Yes, you can still fight a bogus car rental damage bill – here’s how

Photo of Kotzin's alleged damage to her bumper.
Photo of Kotzin’s alleged damage to her bumper.

Don’t mess with Barbara Kotzin.

Someone should have warned Enterprise before she rented a Toyota Corolla from the car rental company earlier this year. Maybe it wouldn’t have sent her the repair bill, which Kotzin claims was bogus.

Then again, maybe it would have. Hard to know.

Here’s what I do know: Kotzin’s tale of fighting what she believed to be a fraudulent damage bill, is an inspiration to anyone who thinks car rental companies are enriching themselves from frivolous damage claims.

Enterprise, like other car rental companies, insists its damage recovery unit isn’t a profit center and that it only pursues cases where a customer is responsible for damage to a car. To be fair, I’ve covered some cases where that’s true — where the damage was a driver’s fault — but also many cases where it wasn’t true.

When she picked up her car, Kotzin says she did a walkaround with a representative to check for damage.

“There was a small ding on the back bumper, which we both saw,” she says. “It was noted on my original rental agreement. I also mentioned some pitting in the material on the passenger seat, but was told that this was wear, and nothing about which I needed to be concerned.”

When she returned the car, another representative gave the vehicle a closer inspection and then delivered some bad news: there was a “crack” in the front bumper, and she would be responsible for it.

“I asked to be shown the crack, which looked like a pencil line on the very bottom section of the bumper. I never saw this, and I doubt if the first representative saw it,” she says.

From there, the situation quickly spiraled out of control. Enterprise eventually sent her a series of photos that supposedly documented the damage she’d done to the vehicle. In one, someone pulled apart the front bumper to make the small crack look like a gaping hole.

“In another photo, they seemed to have superimposed damage from another car onto the left side of the bumper in question, and it looked like a huge gash in a horizontal direction across the bumper,” she says.

Kotzin couldn’t even be sure it was the same car she rented. She suspected that Enterprise was trying to pull a fast one, so she phoned a supervisor and confronted her about the damage. She says the manager quickly ended the call, but promised to get back to her. She never heard a thing.

At that point, Kotzin emailed me, and if I’d seen the photos and read her story, I would have asked Enterprise about this case. But alas, her email was one of 10,000 other messages that got stuck in an unchecked mailbox.

Undeterred, Kotzin consulted with an attorney and called a local TV station. She refused to pay the claim and eventually sent an email to the president of Enterprise. A day later, she says she received a reply, assuring her that a regional manager would contact her soon.

“I got a call the following week,” she says. “Amazingly, she said that they were willing to drop their claim.”

And that’s exactly what Enterprise did.

This story is important for many reasons. First and foremost, it’s about consumer empowerment. Kotzin helped herself fight and successfully fended off what she believed to be a frivolous damage claim.

It’s also a cautionary tale about the need for insurance. Kotzin had insurance, but refused, on principle, to give the information to Enterprise. If she didn’t have the insurance, then she’d have been on the hook to pay for a new bumper.

But the biggest takeaway by far is that, if some renters are to be believed, the so-called ding-and-dent scam is still being practiced. All the more reason to be extra vigilant when you rent your next car.

Take pictures of your car. Document any damage. And don’t be afraid to turn down a high-mileage vehicle.

Do you think the ding-and-dent scam is still being used by car rental companies?

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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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  • Rose Y

    It was Payless. I didn’t know BBB was useless at that time, was just hoping Payless would feel the pressure of being exposed. BBB was a waste of time, then Payless’ lawyer threatened to sue. My lawyer replied to that letter, and I never heard from Payless again.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    +1. A crack in the bumper is not normal wear and tear;. A scratch or scrape is one thing, but a bumper doesn’t crack during normal usage. This lady didn’t have a single legitimate argument, photos, nothing. All she did was throw a big enough temper tantrum so she got what she wanted.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    A CRACK in the bumper is not normal wear and tear. The photo in the story is of the OP’s rental, and that is not normal wear and tear. If you valet parked your personal car and your bumper came back looking like what it looks like in the picture, somehow I have a feeling you wouldn’t be quite as understanding as you apparently expect Enterprise to be.

    A crack like that in the bumper is not something a reasonable person would miss on a walkaround. Your view on the issue seems to be that unless there is major damage, rental companies should just take customers at their word 100% of the time. Unfortunately, and I speak from personal experience as I worked for a rental agency for a short time out of undergrad, customers frequently lie or are completely unaware about vehicle damage.

    I can also say with confidence that no corporately owned major rental company in the US (Hertz, Avis, Budget, Alamo, National) rewards their employees for finding vehicle damage.

  • LeeAnneClark

    The photo in the article shows someone’s hand PULLING on the bumper, separating one side from the other. That photo shows someone actually CAUSING damage! Maybe the crack was already there, maybe it wasn’t…but pulling on the bumper like that is damaging it.

