Answer: National’s efforts to collect damages from customers who damage its cars is completely legal. Coming after you, however, is another question.
Here are a few things that concern me about your case: First, the timing. A lot of time had passed between the time of your rental and the repairs and subsequent damage claim. That’s highly unusual. Damages to a rental car should be identified at the time of your return, and the repairs should be made promptly – not months later.
Second, I’m troubled by what you say was National’s attitude. An ethical damage claim must include a credible appeals process. It sounds to me as if your complaints were simply dismissed.
National should have shown you time-stamped photos of the damage to the truck immediately after your rental, a repair estimate, and an invoice from the body shop. It sounds to me like there were some paperwork problems.
And not just on the car rental company’s part. As you say, you should have photographed the truck, both before and after the rental. Use the digital camera on your phone or shoot video, but whatever you do, get some evidence of pre-existing damage or of the fact that you returned the car in good condition.
Also, you shouldn’t have accepted the agent’s assurance that everything was fine and that an invoice would be sent to you. Next time that happens, ask for a manager and conduct a walkaround. Get the manager to sign the receipt and, if possible, to indicate in writing that the vehicle was returned in acceptable condition. That limits any future claims.
No one is trying to get out of paying a bill, here. It’s just that you want to make sure you’re paying your bill, not someone else’s. I asked National about your case, and a representative contacted you, and said proper procedures hadn’t been followed in your case.
They dropped their claim against you.