Do I have to pay for that ding on my rental car?

Question: We recently rented a car through Avis in Frankfurt, Germany, via AutoEurope. We declined the insurance, since our credit card covers us.

When we picked up the car, we were asked to check for any damage, but the car hadn’t been cleaned, so it was difficult to do a thorough inspection. We looked over the car and didn’t notice anything.

When we returned the car, the lady at the rental location went around the car a few times looking very closely and she finally pointed out a tiny chip on the edge of the driver’s door. We had to look extremely closely to see it, and we actually thought she was joking at first.

When we realized she was serious, we took a few photos but knew that it must have been there before. The tiny chip had to have happened when the door was open, and we had never touched anything with the car. She said there wasn’t anything noted from the previous renter on the papers she had so she told us to go to the Avis counter upstairs to see if it was noted on the computer. When we checked, a representative told us everything was “OK.”

A week or so after we came home we received a letter from Avis, with an estimated cost for the car damage of 800 euros. This is very hard to accept, since we know for a fact we didn’t damage this car. Also, I believe the repair cost has been exponentially exaggerated for such a tiny chip or scratch; this is extortion.

We contacted AutoEurope but they said we have to deal with Avis. We have been given the runaround for months. Could you please contact Avis and ask them to drop the 800-euro charge? — Lidia Conte, Brooklyn, Mich.

Answer: If you aren’t responsible for that tiny ding in your car, then Avis shouldn’t charge you for it. Either way, 800 euros is way too much for a chip that can’t be seen under a layer of filth. I can certainly understand why you’d think this is a scam.

It’s hard to see this from a car rental company’s point of view, but let me give it a try. Assuming this isn’t a scam (which I hope it isn’t) and an Avis representative discovered legitimate damage to your car, and assuming it wasn’t noted on an earlier rental, then who should pay for it? The company? Your credit card? Or you?

Your credit card probably wouldn’t have covered the dent, since most cards only have secondary coverage, which only kicks in after a primary policy, such as the kind offered by car insurance, has been used. What’s more, not all card coverage can be used overseas.

So who pays? You do.

Still, I share your suspicions about what happened. Why charge 800 euros for minor damage? Why tell you everything is “OK” when it isn’t? Given the many other cases of ding-scams I’ve described in this column and on my blog, you have every right to be concerned.

This could have been avoided by saying “no” a few times when you picked up the car and returned it. No, first, to the dirty car. (You’re entitled to a clean one.) No when the guy at the gate waved you through without checking the car for damage. I always mark up my rental form and ask the rental employee to sign it — just in case I end up with Inspector Clouseau when I check back in.

Also, don’t accept an employee’s word that everything is “OK.” Get it in writing. Had an Avis employee signed off on your rental, this would have been an open-and-shut case.

I contacted Avis on your behalf. It contacted you, apologized for your experience, and dropped the charges.

(Photo: mo tiqua/Flickr Creative Commons)

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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  • Spencer381

     I work at a rental car location, and I just have a few words of wisdom. First, if they give you the car and it was dirty, you should have said you were not taking that vehicle, you want an exchange, OR at least get the vehicle washed. 2nd, we tell our customers to check for damage, if there is any damage let us no, if not, you are free to go. If they leave the lot without reporting any damage, you will be charged for ANY damage on that vehicle when you return. It’s not my fault you couldn’t take the few minutes to look at the vehicle completely. Now we are not that strict, like these guys sound, if there is a scratch or chip its no big deal. But dents and deep scratches, you are on the hook if you didn’t tell us about it before you left, AND if it wasn’t noted by car washers or previous renters. I do not feel sorry for people that come in and beg me not to charge them for damage. It only takes a couple minutes, and I am happy to write everything down that you find on the car, but everyone is in a big hurry these days. Also, one more thing, I do suggest taking the Loss Damage Waiver, because if you are in an accident, you don’t even have to notify your insurance company. Car is completely covered. Paying 20 bucks a day for coverage is much better than having your insurance rates jack up! Have a nice day everyone!

  • Edward Sealing

    The AVIS at Frankfurt, Germany Airport is running a similar scam on me right now. I’d be curious if they are using the same photos and how similar our situations are. They have recently sent me a letter with pictures of “damage” that look NOTHING like what they showed me. Feel free to contact me to discuss.

    I’ve posted pictures of the “damage” at: