A scratch on my rental car — and now, a bill from a collection agency

Jemny/Shutterstock
Jemny/Shutterstock
Here we go again.

Car rental damage claims are such a contentious issue — and so preventable — that I’ve been considering a moratorium on new cases. But Aakash Patel’s problem might be the exception to the rule.

I’ll let you decide.

A few months ago, Patel and a group of friends flew to Las Vegas for a bachelor party.

“We rented a car from the Payless Car Rental at McCarran International Airport,” he says. “At the time of our initial inspection of the car, we noticed a very small scratch — about two to three inches — on the rear bumper.”

Patel told an associate about the damage and asked her what he should do.

“We were told that it was a minor damage and only the major damages need to be noted,” he says.

The rest, as they say, is history. (Or maybe I should say that it’s history repeating itself.)

Patel explains:

We took the car and used it only for our commute to the hotel. We drove about 39 miles in four days.

Upon returning the car to the drop-off location, we were told that the same scratch was not recorded on their system and that we were responsible for this damage to the car.

An incident report was filed and about month and a half later, we received a big envelope with a bill of $994.

Since he’d rented the car on his Amex card, Patel contacted American Express and believed he had coverage through the card. Amex, which offered secondary coverage, paid for $500. But Payless wasn’t done with Patel yet.

“Today, I received another bill from Subrogation Management Team, which is working as Payless Car Rental’s representative, for the balance of $494,” he says. “Upon asking the representative for the copy of loss of days proof, she told me that it is personal information which cannot be provided to us.”

Patel believes Payless, working with Subrogation Management, has inflated the cost of the repair and is forcing him to pay for something for which he isn’t responsible. They’ve already received $500 from Amex for something he didn’t do — and now this?

He wants me to mediate his case.

I asked him if he took pictures of the car, pre- and post-rental.

“I wish I would have taken a picture of that,” he said, “but based on my multiple rental car experiences (including international rentals), I never thought that something like this could ever happen. I trusted the agent when she told me that it was a minor damage which does not need to be mentioned on the form.”

A new iPhone and Android app called Rental Pics can help. The program automatically creates a file containing all the pictures associated with a rental and allows you to make any damage notations.

The other thing that’s stopping me from getting involved are the companies: Payless, which almost always ignores my emails, and Subrogation, which has a well-deserved reputation for aggressively pursuing all claims regardless of their merit. I’m not sure how far I’d get.

Finally, there is this: Patel does have auto insurance that would cover him, but he won’t make a claim because he doesn’t think he should be responsible.

“I don’t think that my insurance company should pay for something that I did not do,” he told me. “I opened a claim with Amex, thinking that they might fight for me, since they know exactly what happened. The truth is I feel terrible that Amex had to pay for something that was not even caused by me.”

No doubt, mistakes were made by everyone. But if Patel filled out an incident report and filed a claim with Amex, is it too late for me to help?

Should I mediate Aakash Patel's case?

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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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  • Carchar

    It is possible that some people, who do not normally follow Chris, may be referred to him by someone who does.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    No.

    Its that many people on this forum are avid travelers and have experienced some truly underhanded and nefarious schemes from travel companies. Unfortunately, it appears that we see certain recurring themes. The theme that is relevant to this discussion is that certain car companies seem to have a substantially higher rate of dubious claims.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    That’s a pretty good idea.

  • Carchar

    Yes, you have been lucky indeed.

  • LeeAnneClark

    I’m sure this whole thing is real entertaining for the thousands of innocent travelers who have been scammed by unscrupulous rental agencies that are looking for any way to up their profits, knowing that with minimal effort they will get a large percentage to pay up.

    As for “damaging their fleet”…a 2-inch scratch in the paint can net an agency thousands, as evidenced right here in this story. You don’t really think this one poor guy is the only renter they went after for over $900 for a tiny little scratch, do you?

    So which rental company do you work for?

  • EdB

    I wouldn’t say the agencies scratch up their cars on purpose, but I’m sure there are some that once the scratch is there, try to charge as many people for it as they can.

