Broadsided by a rental car damage claim

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There’s damage to the undercarriage of Jessyka Glatz’s rental car, at least according to Hertz. But is the car in the photo of the rental company sent her the same one she rented? Maybe not.

Question: We recently reserved a car through Hertz in Germany. We understood the terms and for extra protection we bought the collision damage waiver and theft protection.

We picked up our car in Braunschweig, as planned, and we were very pleased with our car and the service. We returned the car in Berlin, as planned, and were somewhat surprised that the employees were rather brusque and unfriendly.

We asked what we should do next and were told to go to the checkout counter downstairs. An employee took the keys and said we were all set. We asked him to inspect the car and sign off on it, but he said that was unnecessary. He assured us Hertz would take care of the rest.

Well, it did – but not like I expected. Two weeks after our return, we received a notice that the car was damaged and that we needed to pay 673 euro. We were shocked.

We returned the car in wonderful condition. I suspect the photos Hertz sent us which document the damage are of another car. Please help us straighten this out.
Jessyka Glatz, Chapel Hill, NC

Answer: Hertz should have inspected your car as requested if you were concerned about the condition of the rental vehicle. If damage had been noted at the time of your return, the company would have asked you to complete an incident report, and there’d be no disagreement on the repair bill.

But when you told me Hertz had said the undercarriage had been damaged, a few red lights started flashing. Hertz trains its employees to inspect under the front bumper, but the damage should have also been obvious to you. I’ve mediated similar cases in which the roof of the car was allegedly damaged without the knowledge of the renter. (Also hard to believe, that one.)

The other problem? None of the photos definitely showed your rental car. The license plate wasn’t visible in any of the images Hertz sent you. That’s not to say the undercarriage of your rental wasn’t damaged during your rental, but even if it had been, wouldn’t your collision-damage waiver apply? The correspondence between you and Hertz didn’t have any information about the insurance you purchased — it looks as if they just wanted you to pay up.

Your case raises a lot of questions, and you deserve answers before you agree to pay for for damages for which you may or may not be responsible. I publish the names and numbers of Hertz’ customer service executives on my site. A brief, polite and written appeal should have done the trick.

I contacted Hertz and asked it to review its claim against you. It did, and after taking another look at its records, the company decided to drop its claim.

Should a car rental company charge for damage to the undercarriage of its vehicle that isn't noted on return?

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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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  • MarkKelling

    Belonging to the Hertz program is a good thing. First, you don’t have to wait in line to get assigned your car. My past 10 rentals were 7 brand new cars and 3 with less than 2500 miles on them.

  • atltravel

    well, well, well. seems like the thing to do with rental cars. almost the same happened to me with Avis at EWR. we all walked the car before leaving and when we came back, the employee zeroed in on some damage to the underside of the front bumper. Thing was, I drove to my aunts and the car stayed parked for 3 days and than drove back. I refused to sign the incident report, I did not do it, the damage was not new and looked like it had been there awhile. Stupid me didn’t take a pic either, and I also could not tell if the pics sent me was the car I rented. Of course the call and letter came wanting money, and I accused them of pulling this scam with anyone who rented the car and never fixing it. After some phone calls, etc. Avis did drop the claim. But I have learned to bend over and look underneath.

  • innchfromnj

    This has SCAM written all over it.
    My guess is that one of the employees or a regular well known customer damaged the car.
    If it were an employee, more than likely his or her fellow workers were covering up the damage and to complete the cover up, billed the first foreign traveler they could.
    Pretty much the same scenario with the well known customer.
    The way I see it, the renter has not been shown ANY evidence of any kind that the auto in the photos taken by Hertz are of the car the customer rented.
    Based on that, the customer owes hertz NOTHING.

  • innchfromnj

    If the bill was 600 Euros, most likely the deductible exceeded the repair bill.

  • TMMao

    Have to confess that I once scuffed the bumper of a rental car and then bought some polish to buff it out. Did such a good job they didn’t notice or care.

    Another time, I usually decline the LDW but a little voice told me to take it. Good thing too because when refueling the car just before returning, I turned too close to a pump island marker pole and brushed the door against it. That $20 option probably saved $500 in repairs.

  • Marcin Jeske

    Names and dates aren’t really evidence of anything… I would only rely on copies of your contract, those signed previous damage forms, and the copious photos I take from all sides when picking up and returning a car.

  • Marcin Jeske

    Not sure about Europe, but the practice of most car rental agencies in the US (including Hertz) is that CDW isn’t actually insurance, it is a “waiver” (that’s the W at the end).

    As such, there is no deductible.

    However, it is pretty common in the US when the customer declines CDW and the rental company decides to charge for damages (justified or not) that the charge is just under the customers insurance deductible. I think the logic here is that many people won’t bother with an insurance claim if they think they will have to pay all of it anyway.

    The truth is… as I experienced with a claim once… is a bit different. I was asked to pay for some legitimate damage, the charge was massively inflated, but not much more than my insurance deductible. I filed a claim with my insurance company anyway, because I was covered by secondary insurance which required a claim with primary insurance.

    The first thing my insurance company did was quickly negotiate away most of the charges (logical for them, since they would have had to pay anything above my deductible), but they went even further in chopping off costs they knew would not be supported. Thus, the bill I was finally faced with was significantly less than my deductible, and this was covered by my secondary insurance without a hiccup.

    The lesson I took here is that a good insurance company knows all the rental car tricks, and a rental car company would prefer to keep them out of it and overcharge the customer instead.