Q: My wife and I recently flew up to Knoxville, Tenn., to visit my family. We prepaid for a rental car through Alamo. The rental process was a little confusing and disorganized. We had to wait half an hour, and Alamo ran out of cars in our class, so it gave us a vehicle from Enterprise.

When we returned the car a week later, a representative walked around the vehicle and noted no damage. We boarded our flight and came home to Florida.

A few weeks later, I received a letter from Alamo claiming that I damaged the vehicle and that its employees had tried to reach me several times by phone. I received no calls or voice-mail messages from Alamo.

Neither we nor anyone else damaged the vehicle during the time of our rental. I e-mailed Alamo to let the company know. I received no reply, and thought the matter was either a scam or a mistake.

Today, I received a multipage letter saying I owe $1,885 for the damage Alamo claims to have taken place when I had the vehicle. The sum included repairs, administrative fees, loss of use and diminished value. Attached were four black-and-white photos that appear to show roof damage.

Can you help me get this sorted out?


A: You shouldn’t have to pay for damage you didn’t cause, of course. But how do you know you didn’t dent the roof? Do you have pictures of the car pre- and post-rental?

Let’s pause for a moment to note the absurdity of this situation. In order to avoid paying $1,885, you would have had to have taken pictures of your rental car’s roof, pre- and post-rental.

This case raised several red flags. First, the initial confusion at the car-rental counter, which led you to get an Enterprise car (Enterprise Holdings is the parent company of Alamo and Enterprise). Second, your account of the return, in which a representative signed off on the car. And finally, the lack of response when you disputed the charges.

I always recommend taking snapshots of your vehicle before and after you rent. You also should consider a comprehensive insurance policy that covers any damage to a car.

I contacted Enterprise on your behalf. There was indeed a mix-up with your rental. The Enterprise agent in Knoxville put your name on one car before changing it to a different vehicle. Your claim has been closed.


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.