Did she wait too long to file a damage claim?

fast carQuestion: I recently rented a car from Budget in Ontario, Calif. When I returned the vehicle, a representative claimed that I scraped the bottom of the front bumper on the passenger side of the car.

I did not cause this damage and told him I wanted to dispute the claim. He gave me a form to complete and told me not to do anything — including notifying my insurance company — until I heard back from Budget.

I received a letter from Budget in February, stating that I would be held responsible for the damage. I immediately notified my credit card insurance company, through which my rental was covered.

To make a long story short, my credit card company is denying the claim because it was filed on the 46th day after the incident, even though I filed the claim the same day that I was notified I was being held responsible.

When I called the Budget facility directly, the manager told me I needed to find out why the Budget claims adjustor, who is a contract employee, didn’t notify me until 6 1/2 weeks after the incident, saying that I should have been notified within 3 to 4 weeks.

My take on this is that the Budget claims adjustor took what should have been a viable claim and negated it by not following the timeline Budget has for notifying customers. I’ve filed an appeal with my credit card insurance, including a timeline of events. Any advice you could provide would be gratefully accepted. — Susan Young, Lopez Island, Wash.

Answer: I’m suspicious about a few items in this claim.

First, there’s the mysterious damage to the bottom of the front bumper. I’m not saying the bill was bogus, but I’ve handled many car rental damage claims where an employee discovered previously unseen damage to either the underside of the vehicle, or the roof.

Second, there’s the lag time between your return and your claim. A damage claim should be sent in within four weeks or less. What took Budget so long?

Add that to the directions you received on the damage claim, and I had little choice but to ask Budget to review your case. I’ll have the outcome in just a second.

But before I go there, I have a little advice for you. Always, always take a photo of your rental car before you rent it and afterwards. These will prove (or disprove) and damage claim. Car rental companies ought to be photographing their cars, anyway, and thankfully, some are.

Also, if you believe there might be a damage claim – even if it’s not your fault – you’ll want to notify your insurance company immediately when you return a car with reported damage. Your credit card requires you to report any claim within 45 days. The contract employee you spoke with was incorrect.

Budget dropped its claim against you.

Do you think Budget's claim was legit?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

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.

More Posts - Website - Twitter - Facebook - LinkedIn - Google Plus

  • Cybrsk8r

    This sounds REALLY scammy. Sounds to me like that agent who told her not to do anything was hoping she’d do just that and run out the clock on a claim. The last thing a crooked rental agency wants is for you to file an insurance claim. That she got the letter the day AFTER the deadline to file a claim is a smoking gun to me.

    Chris, while I think your advice to take photos of the car is good advice, it wouldn’t have helped here. I mean, who takes photos of the underside of the bumper? My guess is that agent got down on his knees (and yes, we’ve actually seen cases where the agent did exactly that) in order to find this “damage”. Are we now going to have to photograph the undercariage of the car, and maybe the engine compartment and trunk as well?

    I’m guessing this agency had some sort of bounty system for agents finding damage. This practice should be outlawed.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I don’t understand the advice to take picture before the rental. There are two scenarios:

    Scenario 1. The car is in good shape before the rental. So what use is that picture?
    Scenario 2. The car has damage. Fill out the damage form showing damage at the time of the rental.

    So I admit confusion as to the purpose of pictures before the rental,.

  • PsyGuy

    It’s impossible to truly document a car as damage free now. The rental companies just get more and more detailed with how they identify damage now. Sometimes the damage is little more then an inflection of shadow and light to show a dent, and scratches on the under carriage where what we would call normal wear and tear is now defined as damage.

  • Rebecca

    A quick google search finds some terrible reviews for this location, including 2 for similar damage claims. I’m guessing this is a franchise location with a scammy owner.


  • sirwired

    Damage to the underside of the bumper? *Bleepity bleep!* Everybody, and I mean everybody, occasionally encounters a too-tall parking lot barrier-thing that scrapes the bumper when you park. The “damage” was probably there already, but even if it wasn’t, this isn’t something normal people ever bother to fix on their own cars…

    This is like charging a cleaning fee because of squished bug guts that have to be scraped off, or bird poop on the trunk lid.

  • EdB

    Did you miss the part about taking pictures after the rental too?

    But before I go there, I have a little advice for you. Always, always take a photo of your rental car before you rent it and afterwards.

    This give a before and after view either any preexisting damage or if the damage was caused after the car was returned.

