Charged $1,341 for damage I didn’t do

Question: I’m having a problem with a car rental, and I’m hoping you can help. I rented a car from National Car Rental in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. I did not take photos of the car at pick up or drop off. Big mistake!

I’m a very careful driver, and when I park, I avoid places where I could be dinged. When I picked up the car, I did a visual inspection and noted a scratch on the rear left bumper. An attendant indicated it was “noted in the computer.”
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Maybe I should have taken a picture of my rental car

Question: I’m having a problem with a car I recently rented from National in Denver, and I hope you have the time to help me. I’m a faithful reader of your column, but when I rented the car, I failed to follow your advice.

As we were driving away, I said to my husband, “Oh, shoot, I forgot to take pictures of the car and I didn’t get an agent to sign off on it. Oh well, I haven’t had trouble with National before.”
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The Travel Troubleshooter: Whose car rental bill is this, please?

Question: I recently rented a pickup truck through National in Berkeley, Calif., for a one-way move to Walla Walla, Wash. The two-day trip went smoothly, and we loaded and unloaded the truck without incident.

When I returned the vehicle to the rental agency, I did a thorough walkaround, and found not one iota of damage. I cleaned the interior, and opened and closed the back gate to check for any left-behind items, and found the truck bed in exactly the same condition I rented it in.

I brought the keys to the counter, and the agent accepted them, and told me they would send me my final invoice. No one was in the lot to check the condition of the truck with me and verify the condition of the truck.

A few months later, I got a call from a collection agent at Enterprise, which owns National He said there had been $750 worth of damage to the truck’s back gate and left rear side.

I was shocked. When they finally sent me the documents, they showed massive damage to the rear gate. There also appeared to be some sort of collision damage. The repairs were executed months after my rental.

I told him I couldn’t have done it. They refuse to hear from me or treat the case as anything but an opportunity for monetary gain, and I was dumb enough not to have photographed the truck or have them do a full inspection.

As of today they will be sending the bill to collections, so unless they hear reason I will be harassed and my credit possibly damaged. This is really a nightmare for me, in part because I find myself so helpless to the wolfish and questionable practices Enterprise Holdings and National Rent-a-Car has employed.
How is the allowable, legally? What are my options for pressing my case? — Dan Anthony, Eugene, Ore.

Answer: National’s efforts to collect damages from customers who damage its cars is completely legal. Coming after you, however, is another question.
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The Travel Troubleshooter: A dropped car rental claim that returned

Question: I rented a car from National for a family trip to Houston. The rental was uneventful. But a month later, I received a letter saying that the car had been returned with about $2,000 worth of damage, which included needing to replace a front bumper and a headlight.

I’m certain this damage didn’t happen while I was renting the car. My wife and three kids were with me. We were getting in and out of all the doors repeatedly. We would have noticed any damage. When I returned the car, the agent did a quick walk-around, and the car was fine.

I followed up by calling the claim representative at National. She checked, and in a follow-up call told me that she was recommending closing the claim. Then I got a phone call from National saying that they had figured out what happened, and it wasn’t my fault, and they were closing the claim. So it all seemed fine until another month went by, and I got a letter saying that they had decided to pursue the claim after all.

I’m insured, and the loss is covered, but I’d rather use my insurance for when I actually have an accident! I’d always assumed that when you’ve returned a car and they have signed off and handed you a bill, then you aren’t responsible for the vehicle any longer. Apparently that’s not true.

My insurance company is contesting the claim, but they also say that the only real protection against a rental car company making this kind of claim is to take 8 to 10 time-stamped pictures of the car from different angles every time you return a rental car. This seems crazy to me. But is it something we should all start doing? — Timothy Taylor, Minneapolis

Answer: Yes. Take pictures of your car before and after your rental and keep them at least six months. The systems used to determine who damaged a rental are far from perfect. At least one company, Hertz, has pledged to begin photographing all of its cars before they leave the lot. The rest have less scientific ways of determining who is responsible for the dings, dents and scratches. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say they try to guess who might have done it.
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