  • Cat

    It seems to me he blew it when he used Amex to pay for it- or part of it. By doing that he acknowledged responsibility for the scratch, whether or not he caused the damage, and became responsible for the entire amount. I believe he could still demand to see records of what he is supposedly paying for but that does not require a consumer advocates help.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    My last car rental was pretty humorous. I’d been reading these articles on here and had vowed to be extra careful documenting pre-existing damage. The form with the little picture of the car actually said something about being able to ignore really small things, but I was going to make sure I marked any damage of any size at all. It was in good shape, so there were only maybe 3-4 things I marked. When I handed the form back to the worker (who hadn’t been at the car when I was filling out the form) he promptly said “Let’s just be safe” and marked dings on every panel of the car I hadn’t already marked.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    Don’t back away from what you said, sweetheart. You said that rental companies deliberately damage their own cars in order to make damage claims. I responded directly to that claim, saying that it was ridiculous. Do you have any proof to back this claim up, other than your belief that all rental companies are evil?

    Also, I left the rental car industry a long time ago to go into pharma sales. I care not to name the company, as judging from your past posts, your level of maturity is such that you could not handle a disagreement without trying to make trouble for my career. What I found, and it is definitely the Case on this website, is that consumers are somehow under the hilarious impression that whenever a car is damaged under the renters possessin, that the renter freely admits to such damage. Unfortunately, consumers will tape bumpers, use home paint jobs, and invent stories of pre-existing damage to get out of paying for damage. But in your world of fairly lilies and unicorns, I’m sure that every renter takes full responsibility for damage caused.

    Now, Leeanne, please continue with your ridiculous ideas that have no base in fact. I look forward to reading them, as they provide good entertainment.

  • kathymcn

    yes, when I rented a car in FL, and was told by the rental Co. that scratches under 3 inches don’t count, I asked to read the policy that said that. They could not “find” it, (and were amazed I read the entire contract before signing for the car) so I noted all tiny dings and scratches. Glad I took the time because it allowed time for car to dry off (just washed) showing several large ones I had initially missed and probably would have been charged for.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Well, I’ve said it before. Paying employees a bounty for finding damage should be outlawed. Even if a small % of agencies engage in the practice, that doesn’t make it OK.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Well, if you actually READ her post, she didn’t say they took a sledge hammer to the car. And one thing I can tell you for sure. There ARE agencies out there which pay their employees a bounty for every scratch they find. I could totally believe that somewhere, sometime, some 19 year old kid took the key and scratched the car and then reported the “damage” to collect the bounty.

  • Cybrsk8r

    In the case if Enterprise, you’ve been lucky.

  • Thouroughlyamused

    The practice of paying bounties for finding damage is limited to franchise operations. I have friends that currently work at corporate rental operations at Herz, Enterprise, Avis, Alamo, and National. NONE of them receive bonuses for finding damage, although some do face disciplinary action for missing damage, which is completely reasonable: rental companies know that customers are rarely honest or sometimes completely unaware about vehicle damage, so they have to protect their most valuable asset.

    Again, my response is based on fact. Yours seems to be based on a dislike of car rental companies in general. Perhaps you should simply stop renting cars to avoid any problems. Based on your response, I’m sure rental agents everywhere would appreciate it.

  • LeeAnneClark

    You lost all credibility the moment you called me “sweetheart”. Yeah, that’s the way to engage in polite debate. Classy move.

    You may want to work on your reading comprehension. I never said I had “proof”. What I said, my exact words, were: “I’m convinced that some of the scammier rental agencies scratch up their own cars…”. That means it’s what I *think*. Not what I *know*. Herp derp.

    And given the fact that the car rental industry hires people with your obvious and blatant disdain for customers, it’s not such an outlandish idea.

    Interesting how you believe you can actually judge my “level of maturity” based on my opinions about car agency scams. Uh huh. Ad-hominem attacks…the refuge of people who are incapable of engaging in intelligent debate.

    This interaction is over.

  • Cornhusker

    Avis just bought out Payless..wonder what they will do…

  • PsyGuy

    You need to pursue this, if these companies can build the reputation that they are “unchallengible”
    then no one will challenge them, and create an incentive for other organizations to take the hard line approach.

  • backprop

    I have no trouble believing this story could very well be another rental car scam. But no picture, nothing in writing, no damage marked on the rental agreement, everything hearsay?

