If a rental car gets scratched and a driver never sees it, did it really get scratched?
March 26, 2010 6:12 PM   Subscribe

A car rental agency in Hawaii wants $400 for damage we have no proof we actually did.

My husband and I rented a car on Kauai for our honeymoon. When we picked it up, it was pitch black outside and we did not have time to really inspect the car - we drove it for the week without incident, and when we returned it, it was accepted without comment.

A few weeks later we received a notice that "scratches" were found on the car, and now a bill has arrived claiming that we owe around $400 for the alleged damage. We have received no images or proof of the damage, but at the same time, it's not like either of us took detailed photos of the car.

Since it's interstate, I'm not sure if filing in small claims court would get either party anywhere, and the charge is low enough that hiring a lawyer would probably outweigh the cost of just paying it. Even so, I feel like we're being unfairly taken advantage of and I want to do something to fire back.

What's going on here, and what can we do about it?
posted by medea42 to Travel & Transportation around Hawaii (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Did you pay the insurance on the car?
posted by mhoye at 6:15 PM on March 26, 2010

might be tricky, I suspect when you picked it up you signed something that said, in effect, you accepted the car in non damaged condition.

Perhaps demanding documentation stating time and date of discovery of damage. If it was any significant time after you turned it in, perhaps (IANAL) the reasonable claim could be made that the damage may have occurred between the time you turned it in and the time they discovered it.

In any case, if you did not get a LDW, it is possible your private insurance for your own car may cover this (assuming you have a car, and have insurance for it). Another possibility, if you used a credit card to reserve/pay for the rental some credit cards include insurance for rental cars.
posted by edgeways at 6:22 PM on March 26, 2010

Demand that the car rental agency submit proof that you're liable. For all you know subsequent renters did the damage. Don't let the agency get away with this shit.
posted by dfriedman at 6:27 PM on March 26, 2010

"It was accepted without comment," is all you need to reiterate.
posted by rhizome at 6:35 PM on March 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Look closely through your pictures anyway. Here's why:

This happened to me on Kauai as well. We noticed one of the trim pieces on the driver's side was missing when we turned in the SUV. However we weren't sure if it happened when we had the car or before we got it. It was only something you noticed if you looked at the other side, then looked back at the driver's side. I turned in the vehicle and did not say anything and figured if it was our fault they'd contact me.

Sure enough, got a letter a few weeks later saying that I was liable for the new trim.

So what I did was go through all the pictures we had taken and looked for pics with the car in it. I found several pictures from the day we picked up the car, within an hour or two of picking it up. I didn't have a direct shot of the door, but in one picture the door was open and the reflection of the door off the front side of the car showed there was no trim there at that time.

I wrote a letter, included the photo, and they actually let it go. I think fortunately my letter ended up in the hands of a reasonable person, so it worked. Good luck.
posted by thorny at 7:21 PM on March 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Happened to me with a windshield crack which I noticed when I rented it but forgot to note on the damage form. I got a bill a few weeks later. I phoned up and told them and surprisingly, they just took my word for it and dropped the bill. I also pointed out that it was accepted without comment at drop off.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 7:23 PM on March 26, 2010

Same experience. Write letters do not just call. I used the Consumerist for guidance.
posted by pianomover at 7:26 PM on March 26, 2010

good advice here. hand one: you didn't inspect on pickup. hand two (more importantly): they didn't inspect on return. damage could have been preexisting, or could have occurred in their lot after return.

deny, deny, deny. and seconding letters.
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:40 PM on March 26, 2010

I had a similar experience with Avis about a year ago. Rented a car in CA and returned it without comment from the guy who took the keys. I received a letter a few weeks later saying there was damage (which I know I didn't do). I wrote back stating that I as far as I was concerned it wasn't my responsibility -- if they didn't notice any damage upon return then it may have happened while it was in their possession. Eventually they wrote back saying I was off the hook.
posted by cow at 7:43 PM on March 26, 2010

Was this with a major rental agency? There are standard procedures that are followed when you rent cars to avoid this exact problem. Like the sign off sheets that are supposed to be looked over when you get and return the car. Those should be the only two instances where damage can be assessed and agreed upon or disputed. Doesn't sound like proper procedure was followed. So if this was with one of the big guys like Avis or Hertz you can just say hey, sorry guys, you didnt follow proper procedures so ...go f yourself.
Anyway, regardless, the burden of proof isnt yours, its theirs. If they didn't report the damage to you when you gave back the car and accepted it without comment like you said, then telling you about the damage after the fact is complete bullshit. Do you have any kind of receipt from them with the date and time you returned the car? I would be very surprised if state law didn't handle this somehow. To me, the idea that a car rental agency can hold you liable for damage without a reasonable process for discovery and dispute doesnt seem legally viable.
posted by postergeist at 2:15 AM on March 27, 2010

Happened to me to in Lahaina except my car had a flat tire (that I repaired) and weeks later I got an $800 bill for broken fender (er, never happened). Starting to wonder if it's a Hawaiian scam.