  • EdB

    The “don’t file until you hear from us” and the notification coming right after the deadline really stood out to me when reading the story.

  • EdB

    Really hard to answer the poll question on this one. Was Budget’s claim legit? Being that it was damage to a part of the car exposed to common road hazards under normal driving conditions, probably not, especially if it was nothing more than a scrap as mentioned in the letter.

    Regardless of whether the claim was legit, I would say because of the time it took for Budget to contact her, they exceeded the deadline for filing the claim against her. It doesn’t matter if the adjuster was a 3rd person contractor. They were acting as the agent of Budget and doesn’t excuse missing the deadline. If anything, I would think Budget would have a claim against the contractor for failure to perform their duty in a timely fashion.

  • Alan Gore

    Scams like this are common in heavily touristed areas. I once lived in Anaheim, CA, and this sort of thing went on all the time.

  • RetiredNavyphotog

    The new cars have such a low ground clearance in the front. It is very easy to scrape the underside of the front bumper. However, to even see such damage, you really need to get down on your hands and knees to check.
    Anyone could have caused this damage and it just wasn’t noticed.
    Or maybe, the rental car company leaves that damage and dings everyone who happens to rent that particular car.

  • MarkKelling

    The extra cleaning fee is no joke. I rented a Jeep in Lanai Hawaii to go to the secluded beaches and maybe off roading through the countryside on marked paths. I took out the full insurance from the rental company (by the way, it was Budget! They are not operating on that island anymore.) because I knew I would probably put a couple scratches or dings on the vehicle. When I brought it back, they wanted to charge an extra $50 because there was sand inside! This is Hawaii. I went to the beach. They didn’t expect there to be some sand? I argued loud enough that I was scaring off other potential victims, I mean customers, so they decided not to charge me.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    No, I did not miss it. I was specifically addressing the part about pictures beforehand. That seems unnecessary as either the car is blemish free thus beforehand pictures mean nothing, or its damaged in which case fill out a damage report.

    I don’t disagree about taking pictures upon return. That can establish the state of the car when you returned it to the rental agency. That part is understandable.

  • EdB

    The before pictures protect you from the, “that’s too small to document” type claims is all. Something we have seen one particular rental company say when the car leaves, but does not apply when it is returned.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I would think Budget would have a claim against the contractor for failure to perform their duty in a timely fashion
    Not at all. Budget could go against the OP for up to four years. The 45 day credit card charge limit referenced in the article does not affect Budget’s rights against the OP. As such, there is no breach of contract between Budget and the contract employee.

  • Pegtoo

    Taking thorough pics before the rental may document some minor dings and scratches not easily visible…especially on the hood and beneath the car. Given all the stories we’re reading about, I’ll take lots to defend myself!

  • Fishplate

    I always hand them the form after I’ve marked “numerous small scratches on lower part of car”. Never had ’em turn me away or give me another car – and so far, never had a claim later.

    No such thing as “too small to document”.

  • frostysnowman

    The minute I read the damage was supposedly on the bottom of the front bumper, I thought “scam”. Add to that being told by the Budget rep not to do anything until the OP heard back from them, and my opinion is this was a scammy money-grab.

  • James Orth

    Shouldn’t the pictures be taken with a film camera, since the rental agency could in fact argue that a digital photo had been electronically altered. I do not believe that photos are allowed as evidence in court anymore because of this. Maybe Chris has an answer.

  • Guest

    I’ve started taking pictures and then e-mailing them to myself for a time stamp.

  • MortarMagnet

    Good grief, why would you follow *any* advice from someone who claims you damaged their rental vehicle? I would have been on the phone to my insurance carrier and credit card company so fast, it would have made the attendant’s pointed little head spin.

  • James Orth

    My digital camera has a date stamp but couldn’t I still alter the photos later with photoshop?

  • http://upgrd.com/roadmoretraveled MeanMeosh

    “The before pictures protect you from the, “that’s too small to document” type claims is all.”

    That’s easy enough to deal with – just insist that the agent mark the damage on your form anyway. I’ve gotten dirty looks a couple of times, but if you insist, they’ll do it. If they still refuse, then yes, whip out the camera.

