Is Enterprise trying to “scam” her for damage she didn’t do?

Monkey Business/Shutterstock

Cases like Amanda Chambers’ are never easy.

On one side, you have a car rental company — for her, it’s Enterprise — with what it believes is incontrovertible evidence that she damaged a rental car.

On the other side, you have the customer, Chambers, who believes she’s being scammed by a dishonest damage claim.

And me? I’m stuck in the middle, trying to figure out who’s right.

(Technically, it’s not just me — I have a dedicated resolutions team that reviews these cases, and we try to vet them before passing them along to a company. Today’s post, called “Can this trip be saved?” is for cases where we need your help determining if a problem should be mediated.)

Here’s the setup: Chambers recently rented a car at the Baltimore airport, inside a “dimly lit” parking garage. Why do these cases always start in dimly-lit garages? I have no idea. Car rental companies may want to invest in better lights.

When she inspected the white Passat, she noted several scratches.

A representative assured her that kind of pre-existing damage would be fine. “We don’t mark anything less than the size of a dollar bill,” he said.

But when she returned the car, Enterprise’s standards had been revised.

“The person processing the return stated that there were three small dents, about the size of a quarter, on the hood, and demanded that I sign an incident report,” she says.

Chambers sent the incident report and the rest of the paperwork to us. The bill was $503 for damages, $70 for “loss of use” and $50 for “diminishment of value.”

At this point, I should note that any damage bill that comes within a few dollars of $500, which is the typical insurance deductible, is very suspicious to my resolutions team. Most customers consider “loss of use” and “diminishment of value” to be junk fees, and so do most insurance companies.

The images of the alleged damage, which look like they’re photocopied, do not show any conclusive damage. The most compelling piece of evidence that favors Enterprise’s claim is Chambers’ incident report, which she signed, and which acknowledges the damage but notes she does not know how it got there.

“They are basically trying to scam me for damage that I didn’t do,” she says. Chambers notes that Enterprise has sent her a bill for damage to other parts of the car not even included in the original claim.

“They are trying to charge me for bumper and headlight repair for three quarter-size dents that are nowhere near the headlight or front bumper and there was no record of any damage to the headlight or bumper,” she says.

Also, Enterprise is billing her for loss of use even though as part of her USAA member benefit, loss of use is supposed to be waived.

Of one thing there’s no doubt: Chambers is responsible for any damage to the vehicle during her rental.

The question is, did the Enterprise rep miss any pre-existing damage when she checked her rental in the dimly-lit garage? Did the agent misinform her when he said “dollar-size” scratches were OK? The industry standard is a quarter, but I always advise customers to note all damage to their vehicle.

Then there’s the bill itself: the photos, inconclusive; the amount, suspiciously close to her deductible; the invoice, for the wrong damage.

In Enterprise’s favor is the signed confession that Chambers was responsible, filled out at a time when she was unaware of what might happen to the damage claim, or if there even would be a bill.

Enterprise has a well-deserved reputation for pursuing every damage claim, and some believe it runs its legendary Damage Recovery Unit as a profit center. The company denies this.

It may be too late for Chambers, but for the rest of us there are several valuable lessons. Take photos of your rental before and after. Make sure you have insurance. And remember that verbal promises count for nothing, particularly those made in dimly-lit garages. Get everything in writing.

I’m not sure if I can or should mediate Chambers’ case. I suspect something may be amiss with her damage claim, but I can’t prove anything.

Neither, for that matter, can Enterprise.

Should I mediate Amanda Chambers' 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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  • backprop

    Why does anyone accept the “we don’t mark any damage smaller than X” argument? You insist everything is written down. Period. Much easier than determining if a scuff qualifies, or if that scratch is smaller than the arbitrary size.

  • Sam Varshavchik

    The damage claims are obviously bogus.

    The best way to find this claim is to request a copy of the actual repair invoice; not an estimate; and rental records proving the “loss of use” claim.

    I have a hunch that there are none of either. Pressing them to come up with the documentation is the best way to make them go away.