Just echoing what's been said: the car was accepted without comment, you're fine.

Take all the info and send it to their corporate HQ with a nasty letter that you will not be harassed.

They'll back off.
posted by dzaz at 3:07 AM on March 27, 2010

Nthing that if you make a pain of yourself they will back off. Happened to me with Enterprise in Indianapolis last year (first and only time I ever rent from them). In my case I signed off on an undamaged car, and on return they tried to assess me for a 1/4" light scratch on the back bumper -- you couldn't even see it except under very bright light. Yeah, the bumper. I doubt I caused it, but I just stood my ground and said "had I noticed this minor scratch in that area on receipt of the car, I would not have reported it, it was too small" -- and it was nearly invisible. Eventually, they got tired of arguing with me.

Fuck Enterprise. I highly recommend avoiding them at all cost.

I personally think this is a common scam rental agencies run, on the chance that some number of people will just pay it (and it's a way to scare people into playing for the LDW/CDW coverage most people do not need). They are all dishonest companies -- every last one of them. It's a shady business, made shadier by local franchise operators. If you make it not worth their while to pursue it, they'll drop it. Just do it all in writing -- never trust anything said on the phone.

And now I inspect the car for five full minutes when I rent (which is very frequently, from all the majors). I drive the lot attendant crazy by making him/her sign off on every tiny little thing I find -- a stain on the headliner, a scratch on a bumper, a roughed up wheel cover, everything. When I am done with their little diagram form it needs a page of amendments.

Sweet revenge.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:52 AM on March 27, 2010

I just take pictures of rentals with my phone.

Call the Better Business Bureau in that area to see if they have problem reports from that agency. Call the Hawai'i Attorney General's Office, same question. They do it because they mostly get away with it, and when you stand your ground, they move on to the easier targets.
posted by theora55 at 7:10 AM on March 27, 2010

I used to rent cars a lot. Always bring a small camera with you, and when the agent brings you the car, you walk with him, photograph the car extensively - not jut areas you spotted as damaged. What this provides is a record of the state of the car, so that weeks later they don't try to have you pay for damage that occurred after you returned the car. Make sure to include the agent in one of the shots - I also like to set up the date/time stamp on the photos. I then keep the photos in a special folder for a full year before throwing them out.
posted by VikingSword at 9:55 AM on March 27, 2010

Unless someone was with you to inspect the car and go over it to sign off "ok" then no, you're not liable. Some FL agency tried pulling that crap on me .I told them "it was dark, no one was with me, prove it, fuck you. "
posted by stormpooper at 1:29 PM on March 27, 2010

My auto policy [American Family in MN] covers my rental cars from the first dollar at no extra charge. Maybe yours does, too.

Last December, I rented a car at O'Hare, and when I brought it back the front bumper was cracked; this was the right front, so in my few days of driving it I had never had occasion to look at the RF corner. I told them it must have been there when I picked it [alone, at midnight], since nothing had happened while I had it.

A week later they sent me a "hey this car was damaged maybe you want to get your insurance company involved; refer to this incident number" letter. I passed that onto my agent, who called them several times. They had no idea what he was on about, and they haven't sent me another letter.
posted by chazlarson at 3:03 PM on March 27, 2010

Try very very hard not to get your auto insurance company in on this. In the long run, the increased rates will likely be much more than the $400. Write letters to the company, DO NOT write letters or call your auto insurance. I know a couple people who got massive upticks in their rates from rental car stuff.
posted by stoneweaver at 6:21 PM on March 27, 2010

The rate impact will vary by company and/or state. According to my agent, rental car incidents, even though covered from the first dollar, do not count against me.

Of course, I'm sure that there are limits to that. I don't imagine I could crash a rental car every other week without repercussions, but on an infrequent basis I am assured that for me and my policy, it is not an issue. Ask your agent the "what-if" questions before you need to know.
posted by chazlarson at 8:15 AM on April 7, 2010

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