Christopher Elliott thinks that car rental companies are too quick to blame consumers for damage, and consumers too unwilling to own up to damaging cars.
Both claims are probably true.
- As the last renter of a vehicle, a rental car company may assume you caused damage. But a car could have had pre-existing, undocumented damage or may have suffered an incident after the rental was returned.
- If you ding a rental car, and the company doesn’t say anything about it, are you generally the first to bring it to their attention?
Although telling businesses they should stop doing what they’re doing, and consumers that they should behave differently too, is certainly tilting at windmills.
I know that I do not look for dings and dents. If they aren’t major, I won’t notice them picking up a car. And I don’t inspect the car before returning it, either.
I also generally rent from major brand full service rental companies — Avis and National are where I’ve had most of my rentals, but Hertz falls into the same camp. And generally speaking these major companies, renting and returning at the airport, don’t nickel and dime you for road wear. Small dings and scrapes happen, and are accepted more or less.
That doesn’t mean they have to be but these companies usually treat them that way.
The off brand ‘discounters’ and players like Enterprise are a different story entirely. It’s no surprise to me that the examples in Elliott’s column are rentals with Alamo and Enterprise.
I’ve rented from Enterprise before, but I never want to — first, because the paperwork has always taken interminably long, and second because there’s the collision damage waiver hard sell. The walk around the car of shame. “You’d better note any damage because you’ll be responsible for anything not noted.” I’ve been told that state law requires me to put down the full amount of my insurance deductible when I return the vehicle if there are any scrapes and I don’t take their insurance.
It’s simply not worth any savings to me to go through the hassle.
I always pay for car rentals with a credit card that comes with primary collision damage coverage. There are several now, including Chase Sapphire Preferred, United Explorer, and Diners Club.
If I didn’t have one of these, I’d probably rent with an American Express card and spring for their premium rental car protection, a much better deal than paying for a rental company to let you off the hook for anything your own insurance doesn’t cover.
If you ding up a rental car, there may always be some hassle. I worry less knowing that most of it is someone else’s problem in the end, my credit card company’s coverage and my own insurance coverage. And I rent from companies that seem to worry less about the minor stuff.
In the end there still may be disagreements. If there is a claim of damage, I may wind up in the middle of an argument or on the hook for ‘loss of use’ charges, a claim by the rental company that they need to b e paid not just for fixing the car but for the rental revenue they could have earned while the car was out of service. Any insurer should want proof that the rental location was sold out of cars on the days they want to be paid for (fleet usage logs), or else the company didn’t actually forego an opportunity to earn revenue off the car while it was in the shop. And disputes over that can linger on, so I could still wind up paying some rental days in the end.
And I’m cool with that, for the number of times I’ve probably had rocks hit my windshield or other road hazards scrape the car that I didn’t even realize, and neither did the rental company.