a mechanic with us on our vacation, so he can check the car before we drive off the lot.

  • Cybrsk8r

    I think I should point out that for $6000, he could have had his own car shipped to Aruba.

  • DaveS

    Do you think it’s time to give that a rest? There has been a murder somewhere else in the world since then.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    in many countries you are not permitted to drive a hire car off the bitumen, no matter whether a 4wd or not.

  • justinntime

    ENTERPRISE The man behind this car rental company has amassed $17 billion dollars from BS rental car damage.

  • KaraJones

    I don’t know what a bitumen is but I like the way you tawk. : D

  • y_p_w

    Bitumen is a synonym for asphalt.

  • Brad Ackerman

    They can try—but it won’t work. The story doesn’t state which country the customers live in, but the way it happens in the US:

    1. The alleged creditor retains a collection agency to collect the alleged debt.

    2. Alleged debtor demands supporting documentation (e.g. sufficiently-detailed invoice) from the collection agency.

    3. Collection agency requests same from alleged creditor.

    4. If the debt is in fact BS, or the alleged creditor can’t find its own rear with both hands, no documentation is forthcoming. The matter must be dropped within 30 days of #2, and it does not appear on the alleged debtor’s credit report.

    I would guess that the EU has a similar system, so the rental-car agency would have just as much luck with a local credit agency or one in the renter’s country (if an EU resident).