A Rental Car Adventure


We sometimes rent a minivan while on vacation.  Most of the time, it’s uneventful.  Rent.  Drive.  Return.  No problems, no hassles.  A year ago, we flew to Sarasota for beach time at our favorite vacation destination on Anna Maria Island.  We got a good deal through Costco from a popular rental car enterprise.  But last year, it went differently.  Rent.  Drive. Return.  Hassle.  Hassle. Hassle.  Hassle. Hassle.  Hassle. Hassle.  Hassle. Hassle.  Hassle. Hassle.  Hassle.  12 months of Hassle.

It’s a very, very long story, but I’ll try to make it just plain long.  When we returned the van, an agent with amazing eyesight spotted a small paint scrape under the coating of dirt.  It was literally less than the size of a dime on the front bumper, likely from someone getting too close in a parking lot.  He deemed it to be over $250 to repair, therefore they would need me to go to the counter for an hour to fill out forms in triplicate and pay the deposit.

The next few months spawned an epic in incompetence by the rental car agency’s “Damage Recovery Unit”.  I was eventually assigned a case manager, “Jeff”.  His job was apparently a pretty easy one: to ignore almost all correspondence completely.  I imagine the case manager at my credit card company had the same issue, as they’d often tell me I needed to make sure the rental car agency had received their information and payments because they could not get any response.

The best part was when the all powerful DRU sent photos to my credit card company.  It was obviously an entirely different vehicle, as the damage was extensive all the way down to the lower ground effects on the front end.   Since I had no proof, I opted not to make an issue of it and hope the credit card insurance would handle it.  They did.  Ultimately, they paid $800 to the rental car agency, presumably negotiated down from the requested amount.  I thought it was over.

Months later,  I received a check for $250 from the rental car agency.  I had no idea what it was for.  I emailed a few times, but no response from the case manager, as usual.  A couple months later, I cash the check.  A couple months after that, I finally hear from my case manager at the DRU.  He demanded $250 from me, claiming I owed a return of the deposit refund check I had been sent.  He says the credit card agency had contested the original deposit and never paid it.  I wondered why they even sent the check so many months later if they knew this.  So, I asked for any proof of the charge and reversal, along with an invoice that indicated the claim would be paid in full and closed upon my payment.  You guessed it.  No response.  I emailed again a couple weeks later, no response.  Then again, this time, with “Urgent Status” and “Return Receipt”.  I did get the receipt, but never a response.  And again a few weeks ago for the last time.

I didn’t want to get on the rental car black list (Google it), so the last email was copied to the “claimfeedback” email included in their auto-responses.  I was quite surprised that I quickly received an apologetic email and a phone call.  This agent was friendly and responsive and within an hour had confirmed I owed them no money and emailed me a letter indicating the claim was paid in full.  She apologized for the obvious lack of communication from the other agent.

caravanSo, yeah.  Told you it would be long.   But at least I did learn something.  Even if you have primary credit card insurance that pays before your own personal auto insurance, don’t dismiss the rental car agency’s damage waiver if it isn’t too expensive.  It’s widely regarded as a waste of money, and I’m sure that is usually true, but $10 a day for a few days could save you a huge amount of time and hassle.  Which, of course, is what they want.  Second, take good quality photos of your rental car, when you pick it up AND when you drop it off.  If the rental car company decides to lie and charge you for damage that wasn’t there, you’ll have what I didn’t have: proof!  And don’t worry that it might inconvenience the agent at pickup or dropoff for a few minutes if you want a video, too.  Because if you have any damage, I assure you the DRU will have no problem making it an inconvenience for you!

If it’s any consolation, apparently I’m not alone.

This year we rented from another company that my wife uses for work.  They barely even glanced at the van when we returned it.  I did take photo and video, though, but never needed them, thankfully.  I didn’t buy the damage waiver.  At $40 per day for 7 days, it was just too expensive.