Am I responsible for damage under my rental car?

Brad Joiner discovers a damaged underside to his Enterprise rental after he parks it in his driveway. He’s sure it isn’t his fault, but the car rental company begs to differ. It wants him to pay $826.

Question: I recently rented a Mazda 2 from Enterprise. When I picked up the car, a representative and I did a walk-around. I’m normally very careful when picking a car up. I noticed the fender well on the front driver’s side was popped out of place, and I noted that with the representative.

My mistake: I didn’t look under the front bumper to see what would have caused that to happen.

I drove the car home, where I parked it in my driveway, which is sloped. When coming out of my garage, I was able to see damage to the underside of the bumper cover. In an effort to do the right thing, I immediately called Enterprise and explained what had happened. I talked to the manager and told her I was on my way back.

The manager said the damage was not there when the car left the rental location. It was not noted on the rental agreement that I had signed (which is true). She took pictures and we drove the car on our trip.

When I took it back, I was careful to park it in the same spot as when I picked it up. The agent checking the car back in didn’t see the damage. I left and waited to see what happened.

Then I received a bill for $826. I am firmly convinced that my effort to do the right thing put me in a tough spot. They would not have seen the damage had I just taken it back and not notified them of the damage. Can you help? — Brad Joiner, Dothan, Ala.

Answer: It’s reasonable to expect you to carefully examine the exterior and interior of a car before you rent it, which is what you did. You noted all of the damage that was visible from the sidewalk. But you shouldn’t have to crawl under the vehicle to assure yourself that your Mazda 2 is in one piece.

The Enterprise manager was just doing what she’s trained to do. If there’s damage to a car, it’s presumed to be the responsibility of the last renter, facts notwithstanding. You didn’t exactly help your case by being honest, although that was the right thing of you to do. But once the damage was on your record, you were responsible — end of story.

I wouldn’t have continued driving a damaged car. I would have asked Enterprise to fill out a damage claim and then requested another vehicle. Also, since you had the vehicle for such a short time, I don’t think it would have been unreasonable to ask to see the previous renter’s records. It’s possible that something was noted on that form that exonerates you.

Also, the fact that part of the damage had been noted by you was in your favor. In reviewing Enterprise’s claim, it looked to me as if you were being charged for pre-existing damage.

If your appeal to Enterprise’s damage recovery unit is unsuccessful, you can always take your complaint to the top. I list the names and email addresses of the executives on my website.

I contacted Enterprise on your behalf, and it dropped the claim.

Should car rental companies expect us to inspect under their rentals?

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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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  • Sam Varshavchik

    You know, after reading this, and the other stories on this particular topic, I’m left dumbfounded. Earlier this year my brother got stuck when his connecting flight was cancelled. What I can’t understand now, for the life of me, is how he was able to rent a car and drive from Philadelphia to upstate New York, turn the car in and …not have any problems with bogus damage claims.

    It seems like every time someone rents a car, these days, there’s going to be a bogus damage claim, before it’s over.

  • Justin

    Honesty might be the best policy, but surely isn’t the least expensive.

    I’m certain rental car companies see the word “sucker” written on the face of specific people. Claiming damage is profitable, especially when multiple renters pay premium prices, and the repair is left undone.

    Cash cow comes to mind.

  • Justin

    Millions rent cars. What you hear are the horror stories from unscrupulous branches. My mom had it happen to her once and I fought Enterprise up to the CEO. Claim was bogus, dropped, but the stress was a headache.

    Rental companies figure X amount will not fight, eat the bill, and there’s pure profit. Whether via insurance payout or self pay. So law of numbers dictates be on your toes, never let cars go uninspected, and certainly don’t go tell on yourself :) if you’ve done no wrong.

  • KarlaKatz


  • Cybrsk8r

    Here’s what I don’t understand. He noted, on the damage form, that the fender well was popped out of place when he picked up the car. Something caused that. Does Enterprise think that this peice just popped loose on it’s own, in the same place he just happened to damage their car? That’s quite a coincidence. I call BS on Enterprise.

  • jerryatric

    Great – Now on rent a car I’m going to get on my hands & knees & make the rep. do the same for pre rental inspection. So in addition to photographing the car on all sides, now the underside as well?

  • EdB

    Don’t forget the step stool to photograph the roof too.

  • Cybrsk8r

    And it wouldn’t hurt to check all the fluids and the tire pressure.

  • Ward Chartier

    I’d like to hear the reasoning from a reader among the 4%who voted Yes in the poll.

  • Sunnykm

    Why can’t the rental companies supply the renters w a “Car Fax”-like list of all previous damage claims on the potential rental vehicle?

  • JenniferFinger

    How many people actually have the automotive knowledge to be able to recognize something wrong on the underside of the car?

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Ditto. Exactly what I was about to ask.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I’m skeptical. Like you said earlier, travel forums only hear about the scams and failures. I would be more inclined to believe that about some of the sketchier operations like some independents and ulta cheap places.

    But large outfits like Hertz and Avis, especially the airport locations in major cities with lots of business travelers, are more likely to draw attention if they were so brazen.

  • Justin

    I agree for the most part. Airport rentals are high volume locations, but come at a premium. People often rent off site to save a significant amount of money.

    The Enterprise car costing 300 or 400 a week might be 200 off site. Airport prices are marked higher to account for the convenience factor.

    Like any horror story, we hear about the bad, but never the good. Millions of people go to work, school, and rent cars safely. The news, be it our famous Ombudsman Mr. Elliott, capture the negatives.

    The positives remain silent and unreported.

  • PolishKnightUSA

    I don’t think the airport gets all of the money for a convenience factor but rather they have to pay a cut to the airport in fees.

  • Justin

    There’s always a dissenter or two. If not for opposing counsel, what’d life be like :).

  • Mel65

    I am always surprised by these stories, too. I travel quite a bit for my work as a government contractor and rent cars for biz or pleasure maybe 10 times a year. I’ve never had a location bill me later, I’ve never had anyone “hard sell” me insurance (try to sell, yes, but they accepted my polite, “No, but thank you,” without being snide or mean) I …. just don’t get it. Either I’m really lucky or …. they’re not?

  • EdB

    You answered your own question when you said you rent for business. These places don’t want to piss off their big accounts. It seems most of these stories involve occasional renters who don’t have an account manager that could take all the business elsewhere if they got hit with bogus repair bills like this.

  • Zod

    The only way I would say “Yes” to this is if Enterprise gives you an inspection mirror to look under the car…similar to what the border patrol uses when crossing the Mexican border. Either that, or a certified 3rd party mechanic makes a notarized statement that the vehicle was without damage when placed back into inventory.

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