  • Jim

    $503? SCAM! I wonder how many times someone has paid for the same damage to the car… Goverment regulation is only good in limited circumstances, but it’s time for the states to come up with standards for this type of thing. There has to be some type of acceptable wear and tear that the owner (Enterprise in this case) must accept. Every car will get a small ding or scratch at some point because cars are not driven in a bubble (hmmm that might be fun).

  • Thoroughlyamused

    This is a tough one. It’s hard to make a judgement call without seeing the actual damage report and damage in question. The damage is in an area that would be easily visible during a pre-rental inspection. I’ve also rented cars at BWI and the garage is hardly dim. OTOH why the discrepancies with the damage claim. Someone is lying here and Without knowing more facts I’m not sure if I can vote on this.

  • frostysnowman

    I rent from Enterprise a lot. When the rep and I do the walk-around of the car before I drive away, I’m always told they don’t worry about dents or scratches that are smaller than the diameter of a golf ball. Some reps have a clear plastic measuring device they use to check the size of any damage I might point out (which I always photograph and make them note on the rental form, even if told it’s within the acceptable parameters). So I’m surprised that the Enterprise rep in this case said they don’t worry about damages larger than a dollar bill.

    But even if the OP had been given the golf ball size guideline, which may be a little larger than a quarter, it sounds like the dents she’s told you about would fall within Enterprise’s definition of acceptable damage. The $500 repair fee is is definitely suspicious, based on the amount. That $50 charge for “diminished value” is even more bogus. A car starts to diminish in value the second it’s driven off the new car lot.

    I’m confused about what her USAA benefit has to do with this. You say it covers loss of use, so is this some other insurance plan Enterprise accepts in part when you decline their coverage? I wish there had been more details about this. Regardless, I think the OP is being scammed and you should mediate.

  • http://www.jeffkolkerart.com Jeff Kolker

    Maybe because most people trust someone not to lie to their faces? Shame on those who believe what they’re told, I suppose. I guess they don’t read enough of this column to be jaded like the rest of us… ;)

  • EdB

    I could see it going either way until I read this part of the story…

    “Chambers notes that Enterprise has sent her a bill for damage to other parts of the car not even included in the original claim.”

    To me, even if the original damage claim was valid, trying to make her pay for damage not on the original claim pushes this into the scam category.

  • MarkKelling

    OP says “scratches” were noticed. The Enterprise agent said “that kind” of damage would not be a problem. On return several DENTS were found. Scratches do not equal dents (of course there can be some scratching in and around dents depending on how the damage was caused). So since the dents were not noticed at rental time by the OP who also states “does not know how” the dents got on the vehicle sounds to me like those dents might have happened while the OP had the vehicle.

    While I feel Enterprise and car rental companies in general are scamy when it comes to damage claims, this one might just be real since a renter is responsible for damage to the vehicle while in their possession even if they don’t know how or when it occured.

    Of course if there are hundreds of miles on the vehicle over what was on the odo at turn in, then I don’t believe the OP should be responsible for the additional damage Enterprise is trying to charge for since this additional damage could have easily been caused by subsequent renters.

    And unfortunately, it is doubtful that Enterprise will have this type of damage actually repaired until the vehicle is sold at the end of its rental life so there will not be any receipts for the work.

  • MarkKelling

    There is no repair invoice. Rental car companies only repair damage when it gets to the point the vehicle cannot be safely driven. Neither will there be any records proving there was actual loss of use because except in very rare circumstances there are always other vehicles that can be rented to customers.

  • Logan B.

    The OP is a USAA member, you say? Go get in touch with them! USAA is one of those really solid companies that usually stands up for their customers. Besides, Enterprise isn’t holding up its deal with USAA, by my reading of this. I’m hoping she has USAA auto insurance covering her, too?

  • Harold Hauser

    I’ve been in that garage at BWI many times, and have never seen it as dimly or poorly lit, but I do agree you should never trust verbal promises made by the rental agents. Do take pictures!!

