Gephardt: Protect Yourself From Surprise Rental Car Repair Bills For Damage You Didn’t Cause
KAYSVILLE, Utah – Imagine being told you must pay for rental car damage that you did not cause.
You do the quick inspection with the car rental attendant, no damage is seen, everything seems fine, you hand off the keys and then months later you’re surprised when the rental car company sends you a hefty repair bill.
It happened to a Kaysville couple – twice.
With most Americans choosing not to fly, road trips in rental cars are all the rage. But it could cost you more than what it shows on the rental agreement, especially if you are expected to pay for damage that you did not cause.
That is what Philip and Carolyn Ware say happened to them.
Surprised twice with repair bills
“It was just a charge that we didn’t incur,” said Carolyn. “There was nothing wrong with the car.”
The Wares are frequent car renters, getting a rental every time they want to take a road trip. They told us they have been brand loyal for years.
“I really love Avis,” Philip said. “I’ve loved Avis for a lot of years – lots of years.”
But in 2020, two separate events soured the Wares’ opinion of their favorite rental car company.
The first happened in April when Philip said they rented a car, and about four months later they received notice that the windshield had been damaged.
Philip told us he is certain that he was not the driver responsible for the cracked windshield. Even the Avis employee did not notice any damage when he handed back the keys.
So he protested the damage charges with Avis, but it didn’t do any good. Ultimately, the Wares paid that claim.
The second event came just one month later when Philip and Carolyn rented another care from the Avis counter at Salt Lake City International Airport – this time for a trip to Yellowstone National Park.
When they returned the car, Philip said it was again damage-free when Avis checked the car back in. But guess who contacted them in December – three months later – with the exact same story as their April rental?
Yes, it was Avis.
The Wares were being blamed for another unseen crack in that car’s windshield.
“This is not legitimate,” Philip said of this latest repair bill.
Again, he and Carolyn protested. And again, Avis would not budge – charging their credit card nearly $1,000 to replace the glass.
“Who is going to win?” we asked Philip.
“Well, who do you think?” he responded. “I have no evidence and they have – I signed a contract that said that if there’s damage to the windshield, I have to replace it. And it is just my word against theirs.”
Wondering how he can be on the hook for damage months later that he is sure he did not cause, Philip decided it was time to call the KSL Investigators.
Card charged for repairs. What now?
“I’ve heard it where they come back months later, but it is really uncommon,” said Jonathan Weinberg, CEO of AutoSlash, a car rental price search engine that studies the industry.
Weinberg told us those rental contracts we sign tend to heavily favor the rental company, but that doesn’t mean companies can just charge you for damage they claim you caused.
“I think anything where they are coming back to you more than let’s say a couple weeks later with any sort of damage complaint is completely spurious,” said Weinberg.
We told him about the situation with the Wares, twice billed just months apart for damage that wasn’t apparently noticed when they returned their rental. He said the couple should absolutely keep fighting Avis on the damage claim.
“I would ask them (car rental companies) to show fleet utilization logs and that sort of thing to prove that the car was damaged when it was in your possession,” Weinberg advised. “Because at that point, how are they going to prove that you were the one who did the damage?”
Repair bill reversed
So what does Avis have to say about all of this?
Nothing on camera, but in a statement they told us, “After further reviewing and despite uncertainty around the cause of damage, we’ve decided to err in the customer’s favor.”
Not only did Avis refund the charges for replacing the windshield the Wares’ second rental car, they also gave them a voucher for a future car rental to thank them for their loyalty, according to the company’s statement.
Proving your case
Proving you didn’t cause damage is tough, but experts say save the check-in form the attendant gives you when you return the car. Also, before you accept the car when you rent it, walk around with your cell phone and notes and pictures of any scratches, dings and dents.
When you return the car, walk around the car again with the agent and take more pictures before handing off the keys.
So if they say, “How did that gash get there?” you can say, “It wasn’t there when I returned it.”
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