Paying Up Front for Rental Car Nicks and Scratches
The late-model Chevrolet that
But a few weeks later, Thanawala, a software designer from
Thrifty had done what by some accounts is becoming more common when a rental car is damaged: It had pocketed his deposit.
Even then, the standard operating procedure -- at least until now -- has been to ask renters whether they want to settle the damages. "It's something they would agree to, and the claim would be settled on the spot," explains
But what if there's no agreement? Consider what happened to
"We were hauled over to the processing office and our
The car rental industry's aggressive position on damages makes some sense: A badly scratched or dented car can't be rented and doesn't hold its value when a company tries to sell it. But many customers charge that damage claims are a profit source to car rental companies, which ding them for normal wear and tear and even when the evidence that they caused the damage is circumstantial at best.
I've been fielding a high number of queries from travelers about bogus damage claims. In the past, it's been relatively easy to fix these problems, because car rental companies waited until they received a damage estimate, repaired the car and calculated their loss of use before presenting a customer with a bill.
Unless a company could prove that a customer had harmed a car, travelers simply refused to pay. Charging the customer immediately takes away that leverage.
Although she said the damage to Thanawala's car had been properly documented, Thrifty agreed to refund his deposit.
Enterprise typically asks customers who don't buy its damage waiver but return a damaged rental vehicle whether they want to pay their insurance deductible. "We offer this as an option for customers who prefer to immediately take care of that portion of the claim," said
But if customers are unsure about their deductible or want to see an estimate or an invoice, the company's practice is to bill them later for damages. Enterprise dropped its claim against Schoeller and refunded the
You don't have to be a consumer advocate to know that car rental agencies shouldn't ask customers to pay for dings and dents without knowing how much the repair will cost. Or that customers should refuse to pay until they see an invoice from the body shop. But it might help to know that if you're ever stuck with a charge on your card that you didn't authorize, you can -- and should -- formally dispute the bill.
If you damage a car, you should pay for it. But all in good time.
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