Did Budget send me the wrong damage claim?

Budget wants Guilhem Ibos to pay $3,000 for damage to his rental car. But wait! Is that Ibos’ rental car in the photo? No, it isn’t.

Question: I recently rented a car from Budget in Nashville and returned it to New Orleans. It was in perfect shape when I brought it back.

A few weeks ago, I received a damage claim from the company. They asked me to pay more than $3,000 for repairs.

I’m not responsible for the damage. How do I know? Well, I can tell you that I returned the rental undamaged. But there are two things about Budget’s claim that don’t make sense, either.

First, I returned the car at the Budget Rent-a-Car agency in New Orleans, specifically on Canal Street. Canal Street is in the middle of town, surrounded by buildings. But the landscape in the pictures on my damage claim is completely different. There are no buildings at all. They must have moved the car before taking pictures of it. Who’s to say it wasn’t damaged then?

Second, there was a picture of the odometer in the claim. When I returned the car, the odometer out was at 22,265 miles and when I returned it, it was at 24,374 miles. But the odometer on their picture is 24,196 miles, which is impossible. I was driving the car when it reached that number.

I tried to contact Budget several times by phone, by email, even by mail. But they never responded. Now I’m being threatened by a collection agency. What should I do? — Guilhem Ibos, Chicago

Answer: Budget shouldn’t have sent you a $3,000 bill — at least not with that kind of documentation. Ideally, any damage to a rental car would be recorded when you return the vehicle and the renter would sign a form acknowledging it. This just looks like a “gotcha” — and a poorly-executed one, at that.

What kind of documentation is adequate? A time-stamped photo of your rental car, showing that shortly after you returned the vehicle, the company discovered damage; a picture of the odometer that verifies your claim; and a repair invoice. The paperwork you received was less than persuasive.

I’m not sure why Budget didn’t respond to your letters and emails. If you’re being ignored, you can always escalate your case to a manager. You can find a list of executives on the Budget website, Email addresses at Budget are formatted firstname.lastname@avisbudget.com.

I also list Budget’s executives on my website.

One thing is clear: Without conclusive proof that damage to this car was noted — and repaired — shortly after your rental, Budget shouldn’t have sent you a $3,000 invoice. I’m not saying the company’s claim is invalid. Only that it needed to make a stronger case.

I contacted Budget and asked it to review its claim. A representative called you and told you the company had withdrawn its bill.

Should Budget have dropped its claim?

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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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  • http://ladylighttravel.com/ LadyLightTravel

    If I had received a letter like this I wouldn’t have even bothered with Chris. I would have gone straight to the state insurance commissioner and the attorney general. Sending bills and refusing to discuss them is one thing. Sending discrepant documentation and then going to a collection agency is a whole different level. This is just pure fraud.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I am curious about the people who voted that Budget should not have withdrawn its case. The evidence presented so far is unpersuasive at best, possibly even fraudulent.

  • $16635417

    Budget tried something similar on me once. Claimed I caused an accident and left the scene. At first I was surprised and tried to recall when it could have happened, they said they would send me the details with the police report and had already contacted my insurance carrier.

    I talked my insurance company and told them I don’t remember any instance where I could have caused an accident and suggested they not pay anything until we get the details.

    I kept calling the company handling the claim for Budget for details as days went by with no documentation, they just kept promising it was coming. Finally, when the details were received, the accident in question was in a different part of the state and a day or two after I returned the car! I pointed this out to them and they STILL insisted I was responsible!

    I called me insurance carrier and they laughed it off and said not to worry, they won’t pay a dime and I wont be responsible for anything.

    A couple days later, the bozo at Budget called me and told me that due to new information they would not be pursuing the case against me. I complained to Budget corporate about how it was handled and heard nothing.

    I now rent from Budget as a last resort and still have my insurance through the same carrier.

  • Sam Varshavchik

    Why exactly do some people turn into a jellyfish when they are “threatened by a collection agency”? I never understood this. There’s this persistent meme going on that collection agencies are some sort of huge, hideous, monsters that will eat your soul.

    The response to the claim letter from Budget should’ve been a letter in response, denying the claim, sent by certified mail. The person who wrote this did say that he did mail something back. That’s good, but it should’ve been certified mail.

    Then the response to the collection agency’s demand letter should’ve been another certified mail do the collection agency, attaching a copy of the first certified mail receipt as proof that the alleged debt is in dispute. And, for a good measure, as someone else has already mentioned, a copy to the state insurance commission and the attorney general’s consumer affairs division. That would’ve been the end of it.

