I didn’t damage my rental, so why am I getting a bill?

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Carol Amitin returns her Enterprise rental without a scratch. So why does the company want her to pay for damages to the vehicle?

Question: I’m being charged for damage to a rental car that I did not cause. I recently had my car repaired at my dealership, which paid for a rental car from Enterprise.

I drove the rental home, parked it on my one-way street so that the passenger side was next to the curb and checked to see that I was close enough to the curb. I did not use the car again until the next day, when I picked up my repaired vehicle.

I arrived at the dealership at about 2:30 p.m. and was told by an employee that the rental car was “fine.” The rental remained at the dealership until early the next morning, when Enterprise picked up the car and called me to say that it was damaged. At no time while I had it was there an accident or the possibility of damage to the rental car.

The car dealership had the car for about 18 hours after I returned it. I’d like to have the charges dismissed. Can you help? — Carol Amitin, Baltimore

Answer: You shouldn’t be charged for car damage that you didn’t cause, or that didn’t happen while you rented the car.

This is a fascinating case on several levels, including the timing, the circumstances and the resolution.

First, you returned the car to your dealership and were told that the car was “fine.” When someone tells you that the car is good to go, you might want to get that in writing or take a picture of the “fine” vehicle with your phone. During a claim process, the word of a third party is of limited value.

Second, there were 18 hours between the time you returned the car and the time Enterprise took control of it, so it’s possible that you returned the vehicle in working order and it was damaged on the lot. Your responsibility for the car ended when you dropped it off — not when the car rental company took custody of the vehicle.

The final oddity was the circumstance of the claim. Enterprise, which has one of the most effective damage claim units in the car rental industry, limited its contact with you to phone calls, by your account. I asked for a paper trail of correspondence between you and the car rental company, and the only thing you could show me was an email you sent to it, disputing the claim. No photo, no repair bill — nothing. I find that a little suspicious.

Eventually, Enterprise sent you photos of alleged damage and charged your credit card $317.
If you ever find yourself on the wrong end of a questionable damage repair claim, you can appeal your case to one of the Enterprise executive contacts I list on my website.

The resolution of this was a little strange, too. You skipped the paper trail and the direct appeal to the executives, and went straight to a credit-card dispute. I don’t normally recommend card disputes, except as a last resort, but it worked for you. Your credit-card company sided with you and reversed the charges. Next time, don’t forget to take pictures of your rental.

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 our help forum.

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  • TravelingSalesman

    WOW, I recall a LOT of discussions last year on Elliott.org about TAKING PHOTOS of your rental car before and after the rental.

    I just rented a couple of trucks to move an office, and one of them had some apparently insignificant damage (according to the woman inspecting it as I rented it) that damage became chargeable when I returned it UNTIL I showed the guy accepting the return the earlier photo of that damage, that actually included a picture of the agent who had inspected it before I left. It was pretty clear the damage was pre-existing and I would not be surprised if some other renter had already been charged for it.

    I found the damage instantly became a non-issue.

    TAKE PHOTOS! Take them when you get the car and when you return the car. Most phones now time and location stamp every photo. ABSOLUTELY worth the time and energy.

  • Alan Gore

    Mistake #1: Not taking photos.
    Mistake #2: Renting from Enterprise.

  • Melissa Ballard Jones

    I think I’d reverse the order.

  • Joseph

    “Your credit-card company sided with you and reversed the charges.”
    Result: Enterprise has most likely black-balled you and you will never rent a car again.

  • Fishplate

    I’ve had a number of loaners from Enterprise, and never had a problem. Am I luck, or is it a problem only with some locations?

  • Rebecca

    To be fair, the dealership paid for the rental. I had the same thing happen before. A lot of warranties provide a free rental. You don’t get to pick the company. They just tell you what class of car you get, and usually they use Enterprise because they offer free pickup. Its the easiest way to do it if the dealership doesn’t have their own rental available.

  • NotThatBrooklynGuy

    And since the (sarcasm alert) highly competiive car rental business has many psuedo competitors, you will also be black balled from National and Alamo.

  • AJPeabody

    But will she get a bill from a collection agency 6 months from now?

  • pmcw

    I rent from Enterprise frequently, and have found their service to be very good. I always take pictures at pick up, but not at drop off (I may start doing that). I had one incident with Enterprise. A car I had rented began overheating. I called their 24 hour number, and was told to let it cool and then drive it the short distance to where we were staying. I kept the agent on the phone during the drive. The agent then had the car picked up the next day, and a new one dropped off. Before they picked it up, I looked to discover a hole in the bottom of the radiator. Interestingly, the hole in the plastic below that didn’t show a scuff like you would expect if I hit something while moving. Fortunately, I took pictures.
    Several months passed and I received a letter from Enterprise claiming damage, and asking me to contact my insurance company. I called Enterprise instead. I explained how much time passed since the incident, and that I had pictures to prove it didn’t happen while the car was moving forward or backward (a straight in puncture). I was transferred once to a manager, and after sharing the same information, he immediately waived the claim. He was also at least somewhat apologetic.
    I think the bottom line is to always take pictures at pick up, and have the agent note even minor damage they will often say is smaller than what would result in a claim. A lesson learned here is it might be a good idea to also photograph the car at turn in – most certainly if you don’t turn it in through Enterprise (or any other rental company).

  • 42NYC

    i’ve had nothing but good experiences with Enterprise. The ‘budget’ rental car companies concern me much more. No pun intended

  • John Baker

    “Your responsibility for the car ended when you dropped it off — not when the car rental company took custody of the vehicle.” Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. You’re responsible for any damage found when the rental car company assumes control of the vehicle not when you give up control of the vehicle (nice how they do that). So, any out of hours drop off etc means that you are still responsible until the location opens the next day.

    I hope for Amitin’s sake this case is dead and she won’t be getting a call from a collection agency soon.

  • cscasi

    Half right. I rent from Enterprise every now and again and have never had a problem.

  • Has anyone thought that the way this should be handled is to restrict “after drop off charges” to credit cards without proof. The credit card company acts as an intermediary, but it really is working as the agent of the card holder. To me, there should be some sort of “fraud restriction” which prevents post drop off charges to a card. (I am sure in their long trace coding is a tag that shows the provider name, location, etc. for the supplemental charge OR they can be flagged as a class, requiring written approval for additional charges to a card.)

    I keep thinking if regulation doesn’t work, maybe industry pressure from consumers on C/C companies might be the next choke-point to work — maybe with some well-placed complaints to the CFPB?!?!

  • Byron Cooper

    I would be concerned that Enterprise would put the OP on the “do not rent list”. A call to Enterprise Customer Service would probably have resolved this. Since the OP had a relationship with the dealership, the dealer could have helped the customer if they had been asked. Even if all these efforts failed, the auto insurance would probably cover this, although the amount may have been below the deductible. Finally the OP may have used a credit card that covers car rental damage. Any of these options would have avoided the “do not rent” outcome.

  • JimLoomis

    Enterprise, Enterprise, Enterprise . . . hasn’t anyone else noticed that in the vast majority of these suspicious rental car damage claims, it’s Enterprise? The slew of horror stories I’ve seen here have convinced me to avoid that company like the plague.