  • http://upgrd.com/roadmoretraveled MeanMeosh

    Yes, you could do that, but if a dispute ever gets to the point where the rental agency claims you doctored the photos (i.e. you’re probably ready to go to court at this point), it is possible for a tech guy to prove definitively when a photo, or more correctly the file containing the photo, was created. Most of the time, though, if it’s a bogus damage claim, whipping out the photos is enough to get the rental agency to back off.

  • naoma

    Never believe ANYONE. File immediately!!!!!!

  • jerryatric

    Never mind the pictures discussion. The point is we hear over & over about “unseen” damage especially from Budget.
    I know from personal experience how bad & thieving some employees/managers can be.
    Between crooked rental car company employees, costly add on airlines, bedbug ridden hotels, & poorly maintained cruise ships, travel can be H.
    Add to that your TSA & there you have it! Leisure travel used to be an easy going, pleasant experience. NO LONGER!

  • James Orth

    Just wondered. When I was a construction Supt. for a General Contractor the owner of the company always wanted us to have a film camera on the job site as well as a digital camera to document accidents etc. where photos might be needed in court

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Photos are absolutely allowed

  • AJPeabody

    I think that the very act of photographing the car before accepting it would deter any scam-prone rental location from putting you on the sucker list.

    I do like the idea of adding a notation of numerous underside blemishes.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    A tiny camera probably isn’t going to be able to document such tny scratches, especially if you are taking sufficiently large photos such that the car is identifiable.

  • jim6555

    Sometimes, I can’t understand the ways that car rental companies operate. I damaged a tire and wheel of an Enterprise car by driving over a curb that I did not see. THE INCIDENT HAPPENED NEARLY ONE YEAR AGO. When I returned the vehicle driving with the spare tire in place of the damaged wheel and tire, I admitted to Enterprise in writing that I was responsible for the damage. I immediately notified both my insurance carrier and American Express. The insurance company said would cover everything above my deductible. I paid for the rental using my Amex card and they would be responsible for reimbursing my deductible. The insurer sent letters to Enterprise every 30 days for the first six months asking them to submit a claim. I know this because they CC: me every time they send out correspondence related to the case.

    Here is a situation where all Enterprise needs to do is file a claim to get their money and they have not done so. Yet, they and other car rental firms keep going after customers for questionable, hard to prove damages.

  • EdB

    Do you actually believe film photos can’t be faked or doctored? Several years ago, I watched a demo of a machine that took several digital photos and created a fake one and then transferred it onto film at a high enough resolution that you couldn’t tell if it was created optically or digitally. And if someone in court wants to claim your digital photos have been doctored, the burden of proof is on them, not you.

  • EdB

    Thinking the same thing. I would have even done it right there in front of him on the spot!

  • James Orth

    Yeah EdB someone is going to spend that much money to not pay $500 to fix a dent were you just born stupid or did it take a life time to get that way

  • EdB

    Excuse you! Personal attacks are not allowed on this board. If that is how you want to continue, please go somewhere else.

    And all I was pointing out was flim photos can also be faked. Not that they were cost efficient in doing so.

  • James Orth

    The person attempting to subit photographic evedence needs to have someone testify that what is represented in the photograph is real. If you don’t have that be prepared to have your picture challenged

  • James Orth

    I just have a real hard time with irrelevant comments, just because something can be done doees not mean it will be done cost vs. rewards

  • EdB

    Your comment implied only film photos would be acceptable because of the ability to fake digital and I was only showing both can be faked. And the cost these days for fake optical pictures is not that expensive. The comment was not irrelevant. And just because you find a comment irrelevant does not excuse personal attacks.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Pictures upon return can also protect you from damage which occurs after the return. Say one of the lot attendants is taking the car to be washed. Cuts a corner too sharp and sideswipes a fence post. Is he going to own up to it, and probably have the repair cost docked from his pay, or claim the last renter did it?

  • Miami510

    This subject has been reviewed in one form or another a a number of times… and I’ll bet that Christopher has received more on the same subject which didn’t warrant a new discussion. I was wondering if there was some pattern, either company specific or geographic, that would help us avoid certain companies who make a practice of this fraud, who pay a bounty to employees, thereby encouraging them to trap customers, or certain areas that are known to pull this scam?

  • CarolinaLannes

    After reading this blog daily, when I last had a longer trip, with many diferent cities/rentals, I actually started getting on my knees to check the underside of cars. And getting on chairs/stairs to check the roof. And yes, I had one scratched underside that I made sure to have noted on the rental. The employee didn’t want to, said it wouldn’t matter to them. I made them write it down anyway. No surprises when we return the car and the employee (a diferent one) gets on his knees and “finds” a scratch there. This person starts saying we’ll have to pay for it when I get the rental contract out and show it was already noted there.

