Travel Troubleshooter: Hertz bill puts dent in their vacation

04/07/2013 12:00 AM

04/05/2013 1:49 PM

My husband and I rented a car from Hertz in Munich last summer. The rental process was incredibly time-consuming but we finally received our vehicle.

It was parked in the travel lane, so we hurried to load our luggage and ourselves into it and get out of the way. We were not offered the opportunity to examine the car. It was also dark in the garage and the car was black.

When we returned the car an attendant took a flashlight and examined the underside of the car, bending down so her eyes were about 6 inches off the ground. She stated that there were "scratches." She also pointed out a depression near the right side of the back window.

It looked like a design feature to us, not a dent since no paint was scratched or cracked.

We were asked if we had been in an accident or any incident. We said no and wrote that on the sheet they presented us. We asked what the next step was and were told that we "may hear" from Hertz.

Almost three months after we returned the car, we received an email from Hertz in Ireland stating that we owe nearly 1,200 euros for the damage. Photos and an itemized bill in German were attached. They suggested we contact them with any questions.

I replied stating that we had not caused the damage, and asking for an English translation of the bill and an explanation as to why the company waited more than 80 days to contact us. I received no response. Since then, we've heard from a collection agency.

We didn't damage the car. Can you help us?

Diane Mikulis, Ellicott City, Md.

Well, you had me with the employee and the flashlight. That's too much. Unless part of the undercarriage somehow came loose and was dragging on the floor – and after reading the bill, I can tell you it wasn't – then this would have made my scam alert go off. Big time.

But let's pan back a little from this damage claim. When you're renting a car, you have to take "before" and "after" photos because if they find damage, you're guilty until proven innocent.

So much about the Hertz side of this case was wrong that it made you look almost blameless. The confusion when you picked up the car, the dark garage, the employee examining the underside of your rental, the long wait and then, instead of answering your questions about the bill, sending the matter to a collection agency. It just didn't look right to me.

I contacted Hertz on your behalf. A representative responded to you, offering to reduce the bill by 25 percent. The company continued to refuse to provide you with a translation of the bill, so it's unclear to me how someone at Hertz in the United States could be so sure the bill was right.

I asked if Hertz was absolutely certain that the charge was correct. A representative contacted you and said it would drop its claim.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. You can read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or email him at chris@elliott.org.

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