  • BillCCC

    Budget never should have sent the claim based on the information provided.

  • Cybrsk8r

    I can see your point, but I don’t believe a customer should lay out one thin dime to refute a bogus claim due to some rental agency’s incompetence, or outright dishonesty.

    Perhaps some sort of law that says when a rental agency makes a claim, if that claim is proven to be false, the agency has to pay the renter a penalty equal to the amount of the claim.

  • Alan Gore

    I would like to see it legislated that any company which makes such a claim, and then goes into radio silence and refuses to correspond with the customer within a specified period of time, automatically loses the case.

  • Stereoknob

    Only so many hours in a day. That would a good kick in the ass to hopefully prevent this fraud down the line…

  • Asiansm Dan

    Just another business-as-usual scam stunt by Rent-a-car company. They try hundred of cases may be some could go thru and they collect the money.

  • lisa

    If companies who engaged in these fraudulent, harassing actions had to pay the
    victim for the time, energy, and distress that the claims caused, I think the
    companies would stop taking these actions. Why do we, as a society, continue to let this happen?

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    To be fair, we only get a small sampling of car rental cases on a blog. The overwhelming majority of rents go issue free, and there are also some number of scams by customers as well.

    I have no idea how pervasive this problem is. I can only state that in regularly renting a car for the past 15 years, from all the major companies, I have never been hit with a fraudulent bill. The sum of my drama was a $99 erroneous gas fill up which was quickly resolved and credited back in maybe 2 days.

  • emanon256

    I’ve had some problems with bad vehicles, or smokey vehicles, but never a fraudulent bill either except for one fraudulent gas full up as well, which was also resolved when I sent in a copy of my gas receipt (I always keep them). I don’t rent as much any more, but I was renting almost weekly for about 10 years. I take that back, Thrifty in Cancun charged my card $350 more than my receipt showed. When I called they said it was due to a sudden change in the exchange rate after I paid and before it was processed. When I disputed it, they sent in a bogus receipt, when I sent in my copy of the receipt the credit card company sided with me in the dispute and I never heard from Thrifty again.

    On another trip to Mexico, I had a car break down. I was certain they would charge me for the repair and the tow, but Avis drove out a new car and towed the old one back, and send me an apology letter about the bad car and I never got a bill.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Alas, in all areas of law, you generally have to pay to defend yourself. If the matter is frivolous then you might recoup reasonable out of pocket, but that’s a high standard

  • Thoroughlyamused

    Would you be OK with that going both ways? If a customer challenges a damage claim that is 100% legit, should the customer be subject to some kind of penalty?

  • Thoroughlyamused

    The company I work for provides company vehicles, through a fleet agreement with a major rental company. I also rent vehicles when I travel which is several times a year. I have NEVER had any issues regarding damage. I’m sure that some damage claims that have been sent out, out of the millions of car rentals and thousands of damage claims filed, are less than legitimate. I also KNOW that customers will have a car damaged during their rental period and either lie about it upon return or take the position of, “Well, I didn’t see it happen so I’m not paying for it.”

  • $16635417

    I posted my Budget story above. I also have stories of customer service fails for Hertz, Avis, Alamo, National, Dollar…etc that I could share. But your’re right, the vast majority of my rentals go without a hitch. All of my subsequent Budget rentals have been drama free.

  • emanon256

    Before I traveled for work, one of my “other duties as assigned” was managing our fleet of vehicles for employee travel. It was actually sort of fun, I had my staff run licenses for everyone who wanted to drive, and re-run each year, then I just had people log mileage out and mileage in. Never once had an issue with anyone damaging a vehicle. We didn’t really inspect them either, I trusted my co-workers.

    I forgot, I did work in Wisconsin for a year where I leased a car for 1 year, because it was cheaper than weekly rentals for a year. I went through a corporate leasing company, i can’t remember the name. It was quite as easy and pleasant experience.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I don’t think the issue is who ultimately prevails, but whether the initial claim is fraudulent, i.e. made in bad faith. And yes, If in defending a legitimate claim, the customer acted in bad faith, or was otherwise fraudulent, I was have no problems with the customer being hit with a penalty such as paying reasonable attorneys fees.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Yes, I would. Lying is lying, no matter who does it.

  • Cybrsk8r

    True, but as it is now, a crooked rental agency doesn’t really have much to lose by making bogus claims. Perhaps, by introducing some risk into the equation, it might reign in any bad apples out there.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I would support a rule that penalizes any corporate collections efforts that are not in good faith, which would absolutely include car rental companies.