    As for my view…yup. If rental car agencies want to charge someone for damage, they need to be able to prove that the person caused the damage. If they can’t, then too bad. It’s the cost of doing business. Charging innocent customers for damage they didn’t cause is fraudulent.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    No, it shows someone illustrating the damage. That kind of crack in the bumper is easy to see when walking around the car, but photgraphing it is more difficult. Also, remember that the damage to the car was promptly documented upon the return of the vehicle-it isn’t like they came after her weeks later.

    Also, your second statement illustrates a great lack of understanding/knowledge of how rental car companies actually work. When you decline CDW, you agree to be held responsible for all damage that happens to the rental car (excluding mileage and normal wear and tear, as defined by the rental company). Photographing all cars from all angles is a great idea; however, in many instances it is cost prohibitive and by no means is it a current industry standard. Hence, the reason that contracts exist. Pre-existing damage can be noted on the rental agreement, and rental companies can track all damage reports filed on a vehicle, as well as damage noted on past rental agreements. It would be extremely stupid of rental agencies to just take customers at their word when it came to damage. Sorry to deliver bad news, but when it comes to damage, rental car customers lie all the time. I should know. I saw it happen over and over again.

    While it is fraudulent for rental companies to charge customers for damage that didn’t happen while the car was in their care, it is just as fraudulent for renters to have damage occur and then refuse to own up to it claiming to be a victim. The pendulum swings both ways.

  • Justin

    Damage “appears” later on for careless or rushed travelers that sign off on the rental form without properly reading. Consider the scenario someone posted here where the agent handed the form and said “Sign”. Agent then “fills in the blank”. People are careless when in a hurry. At least, the photos can help prove one’s case when mistakes are made.

    P.S. How many people save the carbon copy for long? So unless a copy is kept, unscrupulous activities happen.

    99% of the time, one can go about their day, never referencing the photos again. It’s that rare 1% you’ll be glad the pictures exist.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Once again, that’s not the scenario I asked about.

    1. Rent an undamaged car
    2. Return car, undamaged
    3. Take photos at return showing undamaged car.

    Even if damage “appears” later, you have your photos showing that at the time of the return, there was no damage.

    I submit that pre-rental photos are wholly irrelevant in such a senario. As your photos upon return are the proof.

    The question was straightforward and devoid of any lawyer “gotchas”. I still have not heard one reason showing why a pre-rental photo of an undamaged car can every be of use to a renter.

    I want to be clear, I ask only to see if I should change my rental habits. Not to “win” or be “right” or any other such juvenile issue. Its a legit question. Given how long this post has been and the lack of a good response, I must conclude that the practice has no value if the rental car was undamaged at the time of the rental.

  • Justin

    Ok Carver.

    I’m going to CONCISELY answer your question.

    Why photograph an undamaged car at pick up?

    A. Travelers are often less weary at the time of pickup. Chances are greater that you’re rested and devoid from travel fatigued. Now is the opportune moment to do a thorough inspection whilst fully alert. – Take Photos.

    B. How many rental cars are completely free of defect? People run rentals hard. I’ve yet to come across any car completely absent of dings, dents, burn marks, some cosmetic blemish, or even a mechanical fault. Pristine cars do exist, but they are generally the exception, unless the vehicle is fresh off the lot.

    C. Upon return, you’ve had a long vacation. Maybe you did a pre check and didn’t notice anything. Great! Maybe you did and had it written down. None the less, it’s a cover your ass scenario. People are ready to get back home once their vacation ends and tend to rush. Easy to blow through a “Return Inspection” when travel fatigued.

    Ultimately, two or three weeks down the road, you’ve forgotten where the rental paperwork went. Pictures remain on the camera and are worth 1000 words. You know how the car looked before and after it was handed back.

    My rationale. Good or bad.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    At least I understand your rationale ( I think).

    Effectively, you’re changing the premise. The car that I believe is unblemished when I rent it, might not actually be unblemished and you miss something. That way, when that same something(s) are noticed upon the return or later, you can reference your pictures from the pre-rental inspection to prove that the damage pre-existed the rental.

    Would that be a correct summation?

  • Justin

    Correct.

    Happy Thanksgiving, too.

  • Christopher Jacob

    If this happens to you, your first call should be directly to the credit card company your rented the car with. You should open up a dispute right away. The credit card company does have the power to reverse the charge and it is in there best interest to side with you if you are a good customer. Unfortunately this is not consider a crime on the car companies side even though they are blatantly trying to steal from you because you have previously authorized them to charge your account. Might be a good Idea to cancel your card and get a new one, instead of checking your account a month later and having new charges from the same company.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I don’t think cancelling your card would be effective. With the authorization, I believe that they can still charge the account leaving you liable.