Would you rent a car from this company?

cancun roadYou don’t have to read this site every day to know that fraudulent car rental damages are a big problem, at least as far as customers are concerned. If you’re a car rental agency, you might call it something different, ranging from “no problem” to “profit center.”

But at least one car rental company says it’s on our side. It’s Bandago, a San Francisco company that specializes in van rentals. After I wrote a story about the problem of fraudulent claims for Auto Rental News, a trade magazine, last year, I got an unexpected call from its CEO, Sharky Laguana.

Yes, he said, the industry could do a better job of letting customers know about damages. He also told me a few horror stories about vans that had been returned in various states of disrepair.

After that, I heard nothing from him. Until a few weeks ago.

“I have been giving this issue a lot of thought lately,” he said. “My company has started sending out the email below whenever we find damage on our rental vehicles. I was hoping to get your feedback. Does this look fair and reasonable to you? Any suggestions you might make?”

I’m sharing the form letter with you, with his permission.

This email is to let you know that damage was located on the vehicle you returned to Bandago. Right now our understanding is that the following new damage was located on your vehicle upon its return:

spare tire missing

We are currently investigating this damage, and will get an estimate from a body shop as soon as scheduling permits.

We find it helps if we explain our damage process upfront. Here’s a brief overview:

We are very careful with all damage claims, and every claim is reviewed multiple times at different points by different people. We will compare pictures taken at both the start and end of the rental, look at the rental agreement, review any accident report forms, and of course welcome any feedback or information you may have about this damage.

We get preferred customer rates from our body shop vendors, and every penny of those savings is passed on to our clients.

Damage is not a profit center for us (it is a significant expense!) and there is no point in the process where we experience a net gain. We value our relationship with our clients, and will be completely transparent with you at every step of the process, about what we are doing and why.

Our process in detail:

1. We are not remotely interested in charging any of our clients for damage that they did not cause.

2. We will thoroughly investigate any claim, and consider any information presented to us.

3. If we have doubt about liability, we will not bill our client.

4. We will get any body/mechanical estimate for repairs from a certified, fully licensed, and trusted shop as soon as possible.

5. Please note, in cases where the damage is purely cosmetic, we may have to delay getting an estimate in favor of honoring our existing reservations. Because we specialize in long term rentals, this can result in significant delays upon occasion. However, we will always thoroughly document the damage in question with photographs before the vehicle leaves our possession.

6. Once we have determined the amount required to complete repairs you will have the option to pay our out-of-pocket costs for repair (i.e. exactly what the repair shop bills us), plus loss of use (as allowed by law) if the vehicle will be in the shop for more than a day or two. Or, at your option, you may ask us to bill your insurance company.

7. If we bill your insurance company, we will turn the claim over to a professional claims processing company.

8. Due to the extra time, expense, and labor involved in settling a claim with insurance companies, our claim will be for all losses we are legally entitled to depending on the state the rental started in (this can include tow, repair, administrative fees, loss of use, diminishment of value, etc.).

9. Please keep in mind that you may still be responsible for the insurance deductible, as well as any expenses not covered by your insurance policy. Some insurance companies have exclusions in their policies for administrative fees, loss of use, etc. These costs can be significant. We advise checking with your insurance company before telling us to pursue the claim with them.
We know no one is happy about being responsible for damage. On the other hand, we hope you understand that there is no way we can stay in business if we are forced to absorb all the expense of damage caused by our renters. At all times we will do our best to make sure the final resolution is fair to all parties.

If you have any additional questions, you are welcome to call us at our main office: 415-401-7659, or email us at info@bandago.com.

Thank you for your understanding, and please let us know if there is anything we can do for you.

Bandago refers to this notification as a customer “bill of rights,” but I think it’s more of a disclosure form that addresses some of a driver’s fears about the damage claim process. Either way, I think it’s an important step toward fixing this problem.

I’ve been giving this issue some thought, too. I’m a big believer in preventive medicine, and the consumer advocate in me says that sending out a notice that says damages were discovered after you returned the vehicle should be unnecessary. Any problems should be identified when you return the car.

But I understand that’s not always possible. Sometimes, vehicles are dropped off after hours, or the staff gets busy.

So here’s a notice I’d like to see, preferably on the top of your rental agreement.


Hi, I’m your rental car. I’m gorgeous, and I know you’ll love driving me. But before you do, please take my picture.

That’s right, I’m ready for my close-up now! I don’t mind. Get me from every angle.

When you return me, please do it again — just to have something to remember me by.

If I’m damaged after you return me, you’ll need the snapshots to prove you loved me until the very end, so please keep the images for at least a year.

This would eliminate about 90 percent of the questionable damage claims, assuming that people took pictures of their car.

What would you do if you received the email from Bandago? Personally, I think it’s refreshingly honest and I might feel a little bit better about the claims process. The company should be commended for trying to fix a chronic car rental industry problem.

I hope the idea catches on.

Would you rent a vehicle from this company?

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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 chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Steve Rabin

    I like the disclosure and the e-mail, but I’m not sure I’d rent a car from a guy named “Sharky” :-)

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    No, I would absolutely not rent from this company. In reading the fine print, it is clear that this is an attempt to gain favorable publicity while still engaging in some of the shady practices of the auto rental business including charging for, and I quote,

    “our claim will be for all losses we are legally entitled to depending on the state the rental started in (this can include tow, repair, administrative fees, loss of use, diminishment of value, etc.).”

    In order

    Towing and repair are legitimate expenses, but…

    Administrative fees are the very definition of a profit center for a rental car company. These are fees that the company charges and retains. Processing paperwork is a cost of doing business and shouldn’t be passed on. Its one of those clauses that shady attorneys put in contracts on the request of dubious clients.

    Loss of use. Another profit center for the agency. This fee can only be legitimately charged for days that the agency is 100% sold out. Very dubious.

    Diminishment of value. This is double dipping. If the vehicle is repaired, then there is no diminunution in value.

  • backprop

    I guess the proof is in the pudding. Their BBB rating is B-. Not awful, but not exactly sterling.

    Minus potentially one or two bullets, Enterprise could put the same verbiage on its damage letter.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jt.weiner.5 Jt Weiner

    I don’t much care about the question, but I do believe that you’re wrong in one thing Chris. The burden of proof isn’t on me to prove that I didn’t damage a car. The burden of proof is on the rental car company. In any civil action, the plaintiff must have a preponderance of evidence. It’s not enough to trot out a damaged car and say that so-and-so damaged it. As such, it’s in the best interest of the rental car company to take pictures before and after. It can be in the renter’s interest as well, but ultimately it’s really on the company to provide proof.

  • john4868

    @facebook-1284012132:disqus Simple question… If the renter caused the damage, why should the rental company pay the money to have an employee supervise the process and lose the rental income from the vehicle? After all, it was the renters actions that lead to the problem. Isn’t that the heart of what lawyers claim in court when they’re suing the agency for something? Having said that, there’s a large difference between a $50 fee which at what rental car company’s pay is around 3 hours of time and $150 which is 9 hours. Loss of use is legitimate. There’s now way to prove that they may have lost a potential rental because they didn’t have x number of {fill in the blank}. I know I have walked away from a rental agency for that.

