The Travel Troubleshooter: I signed the damage form — now they want me to pay

Question: My wife and I rented a minivan from Enterprise. Before signing the contract, an Enterprise representative and I looked around the vehicle for damage. We noticed some damage on the bumper in the rear of the vehicle and noted it on the contract.

I took good care of the minivan and we never parked in an area where the cars were close. I took extra special care of the rental and even vacuumed it before returning it.

When we returned the minivan, a young Enterprise employee inspected the interior and exterior. He noticed a light scratch on the rear bumper and asked the assistant manager — the same person who inspected the car when we picked it up — to take a look as well before documenting what he saw.

The damage was so minor that the assistant manager had to kneel down to get a closer look. Even if I had noticed this minor scratch during our initial inspection, I probably would not have pointed it out.

I asked to speak with the assistant manager’s boss and he informed me that it was simply a formality and that the light scratch could potentially be buffed out. He also mentioned that he would call me if a claim were necessary. I never got that call.

They did, in fact, complete a damage report and like an idiot, I signed it. The report simply states the damaged part of the vehicle as a long scratch and that I was not aware of its source.

A few weeks later, I received a letter in the mail from Enterprise requesting that we contact our insurance company to inform them of our claim or to contact them so that they may communicate the estimate for the damages to the minivan.

I believe the damage that was observed when I returned the vehicle was already there before I rented it. But I signed the damage report. Will it be hard to prove my side of the story with this error on my part? — Leigh Barber, Chicago

Answer: It depends on what you signed. If the form said you accepted responsibility for the scratch, then you’re responsible for it. But the manager’s assurance that it could be “buffed out” and his promise to call you if a claim were necessary, left you with the impression that the form was nothing more than a formality.

I can’t blame you for feeling misled.

While most car rental companies wouldn’t trouble their customers with a claim unless it was serious, some see damages as a profit opportunity. If you don’t believe me, just pick up a trade magazine for the car rental industry. You’ll find ads for claims companies that all but guarantee you’ll make extra money by pursuing every claim, no matter how small.

Obviously, you shouldn’t have signed the form if you didn’t damage the car. But this also underscores the importance of a careful pre-rental inspection. Note every ding, scratch and dent, no matter how insignificant. Unless you’re the first person renting the car, you should be scribbling notes on the rental agreement, pinpointing every scratch and smudge. Don’t forget the roof.

In the end, Enterprise would have to prove that it replaced the bumper, which might have been difficult. Before you contact your insurance agency to make a claim, the car rental company would not only need to furnish you with evidence that it made the repairs, but also that the damages happened on your watch. I’d give anything to see the repair records for a small scratch.

If the car rental company had persisted, you should have copied the Illinois Department of Insurance, your insurance company and an agency like the Better Business Bureau, on your grievance. That would have sent a strong signal that you believe this claim to be frivolous and that you don’t intend to roll over a second time.

I contacted Enterprise on your behalf. It contacted you and agreed that the damage to the van was “found to be pre-existing” and dropped its claim.

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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  • Carver

    2 quick comments.

    The car company is not required to show that it actually made repairs in order to have a claim against the OP.  If the OP damaged the car then the OP’s liability is not affected by the car company’s subsequent actions

    I don’t see the point of cc’ing the Illinois department of insurance.  Its jurisdiction would be the regulation of insurance companies and their practices. This would be outside of its jurisdiction.

  • BrianPVD

    When they file a claim with the insurance company, it Then falls under the state insurance commissioner. If you make a claim and there’s no damage, that’s fraud.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JKYGE7MBEIT6DI67EBNYWOQSMY SirElmo60

    Why does it not surprise me that when the title talked about damage on a rental car, the company involved is Enterprise (or it’s subsidiary company National)?

  • Raven

    The amount of people being scammed by the rental car companies these days just seem to multiply…

  • Carver

    Then you should file a complaint with the local District Attorneys office with the consumer fraud division.  If Enterprise files a fraudulent claim then the parties are plaintiff-consumer and defendant-Enterprise.  No insurance company is a party to the transaction and thus the Department of Insurance has no jurisdiction.

