13 Tips on What You Can Do to Prevent From Being Scammed by a Rental Car Company

ompanies seem to be doing whatever they can to extract more and more money out of you these days — and they may even be willing to sacrifice your trust in them to increase their revenues…

…but while companies may engage in practices where could be considered borderline fraud and yet may be perfectly legal, there are employees and franchisees who may cross that critical line and commit outright fraud — and this can be true with rental car facilities, as I first reported in this article on November 28, 2012 and again in this article on February 21, 2014.

It is always possible that an employee of the rental car company could commit an honest error in favor of the company — but regardless of whether the act of charging you more was erroneous or blatantly on purpose, you should always protect yourself from having to pay more money out of your pocket than necessary or required.

A poll was posted at The Road Warriorette, where this question was asked: Do you inspect your rental car?

After reading that article, I thought it would be a good idea to impart to you my advice of 13 tips on what you can do to prevent from being scammed by a rental car company whenever you rent a vehicle — many of which are reiterations of advice I have imparted in the aforementioned articles — regardless of your choice of rental car company:

1: Do You Need to Purchase Insurance?

You might already be insured by either your automobile insurance policy or by a benefit of the credit card you use to rent the car. First, check with the company which issued your credit card to ensure that rental car insurance is included as part of your contracted benefits before you decide whether or not to purchase insurance from the credit card company; and find out whether or not that insurance is primary or secondary.

If for some reason a rental car company claims that you are responsible for damage to the car, it is better to have them challenge the credit card company than your insurance company, which could possibly raise your vehicle insurance premiums as a result — even if the damage was not your fault.

Depending on where you rent your car, certain types of insurance might be included with the price of the rental; so check that carefully as well.

2: Ensure That You Are Covered

If you do decide to purchase insurance from the rental car company, read the fine print and exclusions of the policy carefully, as you might not be covered for certain items after all if anything should happen. For example, damage to a tire will most likely not be covered under collision insurance.

3: Check the Policies of the Facility From Which You Rent

Carefully check the policies of the rental car company — such as when returning a car after hours, for example — as different rental car companies have different policies. Sometimes different locations of the same rental car company can have different policies as well.

4: Inspect the Vehicle

Walk around the car and inspect both the interior and exterior thoroughly. This includes bumpers, grilles, tires, seats, floor mats, the carpeting under the floor mats, the glove compartment, lenses for the lights, trunk — everywhere on, in and even under the vehicle.

5: Check the Vehicle for Any Damage — No Matter How Minor

If you see a minor scrape, rub it with your finger or cloth to ensure it is dirt and not a scratch. If the scrape is indeed a scratch, record it either by writing down the location of the scrape on the vehicle, or take a photograph or video of it — or, preferably, do both.

6: Report Any Potential Anomalies for Which You Could Be Charged

Report any anomalies you find to the rental car attendant before you leave the facility, and ensure that the attendant records it in your contract, as well as initials the findings.

7: Get Official Acknowledgement of Your Findings

If the attendant refuses for any reason to officially record and acknowledge the damage — which has never happened to me — either report it to the supervisor of the attendant or patronize another rental car company. Regardless — whatever you do — do not leave the facility with the car, because once you do, you are now responsible for the “repairs.” It will be your word against the word of the representatives of the rental car company when the time for confrontation comes.

8: Avoid Cleaning Fees

If the car is deemed a no-smoking vehicle, ensure that there is no tobacco odor or ashes in the ash tray — you could be charged with a cleaning fee. Look for stains or other potential damage.

9: Thoroughly Test the Equipment of the Vehicle

Before pulling out of the parking space, test the equipment. Ensure that the lights, turn signals, radio, windshield wipers and fluid, and other electronics operate properly. This is for your safety as well as your protection from being a potential victim of fraud.

10: Obey All Traffic Laws

While the vehicle is your responsibility, take care to obey all traffic laws. This may sound like obvious advice; but if you are driving down a highway which electronically records your speed without you knowing about it — and is equipped with hidden cameras which will photograph your car in the midst of it exceeding the speed limit — you could very well be surprised with a fine plus charges and fees upon your return home. The same caution should be exercised anytime you arrive at a traffic light where cameras might be installed as well. Unless you have some irrefutable evidence to the contrary, fighting the fine and contesting the charges and fees could prove little more than futile.

11: Report Damage as Soon as Possible

Try to park in places where the possibility of the car getting “dinged” by a careless fellow motorist can be mitigated or eliminated. If you find damage caused by someone else and you are certain as to who is the perpetrator, record the license plate of the vehicle in question and call the police to file an accident report. Take insurance information from the person or people who caused the damage, if possible.