    Now… I do think that scope of a renters liability should end the minute that the agency takes control of the vehicle. Sorry but finding a ding 2 days or 2 minutes later doesn’t mean it happened while the vehicle was under my control. The person that pulled up next to me in the return line could have dented it. Ultimately, I think most of the issues that Chris writes about would go away if agencies were forced to do this.

  • john4868

    @bbb804fff1b0b48e10eb25f66a2a45bb:disqus The issue in court has always been that exhibit #1 is the document that you signed at rental stating no damage and exhibit #2 is their inspection report showing damage. That’s their proof of damage.

  • BillCCC

    I might or might not rent from this company, it would depend on my needs at the time. Rather than an email when I arrived home, why not a printed copy before I leave the rental company. The email is alright but it does not deal with the major complaint which is damage claimed by the company after they accept the car back from the customer.

    Give me this form before I leave the counter and it will clear up a lot of problems.

  • john4868

    I have absolutely no love for rental car companies at all. Personally, I think that they should own any damage found after I turn the vehicle in. If I have to own anything I find after I drive off the lot, they should own anything after I walk off the lot.

    I have frankly been told too many stories on both sides with damage blamed on renters when it was agency employees (guy hit pole moving it to from the return line to the cleaning station) or renters attempting to hide damage that they caused.

  • mszabo

    I’d guess part of the problem with the industry is that they are trying to get you at both ends. They want to charge between $12-20 per day for the optional insurance, and if you don’t take that their handling of damage at the other end seems to be sloppy at best and fraudulent at worst.

    Personally my ideal solution wouldn’t be taking lots of pictures and documenting the conditions of the car, but to pay a reasonable price for the optional insurance. If a company truly cares about the customer, and “Damage is not a profit center” then they should be willing to work on the insurance prices. As stated on other articles on this blog, the profit there can be upto 80%. If your willing to sell this for close to cost, then absolutely I would be willing to pay a few dollars a day for it, I’d even say make the insurance mandatory.

  • calbff

    My sensors went off when I read through this as well – the optimist in me said this is great, while the pessimist said “free advertising”. While I would still give them a chance, until there’s an actual track record of legitimate business dealings with regards to damage claims, it’s just a company using nice words.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jt.weiner.5 Jt Weiner

    You must be using different rental companies, because I haven’t signed a document in years regarding rental damage, nor do the cars get promptly inspected when they are returned.

    I have had a couple of different companies try to claim damage some time after I’ve returned cars (30-60 days and always when renting as an indvidual – something I rarely compared to corporate rentals – and I don’t believe that is just a coincidence), but once I’ve left the lot and have my receipt in hand, then it’s again incumbent upon them to prove the damage happened while the car was in my care.

    Of course, that doesn’t take into account the “gotcha” damage claims where the attendant knows there’s damage and points it out in some obscure spot as soon as the car is returned. That’s when you need pictures, but these types of claims are a relatively rare.

  • Kevin Mathews

    Personally, I would love to see our lawmakers take action here. We live in a society that we are supposedly innocent until proven guilty, but with the Car Rental practices, it’s the exact opposite.

    1) Require Car Rental companies to take pictures of every vehicle leaving the rental lots. Specify some type of HD camera from 6-8 different angles of the car. Imagine a booth that you pull through and have the cameras snap a shot from every angle.
    1b) Customer should be given the option to receive an E-Mail copy of the pictures within a few minutes of them being taken.
    2) Require Car Companies to take the same angle pictures upon return of the vehicle. Make it part of the check-out process. All Over-night drops should have pictures taken within 30 minutes of the business opening.
    2b) Customer should be given the option to receive an E-Mail copy of the pictures within a few minutes of them being taken.
    3) All claims must be supported by showing that there was no visable pre-existing damage (Check-Out Pictures), and that there was damage upon return of the vehicle (Check-In Pictures).
    4) No Pictures, No Claim. It should fall upon the Car Rental agencies to prove that the damage was caused while the vehicle was in possession of the Renter. No more unsupported inspections after the renter has left the premises.

    If Car Rental companies started this practice without lawmakers making them, I would be willing to bet they would have happier customers because there would be no more unsupported claims filed. It should also not slow down the Check-In and Check-Out process much because the pre and post inspections would be done via a camera instead of a person.

  • john4868

    @JT Weiner … In the last few months … AVIS, HERTZ & Enterprise and when they didn’t give me a damage form. The check out form read something like “there is no damage on the vehicle.” So I’ve had to walk back in to get one. I have yet to find a “perfect” rental car. Sadly, if I’m in a hurry and its a short rental, I’ve started doing exactly what they want and adding the insurance just so I don’t have to spend the 20 minutes documenting the vehicle before I leave.

  • Kevin Mathews

    Carver Clark Farrow

    I would normally agree that Admin and Lose of Use are both normally profit centers. BUT, with this letter in hand, a person could very well argue against the High Fees normally charged.

    The letter clearly states that at no point in the process does the company experience a Net Gain.

    That would tell me that if they tried to charge some sort of Admin Fee that seem absurd, you could force them to justify their charge with the Time the actual clerk spent on the claim as well as their pay per hour in order to prove that the experienced no net gain.

    Same would be true for the Loss of Use. They would have to mathmatically justify any charge here, other than the standard rental charges for not being able to rent the unit.

    Diminishment of Value is NOT double dipping. Imagine you are going to buy a used car from a dealership and there were two identical vehciles on the lot that you wanted to buy. One had never seen the inside of a repair shop while the other had. When given the CarFax report which vehicle are you likely to choose? Even with all the damage repaired, it is still replacement parts not original to the vehicle. So while the repair made the vehcile whole, there is a deiminished resale value for the vehicle, which does directly impact the Rental Car company….

  • emanon256

    Sharky Laguana, not the kind of place I like to go swimming.

  • emanon256

    My thoughts as well. I also didn’t like that they would charge for loss of use if it the car should be in the shop for more than a day or two, its too ambiguous.

  • frostysnowman

    That’s the first thing I thought, too!

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Hi John

    Loss of use is fairly easy to prove. Consider this simplified example. The rental agency has 10 identical vans which it rents for $10 a day (remember, simplified for illustration). You cause damage to one van and its in the shop for a week. During that week, the rental agency rents six vans a day for a gross profit of 6 vans * 10 dollars * 7 days = $420 gross sales. The car rental agency has no claim for loss of use because whether the agency has the the full ten cars in its fleet or merely nine cars because the one you damaged is in the shop, its still only going to rent six cars day for $420 gross sales. Paying Loss of Use would be a windfall of an additional $70 to the company.

    If however, it rents nine cars, and has to turn you away because it has no more cars as the 10th car was in the shop, it would have $700 (10 cars * 10 dolllars * 7 days ) gross sales, instead it only made $630 (9 * 10* 7) gross sales and lost $70. In that rare case Loss of Use is appropriate.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    pt 2.