    And yes, I recorded the whole thing. And sent it to the proper autorities.

  • Asiansm Dan

    Damage at the bottom of front bumper is considered wear and tear. That’s what the front bumper is designed for. Unless you have an accident, why should the bottom of the front bumper need to be perfect. It seems a bogus claim. And all the unnecessary delay made the claim from Budget look more suspicious.

  • James Orth

    More acceptable as they are somewhat harder to fake

  • EdB

    You go right on ahead and keep believing that.

  • James Orth

    No Ed you 100% correct after all Do nothing to protect yourself by taking photos as any photo can easily be doctored and is of no use whatever to prove your case. When the car rental agency wants you to pay for damages just pay it as there is no way to prove you didn’t do it

  • EdB

    Boy, talk about your strawman argument. I never said anything like that. I only countered your claim about film pictures being more reliable since digital ones can be faked.

    Let’s take that original statement you made, ” I do not believe that photos are allowed as evidence in court anymore because of this.” YOU, not me, are the one, based on your own statement, that believes photographic evidence is of no value. You are the one who believes that because a photo can be faked they are not allowed as evidence so therefor, taking pictures of your car won’t protect you. I believe the exact opposite. That a good set of photos CAN protect you, even if the case goes to court because they CAN be admitted as evidence. In fact, I believe very strongly in photographic evidence. And so do the law enforcement agencies that take lots of, oh dear, DIGITAL pictures at crime scenes to be used as evidence.

  • James Orth

    They take a lot of digital phhoto’s and there are still many legal hoopps they have to jump through to get them admitted as evidence like having some testify that these are the true images that were shot

  • EdB

    So now you are going to take the side opposite what you originally stated, negating it and thus turning your whole argument irrelevant. I guess now you will go say to yourself what you called me when you said my statement was irrelevant.

    This thread has gotten to the end of its usefulness for me. I have some more important matters to tend to around here now, like cleaning out the cat box.

  • James Orth

    Your own words Ed ” I watched a demo of a machine that took several digital photos and created a fake one and then transfered it on to film at a high enough resolution that you couldn’t tell if it was created optically or digitally.” Therefore since both can be faked I think that burden of proof is on the person trying to use them as evidence.

  • EdB

    And? I only showed even film photos can be faked. That’s all. Nothing more.

    Again, you were the one claiming photos were not allowed as evidence. Now you are claiming they can if someone testifies they are real. But the person testifying could be lying. You are just talking in circles.

  • James Orth

    Sure cleaned that liter box really fast must be a new land speed record. Don’t sell yourself short Ed you showed even film can be faked., therefore if the film camera can lie anything can lie so what good are they as proof!

  • EdB

    I just replaced litter box with a photoshopped picture of a clean one.

  • BobChi

    I absolutely agree. It’s a corrupt industry. The rental car companies have developed a vicious cycle here of needing to fix every tiny little ding that normal human beings would ignore on their own cars because of their own reputation for charging and scamming over every little ding. I take public transit or taxis every time I possibly can.

  • James Orth

    Good for you Ed you don’t even care enough about your poor cat to give him/her a clean litter box.

  • EdB

    Give it up before you embarrass yourself even more.

  • James Orth

    You’re the embarrassment besides I have more important things to do. I have two retired racing greyhounds to take care I don’t have time to waste on someone who photoshops pictures of litter boxes for his make believe cat

  • EdB

    Do you under stand the concept of sarcasm? If not, you might want to look it up. It takes less than 5 minutes to clean a litter box.

  • Cybrsk8r

    I’m glad you were able to protect yourself.

  • James Orth

    Here is something for you to look up LEAVE ME ALONE! YOUR DIATRIBES HAVE GONE FAR BEYOUND BORING!

  • Bill___A

    Notification should be pretty much immediate. Cars are generally rented out every day. If they haven’t found the damage between the time you returned it and the time the next renter has it, they have no case as far as I am concerned. Fortunately, I have photographic evidence of before and after and fortunately, I’ve so far dealt with reputable companies and locations. I got screwed out of $200 a few decades ago. Learned my lesson.

