A long, strange car rental damage claim

Tyler Hartl/Shutterstock

After the tire on her rental car blows out, Mary Carol Rose gets a bill from Hertz. But should she pay it? The Travel Troubleshooter investigates.

Question: I recently rented a Ford Focus from Hertz in Seattle. I was driving down a very treacherous road which was being repaired when my front left tire blew out. The car lurched violently to the left up onto a small curb.

What ensued was a three-hour nightmare calling and waiting for a tow truck, at the end of which we were towed to the airport to get another car. I had purchased the optional liability insurance supplement because Hertz did such a “strong arm sell” at the counter, and even though my insurance company always told me that I was covered under my regular auto insurance. Hertz asked me to fill out an accident report.

I told a representative that I wanted a written statement saying that the company would not pursue a claim, because I had heard the horror stories. I was told that was unnecessary because I was not liable.

A month later I received a letter from Hertz. They want my insurance information in order to bill me “for the damages incurred once the loss and expenses have been calculated.” I spent two hours on the phone and on the Internet trying to get to somebody at Hertz. After many calls, the number I did receive from someone at Hertz said “all of our agents are busy, so we can’t take your call” and it stayed that way for two hours.

This is outrageous. For all I know, they could be “redoing the entire car” at my expense. Isn’t there a law against this kind of outright fraud? Please help if you can. — Mary Carol Rose, Baltimore

Answer: This is one of the longest, strangest car rental cases I’ve ever mediated. And it was about to get even stranger. After I contacted Hertz, the company didn’t send you the answer you wanted. Instead, it forwarded a $908 claim against you to a collection agency.

But let’s back up a minute.

Your tire blew out and you hit a curb. The policy you bought, called Liability Insurance Supplement (LIS), offers up to $1 million of increased protection should bodily injury and property damage claims be made against you by people injured in an accident. Hertz offers several flavors of insurance, and as I review all of them, it’s unclear if a blown tire would have been covered by your policy. It appears the coverage you wanted was Loss Damage Waiver (LDW).

You could have done a few things differently. First, make sure you have insurance that you know covers your rental. That way you can say “no” — or “yes” — to the agent at the counter without an argument. Take a picture of your rental before and after you return it, too.

If an agent says “you’re not responsible,” get your camera phone and get a video of the agent telling you that, particularly if the employee refuses to give you a written statement.

And finally, when you have a damage claim, do everything in writing. I list a few contacts on my site. Calling Hertz was not a productive use of your time.

It turns out the first agent you spoke with was correct, after all. The claim against you, and the resulting collections notice was a mistake. Hertz eventually sent you a letter saying it had dropped your claim.

Should Hertz have dropped Mary Carol Rose's case?

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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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  • polexia_rogue

    yes there is more then one form of rental car that they will try to sell you. this is why i always go to the counter and say “i want it ALL”. their eyes light up like christmas.

    it’s about an extra 25 dollars a day (as opposed to an an extra 1 4 or 5 dollars a day if you pic only one optional insurance.)

    the op bought the wrong one so they stuck her with a bill. I’m glad Chris could get them to back off.

    but liek i have posted in the past; one winter in wisconsin i rented from alamo. i said “i want it ALL” and 2 weeks later i ran over road kill. It was a frozen deer that destroyed the entire bottom of my rental car. i called alamo and said “I’m less then 15 minutes from my hotel; I’m going to try to make it to my hotel- can you get a mechanic out here?”

    they said
    “we will send a new car to your hotel first thing in the morning.” (it was 9 pm-ish) “call us again if you cannot make it to your hotel.”

    true to their word i got a brand new car at 7 am the next day.

    i KNOW this only happened because i took ALL the insurance.

  • sdir

    “If an agent says “you’re not responsible,” get your camera phone and get a video of the agent telling you that”.

    Careful there, Chris. Some states have laws preventing you from filming someone without their permission. While I agree with the idea, someone could land themselves in hot water. I believe Washington state requires permission from all parties in order to film a conversation.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I doubt if the desk agent’s word has any binding effect on the company so the video tape would be illegal. Of course, it may be great for social media effect

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    That’s generally not correct, although it’s state specific. The consent law that you are talking about generally only applies if there is a reasonable expectation of privacy or involves the telephone (wire). Taping someone in public is rarely illegal.

    Edited. That’s why banks don’t have public bathrooms. They don’t want to have an area that’s customer accessible where they can’t videotape.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I guess that depends on the individual and their risk tolerance. I rent about 40 days each year and have a $500 deductible on full coverage. Just to break even, I’d need an accident every 6 months.