    Adminstrative Fees

    In theory I would agree with you. The argument would be that the car rental agency has to hire additional staff to cover the cost of processing damage claims. The problem is that in practice, Adminstrative fees are cut from the same soiled cloth as as “handling”. You know when you’re awake too late or too early and watching TV how certain companies sketchy sell cheap crap but always charge extra for shipping and “handling”. Handling is the online version of resort fees. Administrative fees might be spun as you paying your fair share, but in reality, its a profit center.

  • john4868

    Carver Clark Farrow What I was trying to show, and apparently failed, is that your calculation may not be a valid assessment of the impact… Let’s use your example… I need 2 vans for something I’m doing but because of the damaged van the lot only has one to rent. Using your calculation, the agency gets no credit because they still had the one van to rent even though they could have rented to me if it wasn’t damaged. Your example also fails to account for any potential lost income because the agency couldn’t offer the upgrade to someone. It also fails to account for the need to occasionally hold back inventory for future reservations (ie There’s a reservation for that final van in 2 days so it could only be rented short instead long term).

    I’m not saying that Loss of Use isn’t ripe for abuse. What I am saying is that, especially for a small agency, there is an opportunity cost for not having it on the lot and sometimes a problem is more complex the harder you look at it.

  • http://www.twitter.com/sharkyl Sharky

    Administrative fees are set by law in California, and correlate to the amount of damage. They are capped at $150 for damages that exceed $1500. Out of that admin fee we have to pay for the employee labor shuttling the vehicle for repairs, any transportation that employee may need getting to and from the shop (if the vehicle is damaged far from our location and not drivable until repaired we can easily spend far more than $150 in travel expenses alone), and more often than not an extraordinary amount of work dealing with the insurance company. While occasionally a claim is smooth and painless, far more often we have to spend months (and in some cases over a year) going back and forth countless times with the Insurance company before they issue a check. In the meantime we have to pay for all repairs and expenses out of pocket.

    I appreciate you would like the car rental companies to absorb these expenses as a “cost of doing business” and they should not be “passed on”, but as a practical matter all costs of doing business are passed on in one form or another, otherwise the company goes out of business. The question is to whom are they passed on, and in what manner? My personal opinion is that drivers who return vehicles without damage should not have to subsidize (in the form of higher rates) drivers who return damaged vehicles. I find that to be the most fair, but I’m open to suggestions.

    Loss of Use is not permitted in California. If a vehicle is totaled or severely damaged and we are forced to cancel a month long reservation we are out of luck and must absorb this huge expense (and in some cases the expense is more than lost revenue as we actually spend money out of pocket taking care of the clients who have no vehicle through no fault of their own – it’s our reputation that suffers if we leave them twisting in the wind). However in most states it is legal.
    In all fairness, if we were to magically turn off all our agendas and examine the matter objectively, the situation is a bit more complex than whether the car rental company is sold out or not. That approach might be reasonable with high volume daily rental operations, but a company like ours that specializes in long term rentals has unique challenges. For instance we could have 40% utilization in a given month, but still have to turn away a six week long rental because we don’t have one specific vehicle available for six weeks in a row.
    Setting that aside there are issues of general fairness: if your vehicle was totaled you would expect the insurance company of the responsible party to provide you with a replacement rental car while yours was repaired, even if you did not plan to use the rental car every single day, or if you owned another vehicle. It would be annoying for example if you did not have a car available to make a quick run to the grocery, or perhaps deal with an emergency.
    Likewise car rental companies use their unrented vehicles for a variety of purposes: as a backup vehicle if a problem suddenly develops with another vehicle, as a way to transport employees, and as a way to advertise their business by displaying the vehicle are just a couple examples.
    It is certainly possible, as California has done, to create legislation that puts a greater burden on car rental companies than other car owners. But there are consequences to these actions that deserve fair consideration.

    Diminishment of value: do you seriously believe that a brand new vehicle that has been totaled and repaired with refurbished parts (which is all an insurance company has to pay for) has the same value as one that was never in an accident because it has been repaired? If true then why do so many used car ads go to great lengths to advertise “accident-free”? In our experience we have never sought diminishment of value, as the factors that would lead us to pursue it are actually quite rare, but I would never rule it out because I can imagine scenarios where it would be appropriate and called for.

  • http://www.twitter.com/sharkyl Sharky

    1) We take pictures with ios enabled phones or iPads. There is a company that sells a booth like what you are talking about: starting price is around $30,000 for a bare bones version, and then you have to build software to keep track of all the photos.

    1b) I like this idea!

    2) We do this.

    2b) Again, I like this idea!

    3) We do this.

    4) Since we take pictures every time this isn’t a huge issue for us. However what if the camera breaks, the hard drive fails, etc? A well documented damage diagram on a rental contract that is signed by the renter can be a great substitute.

    I completely agree with you on where the Car Rental industry needs to go. And I have been pushing for this to the extent that I can:


    But it’s a process, and there are a lot of viewpoints to weigh. Hopefully we’ll make some real progress this year.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    You make some good points. Let me address them and see where we end up

    The letter

    Without getting technical, it would be your responsibility to prove that the car rental company made a net gain, a fact I’m sure their attorneys advised them of. Thus, you, the renter, would have to hire some very expensive experts to substantiate that a net gain was made.

    Diminution of Value

    This took me a minute to come up with a clear example of why this is not correct. The law is clear but that’s hardly a satisfying response from me. Consider a regular automobile accident. If I run into your vacant, parked car. If I repair the car and pay for your rental car while your car is in the shop, I’m sure you’d agree that diminution of value isn’t an issue. You’ve collected all the money that you’re getting. You’d have to contrive a scenario such as your car is a classic car with original parts from the 1950’s. Such as scenario would be the extreme rarity and not applicable in 99.999% of car rental scenarios.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Good point. If my unprofessional cursory inspection binds me when I take possession of the car, why doesn’t the same standard apply to them. As an aside, I won’t rent from a place that makes it hard to do a pre-rental inspection. Once, I was forced to rent from an agency that keep its cars in a poorly lit alley. It was nighttime. After taking possession of the car, I drove to the gas station two blocks away to do my inspection in the hopes that if there was any damage the proximity in time would be my ally.

  • http://www.twitter.com/sharkyl Sharky

    The BBB won’t give you a fair rating unless you pay them several hundred dollars a year. In ten years we have had one complaint (and if you knew the details I don’t think you would call it a fair complaint). We responded with the facts, the complainant never responded, and the BBB said the issue was “resolved with their help”.

    What are the bullets that are different? And how can we make ours better?

  • http://www.twitter.com/sharkyl Sharky

    On a side note, I did not write to Chris seeking publicity. As he mentioned we had spoken on the phone previously, and I was merely looking for feedback and advice from him on how we could come up with some solutions to a vexing problem for all concerned. Our letter wound up on his blog at his suggestion.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Hi Jt.