  • MarkKelling

    If a USAA member rents a car at Enterprise (and several other companies as well) using the USAA rental codes, the customer is not supposed to be charged loss of use in any damage situation. Simply being a member of USAA does not get you the benefit, you must use the USAA rental code. Not sure if the OP did this or not.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Without an invoice, the car rental company will have a harder, but not impossible, time substantiating the amount of damage.

    Colorado notwithstanding, then they can’t get loss of use.

  • technomage1

    Nice tip, I’ll have to use that the next time I rent.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    “Rental car companies only repair damage when it gets to the point the vehicle can not be safely driven.”

    This unsubstantiated rumor is simply not true and needs to stop being spread around this site. When I was a manager if a car was returned with damage it would be picked up by the body shop we did business with within 48 hours 90% of the time. I worked inside a high end dealership in a high income area and my clients would not accept a damaged decile simply because it was safe to drive. Insurance companies also ask questions when there is a long gap between when the car was returned with damage and when it got repaired, particuLarly if the car was rented out multiple times in between. Insurance companies have the ability to track claims on vehicles using VIN numbers, and can figure out whether or not multiple claims have been filed for the same damage, even if different insurance companies are involved. While I’m sure charging for the same damage has happened sometime, somewhere (out of the millions of rental transactions yearly), it is not something that happens regularly, which is what most posters on this site seem to think.

  • frostysnowman

    Thanks for the explanation.

  • flip44

    Every claim has two sides, and is often a matter of “She said, he said.” Even a dubious claim needs a voice of sanity and support, and you, Chris are that voice. Car rental companies have the ‘upper’ hand by making (false) charges after the fact, where the renter is left to fighting ghosts. That should not be the memory we are left with after making a trip. Also, not everyone carries a camera to photograph every blemish. One would have to be an experienced videographer to document every inch of the car. We need you, Chris, “to make the good fight.” And, yes, we need to be aware of our responsibilites in taking care not to be
    victimized.

  • Kasiar001

    Just insisting that a note is made of any damage, however minute, at the pick up and pictures being taken puts the company on notice that this renter is awake & aware. This in itself may prevent any future issues.

  • SoBeSparky

    I would have voted yes but for two factors:
    1. If this is a brand new reader, then we can forgive her ignorance. But why did she rent from Enterprise?
    2. Why did she admit to damages? Any damage report should have been specific enough to isolate too small dents, not headlights, etc. This would be easy to fight with the credit card company, assuming her copy of the damage report did not match Enterprise’s bill.

  • IGoEverywhere

    Never….never….never accept the word of an employee. They know NOTHING and are accountable for NOTHING. Get it in pictures, get the damage, no matter how small, in writing. No do not mediate, please lets move on to people with real problems, not those that have not read the advise given 1000 x’s on your site about rental car rip offs.

  • MarkKelling

    OK, if damage is repaired so quickly and always before being rented out again then why are people constantly given cars that have scratches and dents and other damage when they rent? I doubt that the claims made here about the amount of damage seen on rented vehicles are fabricated.

    If the charges levied against the customers are all under the average deductible, what gets reported to insurance? The customer pays the $500 and moves on because if this gets reported to their insurance company their rates go up..

    And I am not claiming that the rental companies repeatedly charge for the same damage (in this case). I only stated that minor damage that does not render the vehicle undrivable is not repaired on receipt of payment for that damage. Which is completely legal.

    While I am sure that the company you worked for did exactly as you claim and I don’t doubt your statements, things apparently have changed since you worked in the business.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    I just heard from Enterprise. They’ve closed this case and it will no longer be necessary for me to get involved. Beyond that, I can’t say anything, since the email was labeled “CONFIDENTIAL.” Nonetheless, I’m grateful to Enterprise for the help.

