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.
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Oops, you missed a scratch on the roof

Question: I hope you can help me with a dubious repair bill I received. I rented a car from Enterprise in Newark recently, and we did a cursory walk-around inspection with the agent in the rain.

The agent did not mark the “no damage” box on the contract, but I did not see any damage, either. When I returned the car three weeks later in Manhattan, the Enterprise employee did not tell us there was damage, but a supervisor told me there was a scratch on the roof. I couldn’t see it until I opened the car door and stood on the sill.

I told the supervisor I had never been asked to check the roof on a rental car, and that the Newark agent had not asked me to. The supervisor said she “agreed with me” regarding the agent error and would ask her regional manager to help us out. We were promised a call back within 48 hours. No one called.

We got a bill for $600, including three days of loss-of-use and eight hours of repair work for something that definitely does not need to be fixed, and that we did not cause. When I asked for documentation, the recovery agent sent me pictures of long, wide scratches on two different cars, not the car we returned. This is truly an attempt to rip off the customer! — Sandy Lamke, Mill Valley, Calif.

Answer: That must have been some scratch on the roof! When the Enterprise supervisor discovered the damage, you would have been asked to sign a form acknowledging the scratch and agreeing to pay for it. After that, the car rental company should have sent you a repair bill and documentation, including a photo of the car. Not any car.
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