    John Baker is correct. As part of your rental agreement, somewhere, perhaps buried in the fine print, is a statement that the car is presumed undamaged when take possession of the vehicle unless you notify the Company. The rental car company is on solid legal, if not ethical, grounds to hold you liable.

    The grey area comes in what is normal wear and tear as that is not “damage”

  • Bill___A

    No, definitely not. It is obvious that there would be grave consequences if one goes through the insurance company. If there’s a write off, there’s not much choice in the matter.
    What the note says to me is “Pay us directly. If you go through the insurance company, we will increase the amount we claim and it might not be covered”.
    Won’t be renting from this company anytime soon.

  • http://www.twitter.com/sharkyl Sharky

    Ouch! Just got luck with the name I guess. I’m a pretty unassuming guy. in real life although years ago I was a pretty well known musician. Somehow I wound up running a van rental company and here I am. :)

  • http://www.twitter.com/sharkyl Sharky

    Interesting. What do you think other rental companies are doing that is different and/or more fair?

    What we are saying is we will absorb a significant expense if we can resolve the matter quickly. Because in our experience the most expensive part of the process is dealing with the insurance companies. If we have to spend months dealing with the insurance company the admin fees don’t come close to matching our costs and at that point we revert to what we are legally entitled to. What would you propose?

  • mbods

    I voted “no” because this is damage after the fact, which is the problem. I’m assuming an employee checked out the car and gave the customer a thumbs up. THIS should be the end of the story as far as I’m concerned. Oh, I like your notice better except yours is missing the “When we inspect the car, with you present, after you return it and we don’t find any damage, you’ll never hear from us again”. Anytime a customer walks away and has a signed statement that states there is no damage, then weeks/months later they hear that’s not true, it’s suspicious and smacks of ripoff. Am I being unrealistic?

  • http://www.twitter.com/sharkyl Sharky

    We do this, but in our business after hours dropoffs and dropoffs at airport parking lots are common, also one way rentals are frequent in which case the contract and photos at the originating location might not be immediately available to tell us if the damage is new or not. Finally if a vehicle is very dirty the damage might not be visible until it has been cleaned.

  • http://www.twitter.com/sharkyl Sharky

    Too late to change your vote, but just to be clear, this is 100% about damage that occurred during the rental. Damage that occurs after the rental is absolutely not the renters responsibility. What I think you are driving at is being notified about damage after you have left the premises. However in our business there are many scenarios where we do not see the renter when they drop the vehicle off. For instance an after hours drop off or a drop off that we are expected to pick up from an airport parking lot or other offsite location. Also there are cases where the damage is not immediately visible such as excessive dirt on the vehicle. Finally there are been cases where the renter will try to camouflage the damage using nail polish or paint, or reattaching parts with zip ties.

  • http://www.twitter.com/sharkyl Sharky

    I’ve stated this elsewhere but just to reiterate I did not write to Chris looking for either publicity or advertising. I was merely seeking his feedback and advice. It was his suggestion to post the letter and I am following up by making myself available to answer any questions as well as provide our viewpoint to the extent that anyone is interested. We have been in business for 10 years, I hope that counts as a track record?

  • MarkKelling

    Overall, this sounds good, but I do have a couple issues with the items noted below. Because of these issues, no I will not be renting from this company.

    5. As long as the damage is clearly detailed, with pictures, upon return, I am OK with the delay in getting an estimate – provided the estimate also comes with pictures showing what is being estimated and the damage being paid for matched what the original damage notation indicated. If there are weeks between the return and the estimate, any number of things could have occurred to increase the amount of damage in the area being estimated.

    8 & 9. Stating you WILL charge me more for the same damage if my insurance company gets involved really ticks me off. I would prefer to cover MINOR damage expenses without getting insurance involved. BUT … Maybe I don’t have the cash to pay for the damage. Maybe I tell my insurance company to pay it without questions and fully admit my guilt. It shouldn’t matter. This sound to me like the old scam where someone runs into you as you back out of a parking space and then says “Hey, let’s not get insurance involved. Even though it looks like $500 in damage, if you just pay me now in cash I will be happy with $250.” and then proceeds to run into another dozen people to collect from as many as possible.

    Also, there is nothing in this that states that any money collected for vehicle damage will actually be used to repair the vehicle. I know it is not legally required, but in most cases with rental agencies, I believe the renters would be less likely to complain about paying for minor damage if they knew the money they are paying would actually be used to repair the damage.

    The comment made by Sharky (is that really his name or just what he calls himself?) about totaled vehicles is irrelevant in most cases of rental vehicle damage. I doubt anyone would refuse to pay for a vehicle that was truly totaled while they were driving it. My car was recently undrivable due to vandals breaking the windows. I had to wait several days to get the car back in useable form. Luckily i did not need the vehicle during those days. On the other hand, rental agencies want to charge you $500 + loss of use for several days for a tiny scratch in the paint that does not make the vehicle undrivable and a private owner would probably never have repaired.

  • john4868

    @backprop:disqus I actually checked BBB. They have 1 complaint in 3 years. I’m not sure how that rates a B- unless they’re trying to coerce a membership out of him. Full Disclosure… I put BBB in the same ethical category as used car salesmen at least locally. They’ve used tactics to try and get me to sign up that would earn another company a F rating.

    Edited for readability

  • Dutchess

    The problem with the letter is it’s coming AFTER you returned the car. If they have a problem with damage or missing parts it should be handled when you turn in the car not in an email afterwards.

    You could send the most politely worded letter imaginable with all sorts of empty promises and vague platitudes but it’s a non starter, once the rental car leaves my possession and the rental car accepts it back without any notes any damage are no longer my responsibility. The time to catch that was when I returned the car. If you missed it when I returned the car you could have just as easily missed it when someone else returned the car. The damage or missing item could have just as easily happened after I dropped off the car.

    The only solution here is one that has been stated over and over again. Inspect the cars before and after each rental, PERIOD. That’s the only way to do this fairly for the company and consumer. We all know the rental industry will never do this though.

  • Jim Zakany

    I don’t like the language discouraging the involvement of my insurance company. I carry automobile insurance for a reason and, in a very real sense, pay them to handle these issues for me.

  • http://www.twitter.com/sharkyl Sharky

    Just want to make sure I understand this correctly: in your original post you state loss of use is nearly always illegitimate (unless the company is 100% sold out), yet here you treat loss of use (in the form of a replacement car rental) as a given which delegitimizes diminishment of value.

    It appears if someone nearly totals a brand new $60k Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, and we have to wait four weeks for repairs to be completed with refurbished/used parts, you feel we should not only eat the cost of canceling rentals scheduled for the vehicle, but we should also be satisfied with a vehicle that was entirely brand new previously, but is now composed of used parts? Is that an accurate application of your position?

  • http://www.twitter.com/sharkyl Sharky

    5. Yes, absolutely of course. We are scrupulous about this, and our body shop vendors are familiar with our requests to issue separate estimates for separate work. And it goes farther than this: if you damage a piece that was already damaged (for instance a deep scratch on a panel that was dented to begin with), we aren’t going to bill you at all. As that amounts to billing twice for the same damage, which is wrong in my view.