    And even if you have their insurance, any accident over a certain amount or there is bodily injury, must be reported to the DMV. The numbers don’t work out, at least for me.

  • Helio

    If the agent wasn’t wanting to write a statement, I doubt he would allow a video recording.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Wow, Hertz. You suck. I expected such behavior from Budget…

  • Raven_Altosk

    I have had to threaten to call the cops on a scamming car rental clown. Guess how fast he backed away from “I can’t put that in writing.”

  • PsyGuy

    Lets call it what it is: a revenue stream for the auto rental industry. Why do we even call it a scam anymore? It’s become a standard business practice. If the current laws requiring transparent airline pricing applied to the auto rental industry, there would be a screen when completing your auto rental reservation asking if you would like to purchase an insurance waiver for loss & diminished value now, or wait for a “claim invoice” be sent to you after the rental.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    Speaking as both a former rental agent and later manager I would not let anyone videotape me. Period. They could videotape the car to their hearts content, but I refused to let myself be videotaped and then have it onn the internet for the world to see. I doubt that everyone here would be perfectly OK with strangers coming and videotaping them at their place of work. Just because one chose a career as a rental agent does NOT mean they forfeit any and all right to privacy. And yes, I have refused to rent to people who wouldn’t get a camera out of my, or my staff’s face. It’s a private business and they don’t HAVE to do business with you.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    “And even if you have their insurance, any accident over a certain amount…”

    I would imagine this is state specific. Anyone remember the derecho in the DC area a couple summers ago? I had 2 different trees fall on two of my rentals, totaling both cars. One had bought CDW and the other hadn’t. The guy that bought CDW didn’t get reported to the DMV by us and he didn’t file a police report so I doubt the state found out about it.

    The other guy THOUGHT he had CDW on the credit card but turns out they don’t cover damage due to acts of god, so his insurance company bought us a brand new car.

  • S363

    Wow, imagine if there were a video on the internet of Henry Hertz Agent saying “You’re covered – you won’t be charged anything.” How salacious! That three seconds would probably put YouPorn out of business!

    Mr./Ms. Former Rental Agent, what would you recommend people do to document what was said? If they won’t put it in writing and they won’t allow recording, what should the poor customer do? Just allow himself to be cheated? Given that you still take the company line, I think I might know your answer.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Question for you: in which category do you consider a Camry to be? (Mid, full-sized, etc).

  • emanon256

    I feel dirty saying that is I think rental car companies are always taking advantage of people and scamming people. But if the OP rented the car, only took out liability insurance yet had their own collision, drove on a road they self-described as treacherous, and got into an accident (be it a one car accident), why wouldn’t the OP and/or their own collision insurance be responsible? Why was the claim dropped?

  • Thoroughlyamused

    At my company we considered a Camry to be a full size. I think this is standard across the board but we all know the games the rental cos like to play with car classes. I mean my company actually considered a VW beetle a standard. I couldn’t with good faith hand someone the keys to a beetle when they had a standard reservation.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    The customer can:

    1. Insist on it in writing.
    2. Not do business with that rental agency.
    3. If the location allows, they can film it.

    Would YOU be OK with strangers shoving a camera in your face at your job? I realize you think rental agents are the scum of the earth, but contrary to what you would prefer they do not give up all privacy rights when they appear at work. Renting a car is a privilege, not a right.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    You should use it as a bargaining chip. “Welllll, I was thinking of getting insurance, and I definitely would need it if I drove that brand new loaded mustang convertible sitting over there…” ;)

  • Thoroughlyamused


    Why do business with a company who you automatically go into the transaction thinking they’re gonna rip you off?

  • EdB

    Because, as Hertz said in the story, the insurance she purchased covered the damage caused and there never should have been a claim against her.

  • emanon256

    What annoys me is Hertz calls a 2-door compact a “Standard” sized car. It’s right on their website. But seems deceptive, I would consider “Standard” to be a mid sized 4-door.

  • EdB

    Not disputing you but based on your previous post about recording in public areas, if you have consent from the agent, how would that be illegal?

  • $16635417

    Even Chris indicated the uncertainty of the LIS insurance, indicating she probably wanted the LDW.

    Chris also then says it was a mistake and Hertz dropped the claim. I wonder if he is inferring (or is it implying?) that because they dropped the claim it was a mistake?