  • EdB

    Hey, no one is forcing you to keep reading and responding. If you don’t like having your arguments disproved and embarrassing yourself, all you have to do is leave. The forum is opened to the public for anyone to post on. No one is forcing you to read. You have the ultimate control. See something you don’t like, ignore it and move on.

  • James Orth

    Iam ignoring you you have nothing worthwhile to add to the conversation

  • EdB

    Good for you. Now hopefully you will follow through with that.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I don’t disagree about return Picts. Also you generally cannot dock pay.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Lol. Not even slightly true.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Just for the record everything James said about photographs and admissibility was wrong.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Folks, please remember our comments policy. Thank you.

  • EdB

    Yeah. It was just so fun watching him talk himself into a corner. If pictures, because they can be faked, can’t be allowed in unless someone testifies of their authenticity, how can that person’s testimony be allowed in since they can lie? And all this came out of a simple example of how even film pictures can be faked. :)

  • Asiansm Dan

    Before Year 2000 I always rented a car but I change my strategy now, I reserve Hotel on the beach, near the crowded tourists with plenty of service area and take the Taxi or the Air Shuttle (100% reliable) and skip the rent-car now. 10 years ago rent a WEEK in Florida cost from 69$ to 109$, with taxes and fee never more than 150$/week. Today 150$ just enough to rent 2 days, if you are lucky 3 days. When I need to drive I will rent for 1 day. So no Parking Fee, No Ticket, no Highway Fee and now even some State scam out the tourists with no-attended Pay-Highway because your rent-car don’t have the chip to use the Pay-Highway.

  • James Orth

    Thank you Mr. Chief Justice of the Supreme court for your learned legal opinion

  • EdB

    Well James, unlike you, Carver has a reputation of knowing what he is talking about since he is a lawyer. Are you? Also he doesn’t lower himself to making personal attacks against people, like you do, when getting an opposing opinion.

  • James Orth

    “the party attempting to admit the photograph into evidence must be prepared to offer testimony that the photograph is an accurate representation of the scene. This usually means someone must testify that the photograph accurately portrays the scene as viewed by the witness.” This is from Steven Staggs 32 years in law enforcement and author of Crime Scene and Evidence Photographer’s Guide If this information is not true please cite some source you feels disproves it.

  • EdB

    Aww… And here I thought you were a person of your word. So much for you ignoring me.

    I wouldn’t dispute the general idea expressed in that statement. The thing is, that is true of *ALL* evidence. Not just photographs. That is why they keep chains of custody of all evidence. To show that it hasn’t been tampered with.

    Also note, it says, “be prepared”. It doesn’t says “required”. Again, anyone attempting to admit *ANY* evidence must “be prepared” to provide proof of authenticity.

  • James Orth

    Exact response which I expected from you Ed probably could have saved you the time and wrote it myself. If what my source Mr. Staggs said is wrong or even simply outdated just send me a source I can go to that disproves it. You were the 1st one to say you were going to end this not me!

  • EdB

    I never said I was going to end it. I said, “This thread has gotten to the end of its usefulness for me. I have some more important matters to tend to around here now.” Well, I finished that other stuff but I didn’t say I wouldn’t comment again. However, you are the one who lied when you said you were going to ignore me, but didn’t.

    And for your last message, you are just further disproving your original statement about photos not being allowed by quoting how they are.

  • James Orth

    Still waiting for something more than your opinion. Attorneys will fight to keep out every scrap of evidence they can. Is this right I don’t think it is if your aim is to get at the truth but it does happen

  • EdB

    huh? what are you talking about? the only opinion I gave was agreeing with your quote about pictures, any evidence, may need support for its authenticity. A statement, made by you, in conflict of your original statement of pictures not being allowed because they can be faked. I could have posted that quote in response to your original statement to disprove it. So I’m confused. were you wrong in your original statement or that the quote you posted is wrong? You can’t have it both ways.

  • jikinn

    I know that car rental agents get commissions when they “upsell” extras, like damage waivers, but every time I have rented from Enterprise in Fort Lee, NJ, the agents have gone out of their way to be helpful, and they have never pressured us to add waivers or other things that make the rental cost more. They also reminded us that because my partner and I are domestic partners in NYC, we don’t have to pay extra for the second driver. Just thought I’d add a positive comment about these particular agents.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    Thank goodness you’re there for her, Chris!

  • pauletteb

    Please leave US alone!

  • EdB

    Awww… He was so much fun talking him in circles to the point he proved his original statement was wrong. :)