The travel troubleshooter

Why do I have to pay for existing damage?

 

christopher@elliott.org

Q: I’m having a problem with Dollar Rent A Car. When I picked up my car at Southwest Florida International Airport, they did not inspect the car with me, but told me to just go “pick one out.”

The car had some minor paint damage on the rear bumper, but a sticker was attached indicating that the damage was previously identified, so I didn’t give it any further thought. Prior to leaving for the airport on my return trip, I walked around the car to make sure that there was no damage to the vehicle. There was none.

When I returned the car to Dollar at the airport, the guy didn’t bother to inspect the car, so I pointed out the sticker and damage on the rear bumper, and he said, “Yeah that’s previous damage.”

More than two weeks later, I received a letter from Dollar asking for $239 for unspecified damages — no pictures, no description of the damage, just a demand letter. I tried to reach them by phone, but their subrogation department is closed over the weekend.

I am furious about the way this was handled by Dollar. The complete absence of inspections with the customer is not good business practice — but then, maybe they’re not interested in good business practice. I’m sure they get a lot of suckers to pay up just to avoid the hassle involved in pursuing the matter. Any suggestions you have would be appreciated.

William Hicks

Carpentersville, Ill.

Wow, that’s two Dollar cases in two weeks. Are we going for a record here? This one was mishandled from start to finish.

Let’s start with Dollar. Sending a damaged car back out into the fleet, as you noted and as an employee verified, was an awful idea. Dollar should have fixed the car and then returned it to the lot to be rented again. The sticker was an interesting idea, but stickers have a way of coming unstuck and car rental companies are not the best at keeping repair records, as any reader of this column knows.

Dollar should have also offered the opportunity to inspect the car with an associate, or at the very least allowed you to document the results of your own inspection. Instead, an employee just waved you off with a verbal assurance that everything is fine. But everything was not fine.

But you could have also prevented this. First, why did you select a damaged car? If you’re ever given a vehicle in less than immaculate condition, don’t accept it. Second, you should have taken numerous photos of the vehicle, and carefully documented the damage. That’s pretty easy to do with your cellphone or digital camera.

And finally, you needed to make sure that any pre-existing damage was noted in writing. If for some reason no one is available for an inspection, then at least find a manager and let him or her know about the problem. Don’t leave unless the dent is documented on paper. Verbal assurances are useless, as you now know.

Dollar’s follow-up with you left something to be desired; waiting a few weeks before hitting you with a claim seemed suspicious. Why not ask you to fill out a damage claim when you’re still at the airport? And why not send documentation of the damage and repair, as opposed to just a bill.

I contacted Dollar and it dropped its claim.

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