Q: I’m hoping you can give me some advice about a damage claim that my car rental company states I am financially responsible for. I rented a car from Alamo in Reno, Nev., recently. The paperwork was signed and initialed as the person at the counter indicated. Then I was escorted to the garage where the cars were kept.
My husband walked around the car and didn’t notice any damage. Several days later, when we left to drive to Las Vegas, I noticed that the plastic grille on the front of the car was uneven. My husband inspected and found that it was loose but still connected. About an hour outside of Las Vegas, the piece fell off.
The next day I called the Reno Alamo location to tell them this piece had fallen off the car. The Alamo representative said there was nothing she could do other than to tell us we were responsible for any damage to the vehicle. When I pulled into the dropoff lane at Alamo, a representative with his handheld computer loudly asked what we had done to scratch the car up so badly. He pointed to some swirls in the paint finish that looked like car wash wear. Then he wrote up an “Express Incident Report” in which we reported the damage.
Now Alamo wants to charge me $669 for the damage, saying it was not pre-existing. How can I reverse this decision?
A: This isn’t an easy problem to fix because you signed a form acknowledging your responsibility when you returned the vehicle.
Of course, there were a few things you could have done to prevent this from happening. A pre-rental inspection is always a good idea, and if there’s any damage, fill out a pre-rental report before you leave the lot. Make sure you get an employee to sign off on the form, and keep the paperwork in a safe place in case you need to refer to it later.
Just for the record: The terms of your rental are clear. If you take the keys, you accept responsibility for the vehicle. But as it turns out, Alamo had the same problem you did — iffy paperwork. When it sent you the bill, the photocopied pictures of the damaged vehicle didn’t appear to be the one you rented. I thought that was enough reason to ask Alamo to give your case another review, just to make sure it had the right claim. Alamo offered to zero out the remaining balance on your bill, an offer you accepted.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at email@example.com.