    8 & 9. Your perception is interesting. My view of course is the opposite: we aren’t threatening to charge more, we are offering to charge less in exchange for a quick resolution. Here’s the problem: when we go to the insurance carriers we will have to spend a huge amount of time and money negotiating their claims process. A certain percentage will never get paid not because the claim was illegitimate, but simply because insurance companies are very adept at running out the clock, wearing you down, coming up with exclusions to their policies, taking so long that paperwork gets lost or misplaced and then saying they will not pay without the paperwork, etc. So in order to avoid this we are fine with taking a loss if we can settle and move on. As we state, it is the customer’s option, and they are perfectly within their rights to let their insurance company handle it if they choose.
    With that being said, how would you prefer we handle this? Is there a way I can accomplish this without giving you that impression?

    Re: loss of use. I agree that there are cases where loss of use and damage claims have been abused by Car Rental companies. That goes without question. But let’s set aside those who are unethical for a moment. What is a fair standard? It’s tough to come up with a one-size fits all rule because the situations can be so different. A company renting exotic vehicles like Rolls-Royce’s and Porsche’s can reasonably have a completely different view on damage then a company renting decade old vehicles for $10/day. I will tell you that in my experience viewing literally thousands of body damage repairs, I am often surprised at how much work goes into repairing issues that look minor. If the scratch goes beneath the clearcoat the entire panel needs to be sanded, painted, dried, coated, dried before it looks new again. As to whether an owner would repair it or not, that’s really up to the owner isn’t it? I grazed a lady’s side view mirror last week as I was pulling into a parking spot. There was a black scuff mark the size of a fingernail on the mirror that would probably buff out. But the lady was upset, the car was brand new, and she wanted a copy of my insurance, etc. I explained the damage was unlikely to clear my deductible, and I was happy to pay for it, but she wasn’t having it. So everyone is different. At the end of the day if we are unfair with our customers they won’t come back. Or they will say awful things about us. That’s not a good outcome for us. Not to mention it’s a lousy way of living. So we strive to be fair with everyone at all times. But the biggest challenge we have is communicating those values. It’s very tough for customers to believe you are truly interested in being fair when you are handing them a bill for damage. That’s what this is all about.

    BTW Yes, it’s really my name, on my passport, driver’s license, credit cards you name it.

  • Arlene

    I’ve actually rented from Bandingo. They were great. Delivered and picked up the car at the Oakland airport, great rates and terrific people who answered all my questions up front. A group of 12 hit the Napa wine country for a long weekend with me as the DD. I would use them again.

  • http://www.twitter.com/sharkyl Sharky

    Thanks Jim,
    To be clear we are not trying to discourage using your insurance company, rather we are trying to encourage a quick resolution by offering to absorb more of the actual expenses. We have absolutely no objection to you filing a claim with your insurance company if you choose, and you are perfectly within your rights to do so.
    However people often forget that their insurance companies do not always have their best interests at heart, and will deny claims or portions of a claim if they can, leaving you to handle the rest. And surprisingly few people remember they have a deductible.
    It’s tricky: if it were up to us, we would get paid for our out-of-pocket damage costs when it happens and move on (the exception being cases where the vehicle is out of commission for weeks). But by the time we spend months and months haggling with the insurance company our out-of-pocket costs have ballooned, as we have people who are paid full time to do nothing but process claims. If it’s a small claim, say for $1200, we can easily spend $200-300 (labor, interest, phone, postage) over 8-9 months getting the insurance company to settle. Then there’s a 10% chance the claim will never be paid even though it’s legitimacy is not in question. Finally the insurance cuts a check for $200, and we have to turn around and go back to the customer for the $1k deductible who promptly disappears, and whose credit card is invalid. Eventually it goes to collections where we have roughly an 8% chance of getting 40% of our money back.
    So you can see how we might view the insurance company as a big risk we are willing to pay to avoid.

    Another poster shared your perception. Obviously we want to avoid that perception if we can, while still encouraging a quick resolution. Any ideas?

  • emanon256

    I would suspect that the B- is probably the highest rating one can get until they pay the ridiculous fee. Based on my experience, I am surprised it’s that high. And of course, after you pay the fee, you get an A+ even if you get a ton of complaints.

    When I used to run my own small consulting company I wasn’t even registered with the BBB and had no information on file when I searched for myself. Then, out of the blue, some consumer filed a complaint against me. I got it in the mail, and it had nothing to do with the type of business I was in, nor was the complaint from anyone I had done business with. They were complaining about buying a kit from me, and the kit was not as advertised, and they wanted a refund. I responded that this person was not a customer of mine, nor was their complaint about anything related to the type of business I was in, that I do not sell kits, I provided professional consulting services. It was closed stating that I was unwilling to resolve the complaint and I got a rating of F. I complained to the BBB and was told this could be cleared up if I joined and paid the membership fee which I think was $500.

    I also field a complaint against a member business once, and they actually had 33 complaints in the last 6 months, yet their rating was an A+. Their response was full of profanities and misspellings and didn’t even attempt to resolve the issue, and it was closed as resolved by the business.

    I think the BBB is horrible, and doesn’t help consumers or businesses. Only themselves.

  • mbods

    Hello Sharky…it’s awfully nice of you to reply to us all but I’m still not convinced and would not change my vote. Obviously, there is a widespread problem with dinging innocent customers for damages. There shouldn’t be “many scenarios” where you don’t see the renter and inspect the car with them present. Stop the after hours drop off and other instances where the renter is not present. It CAN be done. Yes, it would be an inconvenience for some but much better than the inconvenience of a repair bill that takes them by surprise. I think the mentioning of “excessive dirt” in the same paragraph as “damage”, discredits all your other points. I see you have a lot to say but I’m not sure you’re really proofreading before hitting enter.

  • Carver Clark Farrow


    I think you missed the point. The point remains that to show loss of use any company must show that it was required to turn down business during the relevant time frame. It cannot be inferred or assumed.

    My example was a very simplified example. Very very simplified, hence the use of a limited, identical inventory. I could use algebriac examples with X’s and Y’s but it would be confusing to all but us math geeks. Your counter example is contrived to fit my very specific example. I call it contrived because it is the rarity that one person rents two vehicles simultaneously. Although even if my example the agency would have had three vans to rent so you would have been able to rent you two.

    Further, as the claimant, the car rental company bears the responsibility to for proving the loss.
    My objection is that the industry’s default position is legally and economically false. Rental companies claim that merely since the vehicle is out of service there is loss of use, regardless of the current inventor. That is simply and demonstably false.

  • http://www.twitter.com/sharkyl Sharky

    Hi Dutchess,

    As I explain elsewhere, in our business we have a lot of after-hours returns, and returns to offsite locations (like airport parking lots). Another consideration is damage that is not immediately visible due to excessive dirt, or in extreme case, deliberate attempts to camouflage the damage with nail polish, paint, or zip ties.

    Finally if the vehicle is a one way from another location, or is being picked up at a house or business, the originating photos and contract might not be immediately available to instantly see whether the damage is new or not.