  • Annie M

    I now take pictures of the rental car when I pick up and drop off and also photograph the odometer at drop off. I have read of too many of these type of stories.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    When it comes to a collection agency, I can only share my experience several years ago with a bill from a hospital under $50 which was not mine. I attempted to clear up the matter but was ignored and it went to collection. After explaining the situation again, I ignored it. Four years later I was required to formally explain the situation when refinancing a house. I don’t have the grit to argue forever over a small amount like this … but these people are not to be ignored!

  • LonnieC

    Are there really 10 people who think Budget should be paid for this one? It showed an odometer reading somewhere in the middle of the period the OP had the car. How could that have possibly been correct?

  • Sam Varshavchik

    Here’s what went wrong in your case.

    You do not explain anything to a collection agency. You formally dispute the debt. Your response to the collection agency must state unequivocally that, as per the FCRA, you are disputing the debt. If you feel like, /then/ you can explain whatever you wish to explain, but if all your response consists of is some free-form explanation, it’s meaningless, as far as a debt dispute is concerned, and is going to be ignored.

    And, your formal dispute must be sent by certified mail, in order to leave no doubt that a formal dispute has been received by the collection agency. Once that happens, they cannot legally put the debt on your credit report, unless certain very strict conditions are met.

  • Sam Varshavchik

    I simply write off the occasional cost of certified mail, to a scammy
    collection agency, simply as a cost of living. At least you get to pay
    it maybe, at most, once per decade.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    Wow, a set of rules no consumer could possibly know. Kind of fits in with today’s concept of customer service, doesn’t it?

  • Sam Varshavchik

    Well, customer service is neither here nor there. Customer service’s main goal is to get you off the phone, as soon as possible. And they’ll say anything to get you off the phone. So that’s that.

    But, yes, they certainly do not teach you this stuff in grade school. Or high school. Or college, for that matter. Nobody taught me this either. But in this day, and age, all this information is freely available on the intertubes. If someone gets a demand letter from a collection agency, all they have to do is search the intertubes, and they’ll find plenty of info to help them out.

    And before the days of the intertubes, collection agencies were less scammier than they are now. Their demand letters were more or less complying with the law. So, when I got one, I did pay careful attention, and read it entirely. Top to bottom. Front side, and back side. Including the fine print that stated that, in accordance to the law, I have 30 days to dispute the validity of the debt, otherwise it’s considered to be valid. So, that’s what I did. And although nobody told me I had to use certified mail, it was … kinda obvious, I’d think.

    And the fact that collection agencies today are, as a rule, much scammier than before, it’s made up for the fact that there’s a wealth of information available, on dealing with them, including the actual law, readily accessible to everyone.

    Additionally, consumer advocates have been around long before the Internet. A naturally curious individual, who reads the papers, would be certain to stumble across a consumer-type column, occasionally. And, occasionally, this subject matter would come up; and that would be another way someone would learn this stuff on their own.

    So, the bottom line is that collection agencies are mostly designed to go after those who are ignorant, and — as crass as it sounds — who are stupid. So, all you have to do is show even a modicum of awareness of your consumer rights, even if your understanding of the FCRA is way off base, they’ll just leave you alone, and focus their attention on someone else who’s more likely to ignore them and put up a fight. That’s true now, and that’s been true before.

    Or, to put it another way. You’re being chased by wolves. Your goal is not to outrun the wolves, but to outrun the slowest person in the immediate vicinity.

  • Sam Varshavchik

    Very easy explanation: it was a different car.

  • LonnieC

    Exactly. So who are the 10 people who voted for Budget to be paid by the OP? The survey showed 10 people who voted that way. Why???

  • Sam Varshavchik

    Welcome to the Internet.

    You can, pretty much, find any kind of an opinion out here. It doesn’t have to make sense.

    If you were to run a poll “would you like to see a naked picture of Donald Trump”, someone would surely vote “yes”.

  • LonnieC


  • Thoroughlyamused

    That’s interesting for you to say. In this story (http://elliott(dot)org/case-dismissed-2/the-rate-error-story-that-got-away-in-a-big-way/), we have a customer who outright lied to Chris and Budget so he could save $100 on his rental. And lo and behold, the 1st post is from you, saying you’re unable to vote on the poll question (Should Brandon Chase pay Budget back?), because you claim that Budget would keep the money on a non-refundable reservation.

    So, you claim that whenever companies send a damage claim in bad faith they should be subject to penalties, then claim to support the idea that whenever a customer acts in bad faith they should be penalized. Yet when you are presented with a concrete example with a customer acting in bad faith, you claim you are unable to vote. Double standard much?