Christine Downey is stuck with a surprise $1,490 bill for damaging her Budget rental car. She says she didn’t do it, but she may be out of luck. We’re wondering whether we should take this case.
Regular readers of this site know that we urge car renters to take photos and videos of their vehicle both before they drive off the lot and at the end of the rental when they return it. There are other important pointers about car rentals in the FAQ section of this site. The key is being proactive to protect yourself. Downey’s story is yet another reminder of the importance of doing this.
Downey rented a car from the Budget location at the Des Moines International Airport for three days last August. As is her usual practice, she declined the optional liability damage waiver.
When she returned the car, Downey did a walkaround and saw no damage, assumed everything was fine, got her receipt, and headed for her flight. She says she usually takes pictures inside and out but didn’t this time.
It was a decision she regrets. “I do know in the future, I will certainly make sure an employee walks around the vehicle (even if they don’t want to leave their desk) and will get a signed document the vehicle was returned without damages,” says Downey.
About a month after her rental, she received a letter saying she had damaged the car with a scratch across the side. The letter demanded that she pay $1,490. However, the letter was not from Budget but from a Utah-based company called PurCo Fleet Services, Inc. That’s a part of her problem.
PurCo, according to its website, is “America’s largest independent risk management company devoted exclusively to loss prevention for vehicle rental companies.” It is hired by car rental franchises to prevent loss and eliminate, as PurCo puts it, “uncollectible damages on everything from a rock chip on a windshield to a totaled vehicle.”
PurCo has a reputation for being aggressive in collecting damages. Its job is to get money from renters, not to give them a break. In its industry promotional materials, PurCo says it has handled hundreds of thousands of recovery claims for rental vehicles in all 50 states. PurCo also has many complaints against it with the Better Business Bureau.
Downey followed PurCo’s process to appeal the claim but got nowhere. She wrote to Budget’s customer service department, which told her to follow the appeal instructions in the damage claim letter. In other words, the customer service agents sent her back around the circle.
Budget makes it clear in its terms and conditions that the renter is responsible for any kind of damage:
If you didn’t purchase the Liability Damage Waiver, you are responsible for any and all loss or damage to the car resulting from any cause including but not limited to collision, rollover, theft, tire damage, vandalism, seizure/medical condition, flood, fire, hail or other acts of Nature.
Language to that effect is in all car rental contracts. The principle is that if the company finds damage to the car after your rental, it assumes the damage to have happened during your rental unless you can prove otherwise. While she says she didn’t see any damage, Downey cannot prove otherwise.
She could have written to one of the Avis/Budget executive contacts we list in the company contacts section of this site. Instead, she contacted us.
Our advocate asked her to first post this issue to our forum to get suggestions from other posters who have gone through similar problems. Here is the link to that thread.
One of the forum posters provided a link to another thread with detailed steps on how to fight back when faced with rental car damage claims.
We don’t know yet whether she has followed those suggestions. We’ve seen cases of rental car companies dropping damage claims when customers follow those steps as they fight back. But with no evidence on Downey’s side, this might be tough to win.