Is this car rental damage claim for real?

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Brendon Taketa is broadsided by a damage claim two months after he returns his rental. Is the bill legit?

Question: Last March, I rented a vehicle from Hertz in Los Angeles. When I picked up the car, I noticed that the car had seen better days and had some minor damage, like scratches and small dents.

As I left the Hertz facility, I asked the attendant to mark all damages on that little yellow slip they give you. She blew me off and said, “If it’s cosmetic, don’t worry about it!” She had this look on her face that told me she wasn’t in the mood to deal with it.

Anyway, upon returning the vehicle, an attendant came up, did a quick walk-around and printed my receipt. Off I went, not even thinking twice about it.

Well, today I got a call from Hertz informing me of “damages” to the vehicle I had rented. Apparently, there’s a chunk missing from the wheel. I know for a fact that this is bogus, since I looked over the vehicle before returning it.

Of course, I have no pictures or even my rental agreement or receipt to dispute this. Isn’t it a little too late for Hertz to accuse me of this now, after the fact? I mean, once I return the car and no longer have possession, doesn’t my responsibility of said vehicle end at that point?

How can Hertz prove that it was me who damaged the vehicle? How does the company know it wasn’t one of its employees who damaged it while moving it within the parking lot? — Brendon Taketa, Ewa Beach, Hawaii

Answer: Hertz sure took its time with your damage claim, didn’t it? Most car rental companies will notify you of damage to one of its vehicles immediately, when you return the rental, or at least within a week or two.

This easily could have been avoided if you’d learned to use your cellphone camera and the word “no.” By now, you know that “before” and “after” shots of your rental are mandatory, no matter what an employee says. If you don’t have photographic evidence that you didn’t rough up your rental, you’re guilty until proven innocent, unfortunately.

And a few polite “nos” along the way could have put the brakes on this claim. For example: “No” to the banged-up rental. Hertz should have given you the keys to a vehicle that wasn’t dinged and dented.

Also, “no” to the employee’s claim that “if it’s cosmetic, don’t worry about it.” No, you should worry about it. Fill out that checklist that’s part of your rental agreement. Get everything in writing.

Even if you’d taken all of those precautions, Hertz still might have filed a claim. If the photos and forms weren’t enough, you could have appealed in writing to one of the company’s executive contacts. I list them on my consumer-advocacy site.

In the end, even if this bill was legit, the company should have furnished you with a repair bill and photos that substantiated the claim. I contacted Hertz on your behalf to find out if it could send you that information. The company responded directly to you, and it apologized for the “inconvenience” you encountered.

“The agent should have looked over the vehicle with you when the vehicle was returned,” a representative told you in an email. “I can assure you I have forwarded your concerns to the appropriate management responsible for this location, who will personally address the matter with all staff involved to prevent this from happening in the future.”

Hertz dropped its claim against you.

Should Hertz 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 . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I concur.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Never ever. In fact, the Hertz LAX often offers me a ride to the airport.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    As a litigator I am familiar with court costs. That’s why they have small claims. In many places, no attorneys, a passing acknowledgement of the rules of evidence, and a cheap filing fee. $75 last time I checked.

  • Chester P. Chucklebutt

    That is the shortest period I am aware of as well, which is why I say “should be” when talking about my proposed notice requirement.

    Given that a consumer is given but a brief window to inspect a car for damage when picking the car up, or else forever barred from claiming otherwise, it seems fair that the rental agency should have an equivalent timeframe to do the same upon return, especially on light of the fact that they could easily put processes and procedures in place as part of their business to do so.

  • LonnieC

    Is there any way to find out the odometer reading on the date Hertz sent its notice of damage (two months later)? The odometer reading when the renter returned the car should appear on his receipt. Would be interesting to see how many additional miles we’re added during that time….

  • DaddyOfClaudine

    Chris, I returned a rental car in Florida in April 2014 that had been previously damaged. The rental damage claims department sent me a letter 87 days after I turned in the car asking me for details of the accident I had been in with their car. I responded by e-mail with the truth: that I had been in no accident, that I had not damaged the car in any way whatsoever, and that I had shot several minutes of high-definition video of the car’s existing damage before departing the rental facility when I picked up the car. Nine hours after I sent that e-mail, just after 8:00 AM the next day, I received an e-mail reply from a “clerk” stating that, based on the information I provided, she closed the claim. I think this fishing-for-a-defendant practice is highly unethical and shameful. My friend’s wife is a consumer protection attorney with the Federal Trafe Commission; I’ll be providing her with a copy of the letter.

  • Bill___A

    I’m not sure if this was the LAX airport location of Hertz or not. I rent from Hertz a lot, and although the treatment is usually excellent, the last time I rented from the LAX location left a bad taste in my mouth. The employees I saw there were not what I would like to deal with.

    That said, I have run into this “don’t worry about the minor stuff” before, and actually maybe this holds true because the renter was charged for a tire chunk (safety issue) rather than a scratch on the car. I was told that once they check it in with you and if they don’t catch it the, it is too late for them (not sure if I believe that).
    In any case, I take pictures before and after, and have them note the rental form before I leave.

    Everybody should be doing that, and everybody should realize that if you damage the tire, it is going to cost you.

  • Bill___A

    Good on you!

  • Bill___A

    My pictures show the return area of the car, other cars, etc…if I can, the agent checking it in. I take not only pictures of the car but wider range ones of the area, where it was taken, etc.

  • Bill___A

    Have you even tried to do this? I take pictures each and every time. Never, ever had a problem doing that. Not even once. I don’t understand your comment.

  • Bill___A

    My pictures are uploaded to a backup drive online. I expect that if it were pushed about the time/date being fake, the logs of the sync could be used. I am honest and also document, I haven’t encountered a problem. I always take time to take the pictures. When I turn the car in, I park behind other cars. They aren’t whisking them away. If they were, I would simply hold the keys until I got the pictures. Just pull in, take the keys out, give them the keys back when you’ve taken your pictures. If they give you grief, ignore them. And rent somewhere else next time.

  • Bryan Kilian

    plus loss of income while having to deal with it. For me, about $500 a day. If I spend one day wrangling with the claim, It has now cost me more than just paying it (most damage claims are mysteriously right around the $500 mark). As a litigator, you have all sorts of advantages in the legal arena. Most of us are just basically terrified of the whole process, and the rental companies know this.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    You’re right, Mark. I think they just blast out these letters asking for money and hope some people will just send them a check. It’s really a ludicrous situation. I put all my rentals on American Express and I think the rental companies are scared of them, because I never get any bogus damage claims after I return the car. On occation I have damaged a rental car and stepped up to pay for the damage when I returned it.

  • justmeeeee

    So, is Hertz doing anything about the bogus bill? or not?