    Hertz could still be in the right but electing to not pursue doesn’t necessarily mean they made a mistake. I wonder if there is documentation from Hertz admitting a mistake.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    Hertz liability insurance has nothing to Do with damage to their rental car. Only the LDW/CDW would cover that. The claim was dropped as a gesture of goodwill.

  • EdB

    I was keying off of Chris’ statement, “It turns out the first agent you spoke with was correct, after all. The claim against you, and the resulting collections notice was a mistake. ” That just sounded to me like the damage was covered by the insurance. I understand about the uncertainty of coverage though.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    Even if you don’t have consent from the agent it’s probably not illegal. That being said, it’s also not illegal for the rental agency to ask you to stop, and, if you refuse, to refuse to do business with you and ask you to leave the property.

  • EdB

    Not according to the statement Chris posted was the response from Hertz. “The claim against you, and the resulting collections notice was a mistake.” That doesn’t sound like it was dropped as a good will gesture to me. But maybe it was. We just don’t have the actual Hertz response to know for sure. Maybe Chris can fill in the blanks with it.

  • $16635417

    I’m curious who decided it was a mistake. That statement sounds like an interpretation based on the outcome. Did Hertz ever specifically say the LIS covered the damage?

    EDIT: After the sentences you quoted is a sentence that reads : “Hertz eventually sent you a letter saying it had dropped your claim.”

    I’m curious that since the letter came later…when and how did Hertz admit that LIS covered the claim? Based on the uncertainty on whether LIS covered the damage, I would like to know if LIS truly does indeed cover it, or was it resolved another way (goodwill? primary insurance carrier? credit card coverage?)

  • $16635417

    The Hertz response came later. According to Chris it just indicated they are dropping the claim. It did not specify why in the story.

  • EdB

    I would like to get a clarification on that too.

    But in regards to that sentence, it makes sense for them to say that if it was a mistake to have made the claim. This lets the OP know that no further action will be taken. Doesn’t really answer the question about if the insurance covered it or not. I would expect that statement in either case.

  • sunshipballoons

    Wonderful, so the rest of us get to pay for this. She didn’t buy the right insurance, the LDW. She wasn’t covered. Hertz did her a favor and the rest of us will pay for it.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I should have been more specific. The existence or non-existence of insurance has no effect on whether an accident must be reported to the DMV.

    Now whether it actually gets reported…


  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Sorry, I confused two issues in my post. What I meant to say in the above post was that the video tape would be irrelevant, not illegal,

  • EdB

    Okay. That makes a lot more sense. :)

  • $16635417

    I get what your’re saying as well. If Hertz indeed admitted a mistake, the paragraph could be written differently to indicate that. Something like:

    “Hertz eventually sent you a letter saying it turns out the first agent you spoke with was correct after all. The claim against you, and the resulting collections notice was a mistake. Hertz dropped your claim.”

    The fact it was not written this way, leads me to follow the sequence of events as written, which leaves some questions.

  • S363

    OK, I bring back a car. There is damage. I had full insurance. The agent says don’t worry, I’m covered, there will be no further charges. I ask if I can have that in writing. He says no. Now, how do I insist? Stand there until he puts in writing? Throw a tantrum? Call the police? (They’ll say it’s a civil matter and won’t respond.) Of course, a dishonest agent will not say on camera that all is well either. One could record covertly, I suppose.

    I’ve rented many cars and never had a problem. I DON’T “think rental agents are the scum of the earth”, and I’d ask you not to put such words in my mouth (or on my keyboard, actually). However I do believe (as would any reader of this blog) that there are a few agents, franchise locations, companies, that will rip people off when they can. This is sad but true, and makes it necessary for the consumer to protect himself. Similarly there are only a few people that would come into our houses and steal our property, but because of them we must have locks on our doors.

    If I were doing my job honestly, in a public place where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy, I would have no problem being video recorded, though “shoved in my face” might hurt.

    Renting a car may be a privilege, but when a car company has voluntarily entered into a rental contract with me, I have the right not to be fraudulently charged for anything.

    In answer to your second post, I certainly would not do business with a company that I thought was likely to rip me off. But one never knows for sure what will happen, and it makes sense to me to take reasonable precautions. I don’t think there’s any legal advice more basic than “get it in writing”.

  • MarkKelling

    Not sure where you rent or who you rent from that offers anything for single digit pricing, but the basic LDW coverage at all rental car companies I rent from are all more than the rental price of the car!