  • Carver

    Does it?  Or is it that we enjoy travel blogs.  I have no idea if scams are on the rise or not.

  • cjr001

    “He noticed a light scratch on the rear bumper”

    As usual, these cases seem to depend on the whim of the location and the employees involved.

    My usual Enterprise location has stressed to me several times that they are looking for large or long scratches. Not to mention, they have also said that they’re not as concerned about the back bumper, because they realize the regular wear and tear that will be caused to that area by luggage. Not only that, but they tend to spend more time going over the car on check in compared to check out – if the damage isn’t obvious upon return, then there’s no problem. They’re not on hands and knees looking for a reason to start a claim.

    This one doesn’t say exactly where on the bumper the scratch was located, but it seems to morph from a ‘light’ scratch to a ‘long’ scratch. Either way, this one sounds like overkill, an attempt to wring money out of the customer, and I’m glad the customer was able to get it dropped. But it shouldn’t have taken Christopher’s assistance to make that happen.

  • Guest

    “…and like an idiot,”   Pretty much sums up renting from Enterprise.

  • Rogerclark7335

    I wonder how many times the insurance companies are charging for the same damage?  That would be profitable, never repaor the damage.

  • frank

    Enterprise definitely views these situations as a profit center. I had a somewhat similar situation with them in PVD and it took months to sort out, mainly because Enterprise kept lying and basically dared me to do anything about it. They are the least ethical car rental company out there (and that’s saying a lot), and I will not rent a car from them ever again.

  • JOE FARRELL

    ask to see proof of the claim.   Not your form – if you have a damage report with a scratch on the rear bumper and they file a claim for damage at the rear bumper in the same general area its gonna be pretty hard to prove you are responsible for it . . .

    Look folks – you are not required to sign anything once you sign for the car – where you just trying to be nice here?  why would you sign you did not read since you have no clue as to what you signed?   I get forms from doctors and others all the time asking me for my social security number and drivers license number . . .why do they need that information? 

    I went to a dermatologist for my son and they had a liability waiver form and an arbitration agreement in their packet – I did not sign it.  Why would I?  I handed it back and they took it – and guess what?  They saw my son.  nice try – but thats all it is – a nice try.

    Rule #1 – if you don’t know what you are signing – then don’t sign it.  Whats the worst that can happen in this situation?  You are bringing the car BACK?  Right? 

  • Jscheid

    What is it with Enterprise?  They own Alamo and National but neither of those companies do this to their customers, at least never to me.

    I just had a similar run-in with Enterprise posted on this blog in June- same thing.  What they found (or said they found) was the damages they accused me of doing were reported in a previous claim.  Those were scratches under the front bumper, sidewalk scrapes.  I wrote a letter to the NA Sr. VP of Operations, CEO. 
    Sr. VP- Matthew Darrah – CEO Andrew Taylor
    600 Corporate Park Dr.
    St Louis, MO 63105
    I also challenged the damage with the regional manager- you can file a dispute with customer service.  He was the one who told me the damage was done previously.  What I challenged him on was then why if it was claimed earlier was it not fixed.  He had no answer. 

  • Kfjan1251

    Enterprise tried to pull the same scam on my husband
    in Montana. It went in for over a year.
    He refused their claim stating it was after
    the fact. Which it was.

  • Mike

    There should be some sort of pentalties rental car company pays if it fails to prove that it’s that particular renter’s fault. So they will think twice before persuing a claim and only spend time and efforts for legitimate cases and bother only people they should.

    It seems like rental car company is always trying to do this since the worst case for them is just to drop it.  All they lost is just a few minutes of their time since they already have claim letter templates. They are hoping for one sucker who would pay without complaining.  The risk on car company side is too little compared to what they can earn which obviously motivates them keep doing this.

  • LarryB

    If any medical professional offered me such a form, I’d walk out of the office and never return.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    The SSN is to both track you down in case of debt and to report the claim to a medical claims clearinghouse.  SSN is not required to identify you as a policyholder with any insurance company anymore.

