Q: I'm fighting with Enterprise about a damage claim, and I need your help. I recently rented a Hyundai Sonata. Both a manager and I inspected it and we both thought it looked OK.
About four hours later I received a phone call from the manager, claiming that there was "hidden" damage -- specifically, several scratches to the underside of the car.
A few days later, I was notified by mail that a damage claim against me had been filed. My credit card was billed for $186 for paint scratches on the rocker molding, and that costs totaling $106 for "administrative" fees, loss of use and diminishment of value were waived. Included in the claim were two rather poor black-and-white photocopies of the claimed damage.
I'm confused. Enterprise policy appears to hold a renter responsible for all damage even if both the renter and the site manager have considered the vehicle to be free of damage prior to renting and upon return of the vehicle. If that's true, then the company should clearly inform the customer that any damage to the vehicle is the sole responsibility of the renter even if the site manager also inspects the vehicle along with the renter.
Also, I wish you would tell your readers that customers should carefully inspect the underside of a rental both prior to accepting and return of a vehicle to verify there is no hidden damage and obtain a written release upon vehicle return. -- Frederick Dintzis, Peoria, Ill.
A: I'm a big believer in photographing your car before and after you rent it, but I can't bring myself to tell readers to get under their car for a shot of the undercarriage, although in your situation, you would have saved yourself from a big headache and possibly a frivolous damage claim.
Enterprise is one of the most aggressive car rental companies, when it comes to damage claims. It is also the largest car rental company in America. If damage is noted to your rental after you return it, and it isn't noted on the previous rental, you're assumed to be responsible and you'll be charged the full price of a repair, plus assorted fees.
Why would a manager call you back after four hours and claim you damaged the Hyundai? I have a partial explanation for that. Damage isn't always visible when someone returns a car, and before it's washed. So the manager couldn't have possibly given you the "all clear."
But damage to the underside -- I don't know about that. Also, the fact that Enterprise was immediately willing to remove all the assorted fees didn't exactly bolster its claim, at least in my opinion. The black-and-white photocopies didn't help, either. Put together, I had enough reason to believe this bill wasn't supported by all the facts.
By the way, if you ever have a problem with Enterprise in the future, try contacting one of its executives. I list them on my consumer advocacy website: http://elliott.org/contacts/enterprise/.
I contacted Enterprise on your behalf, and it dropped its 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 firstname.lastname@example.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.)
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