    I am renting one this weekend for $22.95 a day (Hertz “mid sized”) and the LDW insurance is $28.99 per day. Other insurance is also available, but each additional coverage is at least $10 per type. So if I told them “I want it all” I would be paying a minimum of $60 a day additional. Not such a good deal unless it can be expensed to whoever you work for.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    “If I were doing my job honestly…”

    You clearly know nothing about the business and therefore can not possible put yourself in the shoes of someone behind the counter. I took a Strong approach to filming because when I worked in the industry someone posted a video of me dealing with a damage claim. Someone else posted a link to my personal FB page in the YouTube comments and then I started getting hate messages. Much like many commenters on here, much of the general public thinks that damage claim=scam! without even considering the customer might be lying.

    I didn’t let people take video because idk where that video will end up. And rental car companies are private businesses. It was very rare but I can and did refuse rentals to people who wouldn’t get a camera out of my face. Filling out a 60 second online reservation form (which you usually don’t even prepay for) does NOT mean you can shove a camera in the staffs face, especially if they ask you not to.

  • $16635417

    I have premium car rental insurance on my AMEX. $25 for the whole rental period.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Boy are you a chump.

    You could get an American Express card and get the ENTIRE rental period covered (up to 30 days) for what you paid for a single day.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Or Alamo. Or Enterprise. “Enterprise. We’ll stick you up”

  • Cybrsk8r

    I pick #2.

  • Cybrsk8r

    What I love is when I get to the counter and they give me a hard sell on “upgrading” for a few bucks more. This almost ALWAYS means they don’t have the class car I reserved and they’re trying to get me to pay for a larger car. But if I say “no” then I get the bigger car for the same price.

  • TonyA_says

    I would buy AMEX (Premium Car Rental Protection), too, since they become the primary for theft and damage.
    Is that correct, Mike?

  • William_Leeper


    Here in Arkansas, the report to DFA (Department of Finance and Administration) is required if damage exceeds $1000, but the report is against the vehicle, not the driver. In Arkansas it is reported only so DFA has a record of damage to te vehicle. It is not put against someone’s driving record unless it is a collision that results in a citation.

  • S363

    I completely agree with you. The problem is that you don’t know what the company will do until you return the car after your rental. Sometimes even reputable national companies will have less than reputable franchisees, especially in other countries.

  • $16635417

    Yes. I think they only involve your personal car insurance if you are responsible for an accident and it will be on your driving record and affect your rate.

    One of my coworkers has it as well. He returned a car that had pre-existing damage (according to him anyway). The rental company tried to make him pay and he mentioned he had the AMEX premium coverage. The rental agent got a dejected look on her face. He called AMEX and they never received the claim. I suspect they don’t just automatically pay everything and the rental company decided not to pursue.

  • Alan Gore

    Supposedly the reason car renters have been recently stuck with all those bogus damage claims reported on this site is they didn’t buy the rental company’s insurance. This OP did, and got stuck anyway. Of course, until the Internet Spotlight was aimed their way. Congratulations, Chris.

  • Alan Gore

    Maybe, just maybe, your treatment of the customer had something to do with the hate mail?

  • Frequent traveler

    Your advice was Ok as far as it went, but you forgot one key part. Leading cause of tire failure is low pressure. All of my last 4 car rentals across many brands have all had very low, as in 22-25 psi tires. If she’d had the tow truck driver check the other tires on video, she could easily make the case that Hertz was actually at fault.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    The customer is NOT always right. Sometimes, the only action that would make the customer happy would involve doing something that just isn’t feasible for business sake. In the particular situation I mentioned above I was dealing with damage which I KNOW happened while the renter had the car, because no past damage reports or rental agreements showed the damage and my agent spotted it when she (the customer) pulled into the return lane. Like most customers, she simply did not want to pay for it and after going through every typical reason why she shouldn’t have to (“I rent cars all the time (ie 3 economy rentals a year”), she started to become abusive. At that point I told her to leave, which I had every right to do as it is a PRIVATE business on PRIVATE property.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    Liability coverage purchased through the rental co. is NOT the damage waiver, and thus, one should not expect liability coverage to cover damages done to the rental car. The damage waiver is an agreement between the company and the renter to not hold the renter responsible for damages to the rental vehicle, it is NOT insurance. There are exclusionary terms but I think I saw those exercised like 2 times, ever.

  • Sometime_flier

    Why would this type of event even need to be reported to DMV?