    Driver’s License is proof of identity – some sort of “Red Flag” requirement instituted last year that providers know that the person they are treating and billing is the person they claim to be.  One of the clinics I go to took a picture of me and put it in the file – now everyone at the clinic can check the file and look at me, and requirements are fulfilled. Other clinics I go to “require” a copy of the driver’s license.  I refuse to let the DL out of my hand, so no copy can be taken.  All the new Red Flag requirement states is that the patient provide proof of identity, not allow the clinic the means to steal it.

  • AKRaven

    I find it interesting that I have absolutely no problems with Enterprise when I’m renting on business but when I rent on my own through them it’s a different experience. 

  • Joe F

    I know why they ‘want'; the information, but not why they ‘need’ the information!  Want and need are two very separate things in every area of life . ..

  • Joe f

    I had a doctor who did that with a client. . . . In the deposition I put the doc up on a pedestal – trusted member of the community, looks out for his patients, Hippocratic oath, nice guy, always responsible for his patients, was their medical fiduciary.  Next question, and the docs lawyer saw it coming, was: “did you point out to your patient, the person you have agreed you need to look out for, that they were giving important legal rights when you presented them these ‘routine’ papers?  Jaw drops.  “well, I have no dealings with the paperwork.” 

    So, doc, that means you disavow them then, you never approved them and never agreed to them in your files?  It was just something the office manager did without your consent? 

    The objection to a court filing, the motion to refer to arbitration and the defense of waiver and release vanished shortly thereafter.  The loss of rights claims  / breach of fiduciary duty claim was looking to be worth more than the claim I was bringing . . . 

    Life teaches you, sooner or later – to not overreach.  If you over reach and try to get more than the facts allow – you end with the Casey Anthony jury verdict.  My old and wise Sicilian grandfather told me that. in any deal, there are always people better than you, leave something on the table for the next guy so there is grease for the wheel – meaning, don’t over reach for more than you can get. . . 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_LOCND3JAJL4PGYWJBHUT3HWAZM web/gadget guru

    Once again…nothing happens until Chris gets involved!
    I’ve been renting from Avis for over a decade now and will not rent from anyone else. I have *ALWAYS* been treated fairly by them even though I am not a frequent renter (once every other year or so) And this last time in Hawaii was no different. With all the stories I hear of other rental companies, I’m glad that Avis treats their customers right!

  • Joe Farrell

    there is – if you check their contract, it contains an attorneys fee clause.  Most states have reciprocal attorneys fees provisions for consumer contracts, where, if a consumer signs a contract of adhesion involving a consumer commodity or service, then they are protected by the attorneys fee provisions as well.  I have often mailed letters to companies which state:

    “Your claim in the amount of XXX has been received.  It is rejected [insert reason here].  Be advised that you contract contains an attorneys fees provision – pursuant to [insert law here] that provision runs to my clients as well and we shall enforce that agreement to the full extent of the law if you pursue your baseless claim and are not successful.”

    Some say its the letterhead [ and I disagree Carver] but mostly its common sense breaking out once the legal gets involved and sees the mostly unenforceable provisions of their claim for damages  .. . .

  • Mbods2002

    Yeah, I’ve always had a very good experience with Avis.  Oh and thanks Joe Farrell for all your legal advice.  I like that.  Have you considered teaming up with Chris?  We need all the help we can get!

  • Nigelh64

    Enterprise is the absolute worst when it comes to claims.  Dirty, smelly beat up cars and boy do they gouge you when they direct bill to the insurance company.  I would rather drive to the airport and get a newer car with more selection.

  • Joe F

    there are just more people – more people = more scams.  

  • Tampa_Jim

    A favorite trick of the car rental companies is to charge for loss of use while the car is in the shop being repaired. If they had charged the OP for this, then proof of actual repairs becomes an important issue.

  • Tampa_Jim

    Alamo Rent-A-Car  is also a subsidiary of Enterprise

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Phillip-Kotler/100002613227746 Phillip Kotler

    I claimed Travel Troubleshooter so that they provided me a

    remote starter car for my satisfaction………….

  • kanehi

    This is why I don’t rent from Enterprise.  I’ve read a lot of articles regarding frivilous claims on small dings and scratches.  Small scratches and dings does not make the vehicles unworthy to drive!