    No way.

    This is the worst of the worst example of the types of cases that I think should have a moratorium. I vote that you expend your considerable effort helping those who at least make an attempt to help themselves.

  • LeeAnneClark

    And which rental agency do you work for?

  • LeeAnneClark

    Another rental agency employee. My goodness you guys have been coming out of the woodwork on this one!

  • Thouroughlyamused

    Yeah, because surely anyone who disagrees with you must be a rental car employee. Great logic!

  • LeeAnneClark

    Once again your reading comprehension appears compromised.

    I said nothing about anyone “disagreeing with me”. You have invented that fiction in your head.

    My personal opinion is that the people defending rental agencies are likely rental agency employees. Why? Because these false damage claims are well known, well documented scams. The only people who would be willing to defend the scammers are…the scammers.

    Please do not reply to me. I have no desire to be called “sweetheart” by a stranger again. By the way, I wonder if you might have considered how utterly inappropriate it is to call another man’s wife “sweetheart”?

    No wait…don’t answer that. I don’t want to know.

  • Charles B

    Funny thing that. I just rented a car from National last week. They had the paper already filled out for me as “minor scratches everywhere” before I even saw the car. Turned out it had only 1200 miles on it and no scratches or dents I could find. Still took my after photos before I turned it in, just in case they wanted to add something after my return.

    I find it helps to belong to the loyalty programs for whatever rental companies you use. They seem to be less likely to scam a repeat customer than someone off the street. The programs I joined are all free and I haven’t even used some of them but once. It’s not perfect though. A Thrifty guy made a bee-line for a nearly-invisible dent in the bumper that I knew was there before I took the car, and one that I had photographed. I offered him the picture, and attested in writing that it was preexisting damage and I had the photo to prove it. Never heard about it again.

    Another Thrifty story – I noticed and photographed a scratch on the passenger door at the time of rental, but they didn’t give me a form to report it. I asked the checkout lady to give me a form and she claimed they didn’t use them anymore. She offered and I agreed to have her write the report on the rental contract anyway. Never heard about that one again either. :-)

  • ThoroughlyAmused

    Oh, dear. You really are delusional.

    On multiple posts on this thread, you accused people of being rental agency employees. All of the posts you replied to stated an opinion different from your own. It doesn’t matter if you said anything about anyone “disagreeing with you” or not. It’s implied in your comments. On several different posts where people have stated disagreements, you have replied with accusations they are rental employees. It’s clear that it is impossible for you to comprehend that someone can have an opinion different from your own about THIS PARTICULAR case without being a rental agency employee.

    BTW, quit being a coward by making vague, pointless statements like, “it’s my opinion…” and stand behind what you say. You didn’t say, “it’s my opinion you are a rental employee” or “probably a rental employee.” You said “another rental agency employee”, definitively labeling the poster as a rental employee. See the difference?

    Also, as I stated in an above post, I USED to work for a rental agency, and no, it wasn’t Payless. So it may be easier for you to understand, let me break it down: I HAVE NOTHING TO WIN OR LOSE BASED ON THE OUTCOME OF THIS PARTICULAR DAMAGE CLAIM.

    One of the main reasons I left the rental car game was having to deal with difficult people all day long who though that their 3 economy rentals a year with our company entitled them to free upgrades to SUVs when they came in. It got annoying. If you hate the rental car industry that much, you should send a message and stop renting cars completely. Based on your demeanor and responses here, I’m sure rental agents won’t miss you. I certainly wouldn’t.

  • ThouroughlyAmused

    Exactly. All we have to go on is someone’s word. I used to work for a rental agency and I take photos of cars when I rent, not because I think someone is out to get me but because a scratch could have easily been missed by a return agent and therefore not documented beforehand. I also worked returns from time to time and I know from personal experience that customers are frequently less than honest about vehicle damage (are you sure we gave you the car with the front headlight covering shattered?).

    I’m also extremely suspicious of why the customer filed with AMEX first, then refused to file with primary insurance. AMEX terms and conditions state they won’t pay for pre-existing damage, so the damage must have either happened while he had the car or he lied to AMEX and said it did just to get them to pay up. Makes the claim of “I feel bad for AMEX” very hard to believe.