    So while an immediate disclosure of damage is ideal and preferred, it’s not always possible. Even when damage is immediately disclosed we want to explain our process so our clients understand.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I’m not suggesting that you did, that was someone else. Although in fairness to you, there are many posters and it can be difficult to sort through

  • MarkKelling

    Thanks for your detailed and clearly reasonable responses to my, and other, postings here. It is just unfortunate that you are in a business where most people have had disappointing dealings with many other companies in this group so that most of us don’t trust any of you. I believe you are sincere in trying to provide a better experience for your customers. You just have a difficult mountain to climb to get there. Also, since I have never rented from your company and don’t know you at all, I am, unfortunately, basing my opinions on those of the vehicle rental group as a whole.

    I don’t know how to rephrase your points 8 & 9 where it would sound better. Even your example of the minor smudge on the lady’s mirror shows that there are many out there who feel that, even for something that might be insignificant, they want the insurance company involved. I’m sure there are as many reasons for this thought process as there are people that want to take this route.

    I agree that someone who rents exotic vehicles or one of a kind classics would be within their right to charge for minor chips in the paint. After all, who wants to drive a $100,000 car that looks like it was sand blasted in a hurricane? However, I have rented many vehicles over the years (I rent an average of 40 different times a year) and received perfectly functioning vehicles from many of the major rental companies but they have looked like they were on the wrong end of a baseball bat. And I’m not talking about rentals on busy holiday periods or from locations with limited vehicles on hand. Just don’t send me out with a damaged vehicle and then attempt to collect for “damages” that were preexisting because the company claims they rent only perfectly maintained vehicles. (Not saying you do this, but other rental companies do.)

    If the rental companies are collecting for this damage supposedly done by drivers, why are the vehicles allowed out in a damaged and unrepaired state?

    About your name: It is definitely unique in that I have never met anyone with that as their actual name. But it is nice in that people don’t forget it! ;-)

  • http://www.twitter.com/sharkyl Sharky

    Thanks, but I was referring to this sentence: “In reading the fine print, it is clear that this is an attempt to gain favorable publicity while still engaging in some of the shady practices”

  • KaraJones

    I really like this comment thread because:
    a) we have at least one real lawyer making legal comments.
    b) I’m impressed with the OP (Sharky) for really making an effort to try to do the right thing, for intelligently engaging with us within the comments, and for not getting defensive in his replies. : )
    c) I want to change my name to Sharky. (Sharkette? Sharkina?)

    @mbods I disagree with you that it would be preferable for him to drop the after-hours scenarios. Frankly, I would be way more inclined to rent from a company that offers friendly services like after-hours drop-off, the ability to drop your car somewhere convenient where the company then picks it up, etc. Especially when renting vans, I can see so many situations where “normal” hours just don’t work.
    In particular, what comes to mine for me is musicians. The gigs are usually at night, the equipment loading/unloading takes place in the wee hours, musicians never have enough money to say “screw it, let’s pay for an extra day while I sleep late and the car sits parked on the street doing nothing” and, if they’re in a city where you really can’t leave the car on the street and have to park in a garage, many garages don’t allow vans – or they charge extra for them. So a rental company that lets me leave the car in a convenient and free location at any time I’m done with it gets my vote.

    So, if that’s the case, as the renter, I also have to take the responsibility to take pictures when I return it.

    But in the “standard” scenarios that are being discussed here, It should be the responsibility of the rental company to look over the car upon return. And the rental company needs to spend the extra time/cost to have someone do a full and careful inspection at the time of return. Yes, even the zip-ties and nail polish should be found at that time. A very thorough inspection can be done in 5 minutes if someone wants to do it properly. I may be wrong but it’s my thought that any damage that can be covered by dirt isn’t big enough to warrant charging back to the customer.

  • http://www.twitter.com/sharkyl Sharky

    Too funny. In our case the complainant also was not a customer and never took possession of a vehicle, nor did this complainant ever pay money to anyone. They were complaining about making a reservation which we cancelled two hours later because the current occupants of the vehicle changed their mind and decided to return the vehicle in a completely different city. We called the complainant immediately to inform them we no longer had a vehicle available for rent, offered a discount on a future rental, and located a van from a competitor for the them to rent. Despite all of this they complained to the BBB. Our one and only complaint in ten years of business with 8 locations in six different states. It’s not clear to me if the B- rating is due to that complaint or not, but I did not appreciate the BBB offering to “clear” our record if we paid them hundreds of dollars. Maybe at one time the BBB was a reputable organization, but that’s not my opinion currently.

  • http://www.twitter.com/sharkyl Sharky

    I’m doing my best to proofread! Although a few of these responses came from my phone which makes proofreading a little harder. And I hope I am not being over responsive!

    I don’t really see a way to stop after-hours dropoffs. Many of our clients are leaving the country and have planes to catch or other itineraries they need to stick to. Having staff available 24 hours a day 7 days a week at each of our locations would be wonderful, but doesn’t come close to making fiscal sense. The vast majority of our damage claims are not even disputed, we are just trying to figure out how to communicate the process as quickly and transparently as possible and prevent people from being surprised weeks or months later.

    I’m not sure why excessive dirt in the same paragraph as damage would discredit “all” my other points. But I think you might not be familiar with just how dirty a vehicle can get. Here’s one that came back just a week or two ago:
    This vehicle had a dent in the passenger door that was very difficult to see with the dirt present. You certainly can’t see it in the picture.

    I completely get that customers want to walk off the lot, and if they were not confronted about damage be confident that they are free and clear. But what a lot of honest people have difficulty understanding is that not everyone is honest. So if you walk off the lot, and then an hour later we discover the front bumper is held on by plastic zip ties (don’t laugh – true story), well, that doesn’t seem right does it? And what’s to stop somebody from dropping a vehicle off and then going out of their way to avoid any interaction with employees at all? We have had that happen too. We shouldn’t be obligated to play hide and seek with the customer, right?

  • http://www.twitter.com/sharkyl Sharky

    Thank you Kara. I’m treating this as like a Reddit “ask me anything” for the day. Hopefully people find it helpful and/or informative. And if not, well they can always skip past my posts!

    Full and careful inspections on the spot are ideal. But not every customer wants to stick around (planes to catch, meetings to go to). Then what? And what if the customer goes out of their way to avoid our employees? Is the burden on us to find and catch the customer before they can skip town?

    As for finding damage in dirt: this vehicle had a dent in the passenger door. Can you spot it?:

    We didn’t see it until after it was washed. Not common, but it does happen.

  • KaraJones

    Ha! No, I can’t spot it. Is there a little picture of “Where’s Waldo” in there, too?
    I know what you’re saying about customers running out the door too quickly. Perhaps, there can be an option of: Hang around an extra 5 minutes while we inspect the vehicle and you will never hear from us again, or, Leave in a hurry but then you have to take our word for it if we find something. But I know if I were in a hurry, that wouldn’t really be OK with me either.

