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Travel Troubleshooter: Billed for car that was damaged from start

  • Article by: CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT
  • January 18, 2013 - 3:46 PM

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. Before leaving for the airport on my return trip, I walked around the car to make sure there was no damage. 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 am furious. Any suggestions you have would be appreciated.

 

A: Wow, that’s two Dollar cases in two weeks. This one was mishandled from start to finish. Let’s start with Dollar. Sending a damaged car back out into the fleet 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.

Dollar should have also offered the opportunity to inspect the car with an associate, or at the least allowed you to document the results of your own inspection.

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, documenting the damage.

And finally, you needed to make sure that any pre-existing damage was noted in writing. Don’t leave unless the dent is documented on paper.

Dollar’s 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?

I contacted Dollar and it dropped its claim.

 

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at chris@elliott.org.

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