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Imagine this: You open up your mail one day and find a huge bill for minor damage to a car you rented weeks or even months ago. But you don’t recall anything ever happening to that car, and nothing unusual was discovered when you returned it. Nevertheless, you’re being presented with a bill for the supposed repairs, as well as administrative fees and “loss of use” charges.
Believe it or not, this happens. It’s a problem that recently appeared in a story in the Orlando Sentinel, and if you rent cars, it could eventually happen to you. So here’s how to protect yourself against bogus claims…
- Take pictures before and after. It’s always been smart to walk around a rental car and inspect it for damage, but it makes even more sense to quickly snap off a dozen shots with your digital camera or smartphone. When you return the car, do the same, preferably with a camera that stamps the time on the image. This might have been a waste of money in the days when we paid for expensive rolls of film, but not anymore. In fact, I suspect that being seen taking the pictures lets any unscrupulous staff know that they’re better off trying to pin a phony damage claim on the next guy.
- Don’t hesitate to ask for a different car. Sometimes I’m assigned a car that’s all beat up and appears to be a damage claim waiting to happen. In these instances, I simply ask for a different vehicle. So long as you haven’t received the last car on the lot, it shouldn’t be a problem.
- Be sure to document everything. On my last rental, the agent accompanying me on the walk-around politely informed me that his company is only concerned with damage more than 5 inches long. That was good news, but unless that policy is written in their contract, they can still bill me for any damage, no matter how small. To protect myself, I made sure to mark their form to indicate anything that could possibly be construed as damage, regardless of its size. Sometimes, I even make handwritten notes to describe multiple nicks, scratches, or dents. Don’t forget to note chips in the windshield, stains on the upholstery, or other damage to the interior.
- Save everything. When I return from a trip, I download the pictures from my camera to the hard drive on my computer. I also staple a copy of my return receipt to my rental form and file it away for at least three months. If I ever get that letter in the mail claiming damage, I’ll have an immediate response.
- Fight back. I’ve read countless stories of questionable rental car damage claims, but they usually have a happy ending. Why? Because the customer chose to fight the claim by providing documentation. In many cases, customers had to appeal to executives at the corporate level, as these specious claims seem to originate from local franchises that refuse to back down.
Travelers occasionally report receiving damage claims long after returning rental cars in pristine condition. Don’t let yourself become a victim of the phony claim game.