  • LeeAnneClark

    So I see you remain completely unable to actually stick to the topic, and continue to resort to personal insults and ad-hominem attacks.

    Hear this now: Stop insulting me directly and personally. This is a violation of the rules of posting in this forum. I have reporting you.

    I have not insulted you, or anyone else. (Unless you consider it to be an insult to be called a rental agency employee.)

    I do not interact with people like you. Please stop replying to my comments. Continued direct personal insults will result in continued reports to the mods. STOP NOW.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Hey folks, please remember to keep this discussion civil. Thanks.

  • jmtabb

    Last rental car we got the attendant gave us our rental agreement without any form for checkout of the car. There were small dings/paint scratches all over the car and I had to go back to the desk, and get the agent to hunt down a damage form – that process alone took almost 15 minutes. When did it stop being standard to provide those forms along with the rental paperwork?

  • EdB

    Right around the time they started the damage claim scam.

  • calbff

    You’re exactly right – most of these bills are a blind shot in the dark and will disappear when challenged even slightly. Unfortunately, at least in the US, the business has far too much say in what is legitimate and what isn’t with respect to credit agencies. If they decide to push the bill to a collection agency and damage your credit, you can fight, but it’s ugly and most people decide it’s not worth it, plus you might not even win.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    I call it how I see it, Chris. What I saw was someone with a history of attacking someone who holds beliefs other than her own, comment on not one but THREE different posters who disagreed with her, accusing them all of being rental employees.

    She can’t comprehend that someone who isn’t a rental employee might hold views different than hers, and chooses to attempt to attack and belittle their opinion by calling them rental employees. That, I believe, is a personal attack, but I’m not gonna stoop down to her level and play the “I’m gonna tell the mods on you” game.

  • Sam Varshavchik

    I never found the process of dealing with collection agency clowns to be “ugly”. It’s not like I routinely end up in situations that end up in collection. Overall, I think it was only 2-3 times, ever. But, there were also a few other incidents when I was brought in as a “reinforcement”, when some of my family members ended up being hounded by them.

    I found the whole process to be fairly easy. Yes, many people /think/ it’s going to get ugly, and won’t be worth the hassle. And, the collections agencies count on that, and do everything to make it seem the way, right up front. But, if you see through all the bravado, and the bluster, the collection agencies are just a minor annoyance.

    All cases I dealt with, both personal cases, and the ones that involved other family members — were utterly and totally bogus. And, in every case a single letter, sent by certified mail, did the trick, and the collection agency was never heard from, again.

    So, don’t get cowed by collection agencies’ demand letter. 99% of the time, it’s all bark, and no bite. Yes, if you ignore it, they’ll go after you, and it’ll wind up being a pain. But, if you follow the law, and make it clear that you know the law, 99 times out of 100, those clowns will not waste their time on you, and will decide to go after someone else, who’ll seem to be an easier mark.

  • calbff

    I’m glad you posted that; I have similar stories and should have clarified, and I totally agree. Thanks.

  • ThoroughlyAmused

    I wanted to wait until I got off work to respond to this to give the moderators ample time to delete my previous posts, in case they actually thought they were personal attacks. Those posts still stand, so I’m going to follow through with my reply.

    I think everyone would appreciate it if you would stop playing the victim card for a second and actually read what you write, since it isn’t clear that you do this before you post. Looking at past articles, you have a clear history of not being able to refrain from attacking those who disagree with you. I could bring up literally dozens of examples using past articles, but ere are three concrete examples where you have attacked myself and others in the comments on THIS ARTICLE alone:

    1. On THREE different posts where someone has stated an opinion other than your own, one of which was myself, you have accused ALL OF US of being rental employees. You do this because you don’t like people who disagree with you, and this is a pathetic attempt to discredit anyone who does so. In one case, mine, you are not even correct. In others, you have no idea who works for what company yet somehow have the ability to definitively state one’s employer because they hold a view that is different from your own. In this forum, in this situation, this is an attack.

