Q: I’m really hoping you can help with a car rental issue I’m having. I recently rented a car from E-Z Rent-A-Car in Atlanta. It was late in the evening. My friend and I got in the vehicle after I asked her to do a walk-around with me, but there was no employee available to walk with us.
We didn’t notice anything wrong with the car. When I returned the car, an E-Z employee claimed that the passenger side fog light was missing, and pointed it out to me. I had to sign an incident report before leaving.
The fog light can be missed while walking closely around the car, but it is noticeable when you’re far away, which we never were. E-Z is charging me $1,166 for this damage. I do not believe it was caused by us. I asked to see the last few rental slips, and E-Z said it would show them to me. But it hasn’t.
I asked for the camera footage, which would show us leaving the lot, and I’m positive it would show the fog light missing as well. But the company will not release it unless I take this to court.
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The price E-Z is charging is obscene, and it’s throwing in some additional random charges, like painting the vehicle, which makes the total bill $1,361. I checked BBB, and this place has more than 300 complaints, many similar to mine. I feel defeated. What should I do?
Julie Mehta, Jamaica, NY
A: Did you say a missing fog light? That’s kind of hard to overlook. But E-Z sent you images of a red 2014 Chevrolet Impala with a gaping hole where the light should have been. Indeed, in a darkened garage you might have missed this.
Had you taken pictures of the car before leaving the lot, those might have saved you. In fact, if you had reviewed the images, you could have immediately reported the problem to a manager and requested a different vehicle. There’s no way you should be driving a car without a light. It’s unsafe and probably illegal.
By the way, you don’t have to sign anything when you return a vehicle. If a car rental company insists you take responsibility for something you didn’t do, then you need to speak with a manager immediately. Ask him or her to review the previous rental documents to see if someone reported the damage at that time. Don’t sign and leave.
If you do sign the documents, you’re admitting “I did it,” and that limits your options. E-Z could send you a bill for whatever it wanted – a new light, a paint job or ”loss of use” on the vehicle. You, or your insurance company, would be responsible for paying it. Not an ideal situation.
By the way, you could have appealed this to a manager at E-Z. I list its executives’ names and numbers on my website: http://elliott.org/company-contacts/e-z-rent-car/.
As it turns out, there were more images of your rental: closed-circuit video of your Impala leaving the rental lot. You asked E-Z to see them, and it told you it would be happy to pull them, if you got a subpoena from a court.
I asked the company if it could review the footage one more time to make sure nothing had been missed. After checking the images of your car, it decided to drop its claim against you.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. You can read more tips on his blog, elliott.org, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.