When renting a car, no good deed goes unpunished

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Car rentals

Car rentals (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune / April 8, 2013)

After Chandra Bhandaru points out a few scratches on a Hertz rental, the car rental sends a bill -- and then another bill. Now the company wants to refer the matter to a collection agency. What happened?

Q: I tried to be a good citizen when I rented a car recently, but I guess it backfired. I have been a longtime gold customer with Hertz. On a recent trip to Hawaii, I rented a vehicle from Hertz. I had a little accident and had scratches on the rear. When I returned the car, the agent did not notice anything, but being a loyal customer, I volunteered information to the agent and filled out a claim form.

Four months later I got a letter from Hertz regarding damages, and paid those through the insurance coverage on my American Express card. But now I've received another letter from Hertz claims services, saying that I still owe $420 in damages.

American Express is willing to pay the amount and is requesting proof of payment to the body shop, but the claims person is not willing to provide it. I am at a loss here.

The claims company representative who I spoke to said my case is going to a collection agency. I'm not sure what needs to be done. I have contacted Hertz customer relations, but haven't heard anything yet. Can you help? -- Chandra Bhandaru, Atlanta

A: You did the right thing by admitting to the damage. Hertz should have reciprocated by being clear about the claims process and sending you all of the documents you needed to file a claim with your insurance provider.

And that process should have been fairly simple, starting with the damage claim that you filled out, and ending with one bill that you could send to your insurance company. I've never heard of multiple invoices being sent, although I suppose it's technically possible if a repair problem is misdiagnosed.

But even if Hertz had discovered additional damage, it should have been willing to share the repair bill with you. According to the records you showed me, it wouldn't provide you with the information needed to file an insurance claim, which meant you were liable for the extra $420. Not fair.

Incidentally, you don't have forever to make a claim. Your policy only gives you a few weeks at most to send in the necessary paperwork (it varies by company), so the clock was ticking. Even if Hertz sent you the right bill, it wouldn't do you any good if your time was up.

I asked you to reach out to Hertz again and request the bill in writing. You did, but the company didn't send you the documents. You might have appealed this to someone higher up at Hertz -- I list the names of its executives on my website (http://elliott.org/contacts/hertz) -- but time was running out. From the looks of it, someone just wasn't paying attention when they sent out the bills.

I contacted Hertz on your behalf. It dropped the claim.

(Christopher Elliott is the author of "How to Be the World's Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money and Hassle)" (National Geographic). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at chris@elliott.org. Christopher Elliott receives a great deal of reader mail, which he answers as quickly as possible, but because of a backlog of cases, your story may not be published for several months.)

(c) 2014 CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.
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