    2. You say “The only people who would be willing to defend the scammers are…the scammers.” Really? So when you called everyone a rental employee, you called them a scammer as well. In your mind, rental employee = scammer. Does that include the guy who scrubbed your car clean in 102 degree weather for $8 an hour before you got into it only to complain of a dirt smudge? How about the retired military vet who was grateful to find a job shuttling cars between airports because no one else would hire him due to age discrimination? Before you open your big mouth and judge hundreds of thousands of people off of a few crappy experiences and some hand picked articles on a blog site, think about who you are insulting. And in this world, you give what you get, which probably explains a lot of your crappy experiences. If I was working the counter and you approached me with the same tone and demeanor you’ve exhibited on this comment board, I’d be sure to give you the bright yellow Aveo with 42,564 miles on it, and I’d have a big smile on my face while doing it.

    3. You have made multiple comments saying that my reading comprehension is flawed. Au contraire, Leeann. But, congrats on the last sad attempt at attacking me.

    I think you owe me, and everyone else who you have labeled a rental car employee with no backing at all, an apology. And try copping a better attitude the next time you’re at the counter. I was always happy to give free upgrades to anyone who even made the slightest attempt to be pleasant, as opposed to slamming down your DL and CC and barking, “Decline everything.” I can already guess what you usually do.

  • ThoroughlyAmused

    Also, this is probably difficult for you to hear, but you IN NO WAY control when and what I post. You aren’t a moderator, so stop saying things like, “Please stop replying to my comments.” If you don’t want people replying to what you write, don’t post in a public forum. Which might be good advice for you anyways.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Hmmm…there seems to be quite an obsession with my posts going on here.

    This conversation is over (although feel free to continue to talk to yourself).

  • Thoroughlyamused

    Even after you played victim claiming I personally attacked you because you didn’t like that I disagreed with you, and even after I pointed out all the ways you have personally attacked me and others on this forum, you respond with…another personal attack. You clearly are out of arguments, so you resort to the only thing you know: personal attacks. Have fun with that. Just know that, for the future, I’m gonna continue to call you out when you attack others on this site, and I will warn others to brace themselves for a personal attack when they dare to disagree with you. Have a wonderful evening.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Well this is definitely the first time I’ve ever seen anyone react so strongly to being called a “rental agency employee”! I had no clue that being called a “rental agency employee” was such a horrific attack and personal insult. I’m sure glad I never worked for a rental agency, because what if someone actually called me a “rental agency employee”? Turns out doing so is a personal insult! Guess I dodged a bullet by never working for a rental agency. Phew!

    ;-)

    I do find your obsession with my posts a bit troubling, but hey…whatever floats your skirt.

  • ThoroughlyAmused

    Oh Leeane, don’t flatter yourself. A quick review of the past articles on this website shows you have a history of people down voting you. I’m sure you have managed to convince yourself this is due to the fact that you are some kind of crusader taking the righteous path on controversial issues, and not because of the obnoxious and demeaning manor your posts usually take. The above post is a perfect example. I have explained, in great detail, why, in this situation, accusing someone of being a rental employee with no backing whatsoever, is an attack. It’s a pathetic, immature way of trying to demean someone’s position, which stems from a lack of being able to handle disagreement in a mature, adult way.

    Then, when people respond, calling you out on your BS, you get all offended. You play the victim card, and tell the mods. As everyone has witnessed here, the mods know exactly the kind of game you play, and do not delete posts which you misconstrue as personal attacks, when really, someone is daring to disagree with what you have to say.

    I don’t expect to change your mind on anything. As my screen name would suggest, I do this because it is rather amusing. Ever hear of cutting your losses? It’s something you should have done a long time ago in this forum. Instead, you insist on continuing to respond to me when it is clear to everyone reading that the problem lies with YOU.

    Also, what happened to your post saying I had serious emotional issues? Unlike you, I don’t play the game of “I’m gonna tell the mods on you” as I can handle when people disagree with me. If you are going to lob an attack without any backing, at least stand behind your words.

  • LeeAnneClark

    And another lengthy rant! So much effort! Going back and reading my old posts? *Who’s* not obsessed? ;-) You might want to consider finding another hobby other than ranting over lil ol’ me.

    But hey, thanks for the entertainment anyway. I’m going back to interacting with unobsessed, rational people now. Sayonara! Mwah!