Travel Troubleshooter: Is this claim for real?

Q: Last March, I rented a vehicle from Hertz in Los Angeles. When I picked up the car, I noticed that it had seen better days and had some scratches and small dents.

As I left the Hertz facility, I asked the attendant to mark all damages on that little yellow slip they give you. She blew me off and said, “If it’s cosmetic, don’t worry about it!” She had this look on her face that told me she wasn’t in the mood to deal with it.

Anyway, upon returning the vehicle, an attendant came up, did a quick walk-around and printed my receipt. Off I went, not even thinking twice.

Today, I got a call from Hertz informing me of “damages” to the vehicle I had rented. Apparently, there’s a chunk missing from a wheel. I know that this is bogus, since I looked over the vehicle before returning it.

Of course, I have no pictures or even my rental agreement or receipt to dispute this. Isn’t it a little too late for Hertz to accuse me of this now, after the fact? How can Hertz prove that it was me who damaged the vehicle?

 

A: Hertz sure took its time with your damage claim, didn’t it? Most car rental companies will notify you of damage to a vehicle immediately, when you return the rental, or at least within a week or two.

This easily could have been avoided if you had learned to use your cellphone camera and the word “no.” By now, you know that “before” and “after” shots of your rental are mandatory, no matter what an employee says. If you don’t have photographic evidence that you didn’t rough up your rental, you’re guilty until proven innocent, unfortunately.

And a few polite “nos” along the way could have put the brakes on this claim. For example: “No” to the banged-up rental. Hertz should have given you the keys to a vehicle that wasn’t dinged and dented.

Also, “no” to the employee’s claim that “if it’s cosmetic, don’t worry about it.” No, you should worry about it. Fill out that checklist that’s part of your rental agreement. Get everything in writing.

In the end, even if this bill was legit, the company should have furnished you with a repair bill and photos that substantiated the claim. I contacted Hertz on your behalf to find out if it could send you that information. The company responded directly to you, and it apologized for the “inconvenience” you encountered and dropped its claim against you.

 

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the author of “How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler.” You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org, or email him at celliottngs.org

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