  • emanon256

    I looked up my old company after writing that. It hasn’t operated since 2003. The BBB now shows no rating, has me classified as the wrong type of business, has a big bold banner that says that it is not accredited, and has a big red banner saying an alert has been issued for my business and when I click it, it says that anyone with a complaint should consider legal action. It also lists my full name, and my companies old address. I called them and asked that they remove my name and address, and they told me they can’t as their website is a matter of public record. Per Chris’s advice on calling, I will now e-mail them to create a paper trail.

  • calbff

    I’m sure you understand the skepticism on my part, given the current state of the rental industry. I didn’t say the pessimist was right, but I simply don’t trust any company in the industry. I certainly applaud the sentiment and hope it’s fully carried out, however.

  • http://www.twitter.com/sharkyl Sharky

    Hrmm. Well this is where great intentions runs into existing law. In many states (including California) the price for a CDW is capped by law. So I can’t charge any more for a $33k van than I would for a $13k Chevrolet Spark. I’m capped at $15/day either way, despite the fact that the van is not only more than twice as expensive, but also far more likely to be in a collision due to its size. Likewise the law specifically says coverage is optional and not mandatory.

    I don’t know of any part of our business that enjoys 80% margins. It’s tough for me to tell if CDW is profitable. I have a suspicion it is not. Our accounting doesn’t discriminate between expenses for body repairs that were covered under CDW and expenses for body repairs that were not covered under CDW. I can tell you that CDW revenue +payments from insurance companies equals roughly 15% of what we spend on maintenance and repairs, not all of which is damage related. This does not factor in any reductions in vehicle resale price due to damage. So it’s complicated.

    If we game this out you can see the challenge: I can’t charge more than $15/day. So if you rent a van for one day and do $20,000 of damage (had one of those just last week!), I now need to earn 1,333 days of CDW sold at $15/day to break even. Since a typical annual utilization rate is 60% (remember we have to account for the slow season) a typical van will be rented 219 days a year. Of those 219 days I will sell CDW roughly 16% of the time. So I can expect roughly 35 days of CDW revenue per vehicle per year. So in plain english I need 38 vehicles to go completely damage free for an entire year just to break even on that one claim. Obviously it must be doable, or companies wouldn’t do it, but I am extremely skeptical that there are 80% margins to be found. Maybe there are, but not in van rental.

    A lot of people are upset about damage, I get it. But few people consider how much the car rental industry gets right. Right now I can rent a $20k car at LAX for an entire day for less than what I would spend renting a $200 bicycle for 2 hours a couple miles away in Santa Monica. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that the process is so incredibly efficient and competitive that there is very little room for margins. Throw some damage in the mix with some slow paying insurance companies and you have a recipe for some very frustrating experiences for all concerned. Is there any way to turn this around? There must be, right?

    I completely agree that the car rental industry as a whole has a lot of work to do in terms of building more trust with consumers. And I think the burden is on the industry to figure out how to make that work. I would like to be part of the solution, not the problem. Which is why I’m here today.

  • Raven_Altosk

    I feel you, man. Try being a 30-something professional male with the name “Raven.” Everyone online thinks you’re a chick and everyone in the real world thinks your parents were on crack.

  • Theodore Rosenberg

    I still have one caveat – are they going to charge ME when THEIR car gets a flat tire on the turnpike and I have to sit there untill my roadside service comes (and some roadside services CHARGE to go to renal cars)

  • http://www.twitter.com/sharkyl Sharky

    I understand your point and where you are coming from. I’m not sure if I can persuade you to see the other side of the argument, but I’ll try. And I’ll use a real world example that exists right this very second.

    Take a moment and look at this picture:

    That’s a small snapshot of a specific class of vehicle in our New Jersey location that is current as of right this moment. As you can see the top vehicle “SP Gayaia” is completely marked in red. That means it’s unrentable. It’s in the shop.

    Orange squares are on rent. Single red squares represent deliveries to offsite locations.

    Our utilization is 76%, which would not meet your standard for reimbursement for loss of use. However if a client called wanting to rent a van from today through the 1st we would have to turn them down. If they wanted a vehicle from now through the 13th we would have to say no. If they wanted a van for the 27th through the 7th the answer would also be no. And if they wanted 4 vans for the 6th-13th, we would also have to say no, we can only provide 3. There are more examples than I can count where we would have to say no. And in each case the answer would be a yes if we had the van available.

    You think these multi-vehicle examples are “rare”, but our biggest sale this month was to a client who wanted 10 vehicles for a week and a half. We would not have landed the sale if we only had 9 available.

    How do I go about proving the lost business? Track and record every call? Your solution is simply based on utilization, but as you can see, that doesn’t even begin to show the true story.

    Generally speaking (i.e. not car rental specifically but the law in general) the law does not require you actually need or use an item in order to claim loss of use. If I hit your car my insurance has to get you a replacement car rental even if you take the bus to work, or if you own three other cars, or if you are sick from work and not even going to need a car at all.

    What you are effectively saying is that car rental is special, and is not entitled to the same privileges of ownership that you enjoy. Or even other businesses. So the local contractor who has 100 pickup trucks can collect loss of use when his vehicle is damaged in an accident, but one of my smaller locations with 10 vans cannot. The burden is on me to prove I actually intended to use the vehicle and lost out on business. As you know it is difficult to prove a negative.

    Of course there’s more: these are expensive vehicles, and they are depreciating every day. If I have a vehicle down for a month I am out over $1k in depreciation factor alone. But I am tough out of luck because I don’t have 100% utilization?

    You can of course legislate this. California has done so. You can make it impossible for car rental companies to recover loss of use. But this has unintended consequences: smaller operators disappear. Larger companies fill in the vacuum. Pricing inevitably goes up, while choice goes down.

    Call me crazy, but simply taking a zero-sum approach towards car rental is not going to deliver long term gains for consumers. It’s a loser in the long run. A better and more sustainable approach would be to simply make policies fair.

  • http://www.twitter.com/sharkyl Sharky

    On the other hand the playmates of my kids think I’m really cool, and I didn’t do anything! :)

  • http://www.twitter.com/sharkyl Sharky

    We have 24/7 roadside assistance included with every rental. We do not charge for this. We only charge for flat tires if there is evidence it was due to misuse or a collision (sidewall scraped off for example, or the flat tire is not on a paved road)

  • http://www.twitter.com/sharkyl Sharky

    Yes, I’ve been doing this a long time, and I am not immune from having frustrating experiences with car rental companies as a customer myself, so I think I got a pretty good grasp of what we’re up against. :)

    To answer your question:

    “If the rental companies are collecting for this damage supposedly done by drivers, why are the vehicles allowed out in a damaged and unrepaired state?”

