A long, strange car rental damage claim

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

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