Something about the $667 repair bill that Enterprise Rent-a-Car recently sent Jerry Bitting looked suspicious to him.
For starters, the car didn’t appear to be the one that Bitting, an account executive for a federal agency in Washington, had rented. The dates when the damage occurred didn’t match the dates on which he’d driven the Mazda 3. The pictures were taken weeks after he’d returned the car. And questions to Enterprise’s damage recovery unit, asking for an explanation of the inconsistencies, were met with silence.
“I told them that the damages were not there when I picked up the car or dropped it off,” Bitting says.
Bitting believed that he was being billed for someone else’s damage. He filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, which at the time gave the car rental company a rating of “F,” he says. Within days, Enterprise sent him a letter threatening to turn over the case to a collection agency.
Complaints about allegedly bogus damage claims appear to be a growing problem. I receive several requests for help every week. And a series of reports implicating Budget in a scheme to systematically and intentionally defraud customers by overcharging for minor repairs that sometimes aren’t even done is making headlines in Canada.
British Columbia’s minister of justice and attorney general, Shirley Bond, is reportedly investigating allegations of fraud at several Budget locations, and it wouldn’t be surprising if a suspicious eye were eventually cast south of the border.
Until now, complaints such as these were quietly handled at the state level, but if the volume of grievances reaches a critical mass, then a problem like this could receive some federal attention.
Bitting, for his part, was undeterred by his setbacks. He contacted the Virginia attorney general’s office and also asked me to help. Enterprise’s claim, he said, was “ridiculous” and filled with inconsistencies and “cryptic” notes that he couldn’t understand.
I asked Enterprise to review his bill, and it dropped the claim against him. I’ve had numerous conversations about damage claims with Enterprise in the recent past, and it believes that customers in the United States single it out for what they believe to be fraudulent damage claims because it’s the largest car rental agency.
Cases such as Bittings, it argues, are usually reversed as a gesture of goodwill, not because they are invalid. This seems to make its customers happy. But there’s a growing consensus among industry-watchers that closing damage claims to avoid extra scrutiny may not be enough.
Sharon Faulkner, the executive director of the American Car Rental Association, a trade group for the car rental industry, says that her constituents are “obviously concerned” about the Canadian investigation.
“That said, our industry serves millions of customers every year, providing affordable and accessible vehicles at the airport, as well as in thousands of neighborhood locations, and we’re proud to be of service in so many communities for the long term,” she adds. “Overall, the industry does a very good job of managing vehicle damage claims.”
The problem may not be the car rental industry’s current damage-recovery practices. After all, it has had years to fine-tune its claims process, and with the possible exception of a few rogue franchisees, it’s difficult to imagine this kind of fraud being carried out at a chain-wide level, with senior management’s blessing.