Travel

Travel Troubleshooter: Keep records for car rental

Q: I’m being charged for damage to a rental car that I did not cause. I recently had my car repaired at my dealership, which paid for a rental car from Enterprise.

I drove the rental home, parked it on my one-way street so that the passenger side was next to the curb and checked to see that I was close enough to the curb. I did not use the car again until the next day, when I picked up my repaired vehicle.

I arrived at the dealership at about 2:30 p.m. and was told by an employee that the rental car was “fine.” The rental remained at the dealership until early the next morning, when Enterprise picked up the car and called me to say that it was damaged. At no time while I had it was there an accident or the possibility of damage to the rental car.

The car dealership had the car for about 18 hours after I returned it. I’d like to have the charges dismissed. Can you help?

Carol Amitin, Baltimore

A: You shouldn’t be charged for car damage that you didn’t cause, or that didn’t happen while you rented the car.

This is a fascinating case on several levels, including the timing, the circumstances and the resolution.

First, you returned the car to your dealership and were told that the car was ”fine.” When someone tells you that the car is good to go, you might want to get that in writing or take a picture of the ”fine” vehicle with your phone. During a claim process, the word of a third party is of limited value.

Second, there were 18 hours between the time you returned the car and the time Enterprise took control of it, so it’s possible that you returned the vehicle in working order and it was damaged on the lot. Your responsibility for the car ended when you dropped it off – not when the car rental company took custody of the vehicle.

The final oddity was the circumstance of the claim. Enterprise, which has one of the most effective damage-claim units in the car rental industry, limited its contact with you to phone calls, by your account. I asked for a paper trail of correspondence between you and the car rental company, and the only thing you could show me was an email you sent to it, disputing the claim. No photo, no repair bill – nothing. I find that a little suspicious.

Eventually, Enterprise sent you photos of alleged damage and charged your credit card $317.

If you ever find yourself on the wrong end of a questionable damage repair claim, you can appeal your case to one of the Enterprise executive contacts I list on my website: http://elliott.org/company-contacts/enterprise.

The resolution of this was a little strange, too. You skipped the paper trail and the direct appeal to the executives, and went straight to a credit-card dispute. I don’t normally recommend card disputes, except as a last resort, but it worked for you. Your credit-card company sided with you and reversed the charges. Next time, don’t forget to take pictures of your rental.

Email Christopher Elliott at chris@elliott.org.

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