  • MarkKelling

    Gee, amazing how this turned out when exposed to the light. :-)

  • adventurebaby

    I have to say that I follow Chris’ advice to a T about taking lots of photos and noting every scratch and mark I can find when I rent a car. But every time, the rep gives me a look like I’m crazy and always tells me I don’t need to note that kind of damage. Amazing how they always charge for it though. I can totally see how anyone who doesn’t travel a lot and really know all the ways travel companies scam people would totally believe the BS they are always handed.

  • sunshipballoons

    This seems like a case with zero chance of success, so why mediate?

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Enterprise claims this case was settled before the post appeared. It did allow me that detail, though the rest I am not at liberty to discuss, unfortunately.

  • Alan Gore

    I would respond to scamming of this type by siccong my own insurance company on them. Enterprise’s lawyers could squash me like a bug, but State Fatm is another matter.

  • MarkKelling

    However this one resolved itself, just happy you are here to make us aware of these things and help get a fair resolution to similar issues.

  • Travelnut

    First I need to identify myself as a USAA employee. It’s good to see that Enterprise has resolved its case with the OP. As a #usaaemp, there are limits to what I can advise online but I can say things that can be found on our website. I would agree with you that the OP should contact USAA. We have an area that administers the rental car discount program. Enterprise is one of our alliance partners (along with Avis and Hertz) and that area would be very interested in a negative member experience. Even if the member didn’t use the discount code, I would still call, but the discount code is what invokes the benefits like waiver of the loss of use fee.

    Unrelated – I rented a car at BWI a few months ago, about 9PM and I thought it was kind of dimly lit. YMMV.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I would have said that 10 – 15 years ago, but not any more. I’ve noticed an increasing trend for property and casualty insurance companies to note any claim, paid or not, as a black mark against the insured. That means rates increase because you, the insured, are more likely to file a claim than other people and cost them money in investigation and possible payout. Some companies where I live are refusing to even consider you as an insured if you’ve got any claims paid out in the last 3 years or more. Since there’s an insurance clearinghouse for claims, companies can just look you up and see if you’re on there. That clearinghouse doesn’t distinguish between righteous claims (such as this one) or general stupidity in driving. The ability for an underwriter to disregard or use personal judgment has been severely limited since about 2000, as well.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Oh for pete’s sake. Come on. You KNOW this is the classic Enterprise scam.

    Did she do a dumb thing by signing that damage claim form? Yes…but that is NOT an “admission of guilt”. She is clearly not an educated traveler, or she would have known better than to sign that. But we also know that they can be very insistent and intimidating at the rental counter, and the implications of signing those forms is not obvious, so it’s not at all surprising that someone who did zero damage signs one.

    Chris, please do your usual. You’ve done a hundred of these I’m sure. You know it’s a scam.

    **Editing to add: lesson learned, read all the comments before commenting. Case has been resolved. I can only hope that the resolution involved Enterprise dropping the scammy claim.

  • LeeAnneClark

    I don’t think this one is “tough” at all. All the evidence points to another classic minor-damage scam. It’s pretty clear to me who’s lying, and it’s not the customer.

  • LeeAnneClark

    She indicated it was dim when she picked up the vehicle, and the so-called “dents” are very tiny and could easily have been missed in the original walk-through. Not to mention she said that the agent told her not to worry about anything smaller than a dollar. Therefore I find it highly unlikely that the damage happened while she had the car.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    Your POV doesn’t surprise me. I think out of all the damage claims I wrote, 90% of customers described the damage as “small.” Of course anyone who doesn’t want to pay for damage is going to try to downplay it as much as possible. I’ve rented cars at BWI and the garage is not dimly lit, at least not dim enough to where one wouldn’t be able to see dents.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    I didn’t say damage was always repaired immediately. Your initial post implied that unless the damage affects driveability rental companies don’t get it fixed until the car is sold. That happens sometimes but is most definitely not the norm.