    It basically comes down to logistics. If damage is largely cosmetic and minor in nature, then you try to fit repairs into your schedule. Most car rental companies are predicated on the business model of keeping the vehicles as busy as humanly possible. So taking a vehicle out of service for 3-4 days in the middle of peak season in order to deal with some minor dent is a tough proposition. It could very well mean canceling existing reservations, reservations that might be much longer than the 3 or 4 days in question. There is no clear and firm dividing line. The judgment is pretty subjective and different people can come to different conclusions when looking at the same damage.
    The big no-go for us is safety. If we have even an inkling that safety is even slightly compromised we don’t care what the economic impact is, that vehicle goes straight to the shop. But if it’s a small dent in the fender? That might have to wait. It’s either that or we tell someone their rental is canceled. The greater harm seems to be canceling the reservation.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Tell them that “Raven” is your ring name. There was a wrestler named “Raven” some time back.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    heard a story about 1 car rental co. in USA & scams that happen to them.
    People hire a car, then swap parts, tyres, etc. ie. genuine for cheaper or even engine parts or even whole engines ( worn for newer parts ) !!!
    Some people even “restore” their old car to new(ish) by swapping mulitple parts.
    So a engine has a VIN number, but it still happens. (Engine numbers are usualy only checked when cars are sold)
    Think about it, costs very little to rent a car for a day.
    Someone could easily swap expensive parts with little prospect of being caught.
    Rental co. might not even notice until something breaks down & find that something has been subsituted & maybe dozens or hundreds of hires after switch takes place.
    How often would car rental co. actually check under the hood, except maybe to give it a steam clean very occasionally.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Somebody a while back had a great idea. If the rental agent won’t do the inspection with you, before you drive off the lot, do your own inspection, note any damage, either on the rental contract, or simply on a blank sheet of paper. Sign and date it and then take it back inside and have the rental agent counter-sign and date it. This should serve as proof if any damage was pre-existing. This doesn’t replace taking photos before and after, it’s just another layer of protection.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    No, I think your mother must have watched too much soap opera. There was a character in 1978, 1979 or so that inspired lots of mothers to name their children Raven. I remember clearly, since my infant son in 1979 had a babysitter for a short while who had just had a little girl and named her Raven. Come to think of it, maybe that woman *was* on crack.

    I didn’t think your real name was Raven – I thought that was just your avatar’s name.

  • Dutchess

    After hours returns and deliberate attempts to hide damage are not the typical damage claim we see come through this blog and are the obvious exception. Either way when you have a car returned and the keys are handed to an attendant that’s the time to catch damage. Sorry if it’s inconvenient for you but once the car leaves my possession, how can I possibly be responsible for it? How do I, as the consumer, know something didn’t happen to the car after it leaves my possession? This becomes your word against mine, so the only way to avoid this is to do a proper inspection upon receiving the car.

    I’ve personally been given cars twice that have had pre-existing damage that was hard to see for various reasons but due to the fact that I video taped the car and took photos at the rental yard I was able to prove that they were there before I rented the car. Otherwise, I would have faced repair bills that weren’t mine. So because the lot attendant was lazy or as I tend to believe in some extreme cases it’s a revenue stream for some less than scrupulous rental companies, they will see how many people they can get to pay for the same scratch before they repair it.

  • Kevin Mathews

    Diminshment of value really only comes into issue when the owner of the vehicle intends, at some point in the future to trade in the vehicle.
    That is the complete business model of Rental Car companies. They never intend to keep the vehicle past X Miles. They have calculated, based on assumed trade in values and resale values, what their cost is to run that vehicle. A car that has an accident on it’s history is going to receive a lower trade in than one without. That is the diminishment of value.
    In your example, unless I intended to trade in my vehicle in the future, and could prove that’s my intent, then you are correct that once the repairs are made and the car is made whole, we’re good. If my intent was to keep the car until it dies, then the value of the car is irrelevent because the assumed value when I get rid of the car is 0.

  • http://www.twitter.com/sharkyl Sharky

    As stated previously, I completely agree a walkaround with the customer is preferable for all concerned. We go a step farther and document both the start and end of the rental with photographs from all angles. That has resolved a lot of disputes rather quickly. We often hear “I didn’t do that”, and then after reviewing the time stamped photos (often with them standing right next to the van) they have to acknowledge the damage must have occurred during the rental.

    Chris encourages people to document the vehicle condition themselves. I think that’s a fine idea, provided the pictures are time and location stamped. There are apps that will do that for most smart phones.

    Many customers would like the ability to know they will not be charged for damage if they leave the lot without being confronted by damage claims. And a couple years ago Chris posted a survey and the vast majority of the respondents felt the car rental company should only pursue damage claims when the customer has acknowledged the damage.

    How wonderful life would be if I could count on every customer to be both honest and intimately knowledgeable about how every person in their party used the vehicle while it was in their possession! But an unfortunate truth is that there are many people out there who fall short in either one or both categories. Aside from outright attempts at deception, we also encounter situations such as people who gave the keys to a valet and did not realize the valet scraped the roof on the garage. And it’s not always immediately clear whether damage is new or not. It’s easy enough if the vehicle is brand new and has no pre-existing damage at all, but that “new vehicle” status does not last long, and eventually every vehicle acquires it’s share of dings and bruises.

    Finally if the standard was “leave the lot and you are scot free” what could we do to prevent people from leaving before a full inspection is complete? Should we lock them in the gates until we are ready to release them? Of course that’s silly, but it’s clear to me that honest people have a hard time visualizing how less than honest people can act and think. Our best defense against claims the damage occurred after the vehicle was returned is to take pictures immediately, and that’s what we do.

    I am sorry you have had negative experiences in the past. I would like to see the industry move in a positive direction. Does what I am saying make sense, or are there further improvements we can make? I have gotten a lot of great suggestions from the comments here.

  • Sonia Vining

    It’s nice to see a positive blog on your site with the title “Would you rent from this company?”. I’m sure other regular readers expected yet another horror story. Thumbs up to Sharky (despite his questionable name!) for taking a proactive step.

  • Linda

    I think the letter was useful, and given the communications from Sharky (love it) in this forum, I think I would rent from him. I also think the discussion about how costs from damage are passed on to the renter contains useful information that would be appreciated by a renter who is legitimately being billed for damages. If such a renter understood more about administrative costs and loss of use, he/she might not object to them. However, I would also point out that most of the readers of this forum are not often going to be renting a van from a “boutique” outfit such as Sharky’s, but typically an ordinary car for 1-5 days from one of the big nationwide chains who are not going to bother with detailed communications of this sort (though they should).

  • http://www.twitter.com/sharkyl Sharky

    Thank you Sonia!

  • http://www.twitter.com/sharkyl Sharky

    I agree we aren’t a likely candidate for most of the readers here, and that this is a conversation the larger companies should be having. I have been pushing internally for the industry to take a more proactive stance, and this article is just one step in that process. Hopefully we will see some progress this year. I will be seeing a lot of car rental companies at the big industry convention in April, and I’m hoping that a few of us can get together and see if we can’t come up with some sort of standard that is fair and respectful to everyone, especially the customers.

  • Bob

    I have been thinking about this letter a bit and I think I have come up with a solution to the problem of this letter sounding extortionate. All the comments I have read have perceived sections 6-9 as a threat against getting insurance companies involved rather than informative. I think that if you dropped section 8 in particular you would have a less threatening more informative letter and a better reaction.