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Renting a car? Then, TAKE A PICTURE!
It takes 2 extra minutes ... pull out your phone or camera and take 4 angles of your rental vehicle before you drive it off the lot. Then, do the same thing again when you check the car in. That gives you a TIME-STAMPED visual record of the condition of your rental car before and after you drive it. Here is why this is important!
We have had two of our customers have claims on their auto insurance in the last couple of weeks because of damage to a vehicle they rented. One of the customers didn't even have the privilege of filing it himself - the rental car company filed it quickly direct to our insured's company!!!! I personally have had a claim issue with a rental car company several years back. I turned the vehicle in one early morning before catching a flight. The rental company wasn't opened yet. So I did as they instructed, I left the vehicle in a certain place that was supposedly secure. About 4 weeks later, I get a notice that I was being charged for damage on that vehicle that never occurred under my watch. The car was spotless! So in the end, it was my word ("I didn't damage that vehicle!" against theirs ..."This car had damage on it when you turned it in!") I had to file the claim with my credit card insurance coverage that covered the physical damage on that vehicle as a benefit of my card. I was glad they could take care of it and keep me from having to pay out of pocket. I later learned, much to my own disappointment, the credit card insurance paid some or all of that claim. Unfair in my book!
Christopher Elliott is a travel editor with USA Today. He basically lives on the road and gives great advice about travel issues. Earlier this month, he wrote a thorough article about car rentals. Here is what he wrote and I so agree with him:
"Eric Eatman didn't do it. He's sure of that.
When he rented a car in Atlantic City recently, he noticed several scrapes on the side of his vehicle, which he brought to the attention of an employee.
"The agent assured me that as long as the scratches were smaller than a dollar bill it didn't matter," says Eatman, a notary public from Brandon, Fla.
But after he returned the car to Enterprise, a representative claimed he damaged the vehicle, and the company eventually sent him a $3,096 bill, including a $289 bill for "loss of use."
"I was certain that I did not cause the damage," he says.
Taking responsibility is never easy. But when they're away, travelers often think they can get away with anything. Travel companies, particularly car rental companies, are understandably suspicious of their customers who balk at paying their bills. Maybe it's time for a little detente.
How badly is the relationship frayed? Let's put it this way: If something breaks in your rental car, you're guilty until proven innocent. But with good reason. Too often, motorists invoke the "wear and tear" excuse when they've trashed a rental. Owning up to our actions may be the first step toward bridging this chasm of distrust.
When James Pillow returned his car to Alamo recently, he watched another renter back his car into a concrete pole. "Nobody else saw it happen," says Pillow, who works for a sports memorabilia site in Orlando. He could see the driver hesitating - should he say something or pretend it never happened? After a moment, the customer walked over to an attendant and confessed.
"It was very noble," he says. "Especially given the damage."
It helps to take responsibility when things go wrong. When Vicki Winters, a social media manager who lives in New York, visited Spain this summer, she found a parking ticket on her rental. Initially, she and her husband decided not to tell their car rental company, and they might have gotten away with it. Tracking down a customer who lives more than 3,000 miles away - never mind matching a ticket to the right driver - is a challenge for even the best car rental company.
"We waffled some more," she says. "Then we decided to come clean and show them the ticket."
To her surprise, an employee told her she was off the hook.
"Honesty was the best policy," says Winters.
But it's equally important to take a stand when you didn't do it. I reviewed the correspondence between Eatman and Enterprise and saw a string of vehement denials by Eatman. What's more, Enterprise couldn't prove the dent had happened on his watch. From all appearances, he'd tried to warn the company about the pre-existing damage, and an employee had dismissed him.
I contacted Enterprise on his behalf and it agreed to review his claim.
"Sometimes, as you know, we may miss something, but we never hesitate to make things right for our customers," Enterprise spokeswoman Laura Bryant said. "As a result, this claim has been dropped. Thank you for bringing this to our attention."
Responsibility is a two-way street. On the one side, you have car rental companies that usually assume you're responsible for damage if you're the last person who rented the car. That's not always fair. On the other side, you have motorists who might walk away from real damage and traffic tickets, actions that don't exactly help the fragile relationship between drivers and car rental companies.
Is there a way to meet in the middle - for car rental companies to stop assuming we're guilty of destroying their vehicles and for us to own up to our violations? Changing corporate policy may not be practical, but the next time you pick up the keys to your rental car, you can make a promise to yourself: I'll treat this like it's my own car."
How to avoid a frivolous car rental damage claim
- Take pictures or video of your vehicle - before and after. The images should be enough to exonerate you if there's a bogus damage claim.
- Report any pre-existing damage, no matter how small. Don't let an employee reassure you with promises that smaller scratches don't count. They do count. If the car is dented and scratched, you should refuse it.
- Get insurance. Being covered means you won't have to face a $3,096 bill. Check with your credit card company and car insurance companies before you spring for the optional insurance, which can be overpriced.
Hopefully, this information will help you as we move into the vacation season when many rent cars these days. As you can see, I'm a big believer of rental car picture taking. It's hard to question a time-stamped photo of a vehicle if you are ever accused of damaging a rental vehicle.
If we can help you with anything insurance, we're here and ready. Contact us at info@BentonWhite.com or call 615.377.1212.
Any of our staff is ready to assist! Thanks for reading and be ready to pull out that camera the next time you rent a car!