  • Extramail

    I rented from enterprise virtually once a week for a year and a half. I only had a problem one time upon returning the car. The agent absolutely would not let me out of the building until I signed the “yeah, I did it form.” I signed just to be allowed to leave but went back the next day to talk to the supervisor. We had a very nice discussion and the supervisor decided it was in his best interest to give me back the form I had signed as he and I both knew it was a bogus claim. The pressure to sign was ridiculous so I understand someone giving in to that pressure.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    My experience is somewhat similar. Only once in over a decade of regular rentals have I been given a car with a dent only small scratches that required some careful inspection. Hertz tried try to give me car that looked like it had been in a wreck. I politely declined the car and a better one was substituted without any grief.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Avoid renting from Payless by LAX. The lot (really an alley) was almost pitch black. I certainly wouldn’t want to be a single female walking there, let alone lingering distracted around trying to find damage. It was almost like the beginning of a bad slasher movie.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I don’t understand the not letting you leave. How does that happen?

  • LeeAnneClark

    Um…if some rental agent tried to keep ME from leaving the building, I would be on my phone dialing 911 in a heartbeat, crying false imprisonment!

  • Cybrsk8r

    Well, if the car is never repaired, then it’s never out of service, so “loss of use” should be $0.

  • Cybrsk8r

    I got a car about two years ago in Nebraksa which looked like someone worked it over with a ball-peen hammer.

  • PsyGuy

    Yeah short of a gun pointed at you, I really don’t see how they can NOT let you leave, and if they do I would call the police.

  • http://www.grrrltraveler.com GRRRL TRAVELER

    This exact thing happened to me this past January in an Enterprise rental in L.A. Okay, but mine wasn’t a dollar bill, but they quoted “a golf ball” size….”golf ball, golf ball…” After declining their insurance and opting for what I had, I could sense the sales guy shift into something. The “golf ball ding” was under the car but apparently viewable from a “specific angle.” Odd area, paint wasn’t scratched, but looked like it was painted over. I knew something was snakey; I knew I was being scammed. And all of a sudden, I noticed pamphlets on the front desk, warning on the “golfball” card on damages (wasn’t there before)

    I’m a travel blogger, so I used social media on one part to motivate Enterprise and then a friend in the travel community actually directed me to your site if I couldn’t solve my issue. Meanwhile, he told me this is a common scam for managers, to make a commission and the same car is sent out over and over.

    And then…. he told me what to do and *this is what worked*: I requested the damage and maintenance report on the car for the past 20 renters. I also told them I’m a travel blogger, will write a review on Trip advisor and on my blog. But it was requesting the car history, which gave me the concrete evidence, calling their bluff.

    They dropped the case immediately and faster than my AmEx car insurance could even process it. I didn’t get compensated for that drain and I”ve put off posting travel tips on this, but now you’ve just reminded me I should. … That and head over to Trip Advisor for a review. Good luck to your girl. Do what I did and it should work.

  • JulesKelworan

    Enterprise didn’t have PurCo handle the claim? I thought the rental companies always used PurCo as their intermediary. Also, does anyone know if PurCo can enforce their “administrative fee”?

  • JulesKelworan

    Wait, USAA booking means I shouldn’t have to pay loss of use? I booked through USAA. Guess I’d better verify that, and then tell PurCo to take that off the bill.

  • PolishKnightUSA

    Grrl, great advice! Getting the damage report for the past 20 renters would reveal the scam: repeat charging for the same damage over and over again.

  • jim6555

    Having been in the commercial lighting business, I can tell you that most parking garages use sodium vapor lighting. The color temperature of that lighting is such that it is almost impossible to see small scratches and dents. Car rental companies should invest in “daylight” lighting (5000k) which will not only make any defects in the body of a car show up, it will also make their vehicles look brighter and more attractive. This technology would not increase the electric bill for the rental company or garage owner.

  • jim6555

    The damage bill for these claims is almost always a little less than $500. Since most people have a $500 or greater deductible, the claim is almost never reported to the insurance carrier.

    You are correct about some insurance companies refusing to write a policy for a driver who has had any sort of claim during the past three years. I found this out when I recently shopped for a new policy. The only claim that I had was when another vehicle hit the rear of my car while I was stopped a stop sign.