12: Stand Your Ground and Do Not Waiver

Do not allow yourself to be coerced into being a victim. If you believe you are being scammed by the rental car company, record every detail you can regarding your experience to either contact the corporate office of the rental car company, the police, a consumer advocate organization — or even the media, if necessary. You can also dispute the charges with your credit card company — which leads to the final word of advice…

13: Routinely Check Your Credit Card Statement

Always check your credit card statement for at least a month after the conclusion of the car rental to ensure that no surprise charges have been added.

Summary

Keep in mind that some car rental companies are more stringent than others. I find renting from National Car Rental to be far more of a pleasant experience than Thrifty or Dollar, which I attempt to avoid. Aside from a rental car issue in Cyprus which consumed the better part of a day, I also usually have no issues renting from Avis. A number of inexplicable charges recently appeared on my credit card from Hertz even though I had paid for the rental in full in advance. When I called about them, a customer service representative from Hertz recommended that I dispute the charges, which I subsequently did — and the charges were permanently reversed.

Your car rental experience will be uneventful most of the time; and if you are asked to pay more than you should, it will most likely be due to an honest mistake on the part of the employee of the rental car company. However, all it takes is one time to be scammed — and if that happens to you, the cost in terms of time, effort and money can potentially be enormous. Do yourself a favor and be fully prepared before your rent your next vehicle, as with renting from any rental car company, caveat emptor.

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

11 thoughts on “13 Tips on What You Can Do to Prevent From Being Scammed by a Rental Car Company”

  1. Captain says:

    Another reason not to rent from Hertz! Surprise charges weeks after your rental!

  2. R. says:

    1) World Mastercard Elite covers tires. World Mastercard doesn’t.
    2) The rental company wanted me to pay them directly and get reimbursed by my CC’s insurance. If I had done that, I’d have paid close to $200 arbitrary fees that the CC’s insurance easily negotiated off.

  3. Joe says:

    Unfortunately the insurance topic is a bit more complicated than just checking your credit card terms… What can get especially expensive in case of an accident is 3rd party liability. Afaik, credit cards only insure the car itself but no 3rd party. While rental car agencies are required to have this liability insurance, their maximums are very low and vary from state to state (to even none in ca I believe).

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      You are correct, Joe. The insurance companies seem to do whatever they can to ensure that understanding — and benefiting from — coverage is as difficult as possible.

      Still, even a cursory check of the terms — as well as a call to a representative of the credit card company — is better than nothing at all, in my opinion…

  4. Erik says:

    At pickup and return, use your smartphone to record a video. Walk fully around the car and highlight any suspect areas. It won’t take up much space and may save you a bundle if disputes arise later.

  5. Carol Stirling says:

    We are in the midst of a probable scam now . My husband was rear ended, insurance provided him a rental car. When his car was fixed, he left rental at the body shop as the shop owner said so. He did not wait for the rental pick up person. Two days later, the body shop guy call and says the rental car is going to chatge him for damage. He checked his credit card, and they already took $500. He did not get a phone call from rental company about damage or the charge to the card.. I followed up with rental company as husband’s English isn’t good. Rental manager said it was for deposit while estimate was being done (at the same body shop) and he will send us the estimate and pictures then. He also will continue to rent out the car in the mean time. I asked that we see the car first… That hasn’t happened, plus a week has gone by, no estimate. I called again, estimate coming next week. I asked for the pictures. – not even sure it’s same car and damage is unusual, you would have to drive over a cement parking divider to cause it.
    Any advice?

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I am not an attorney; but consider refusing to proceed until you see proof of anything which is considered your responsibility, Carol Stirling — preferably in person and not through photographs, which can be doctored.

      There are some parts of your story which I do not understand:

      Is the body shop associated with the company through which your vehicle is insured? If so, contact the insurance company in writing immediately and report the body shop with the information you have so that the insurance company can launch an investigation. You want everything to be in writing so that there is a paper trail of what happened.

      Did the alleged damage occur during your rental; or did it supposedly occur after you dropped it off at the body shop? If the latter is true, the repairs should not be your responsibility — although the rental of the vehicle was not properly closed, which could work against you. Either way, I hope you documented the damage — or lack thereof — with photographs; but the case may come down to your word against that of the body shop. Consider contacting the consumer affairs division of your local government and alert them of this situation, as you suspect fraud.

      As for the $500.00, immediately contact the company which issued your credit card, explain the situation, and ask to dispute the charge — do not pay it. The credit card company usually complies with this requests and will typically launch an investigation into the issue.

      I have had vehicles repaired due to accidents where I had temporary access to a rental car; and I have never been instructed to leave it at the body shop. Always return the rental car to the location or rental car company from which it came, as you could continue to be charged for the rental after the duration under which it is paid through your insurance company.

      Regardless, I do not have all of the facts — and it appears that you do not have all of them either at this time. As a consumer, you have a right to have all of the facts presented to you in a manner which you can understand.

      Good luck to you, Carol Stirling — and please provide updates to your situation.

      1. Carol Stirling says:

        Thank you for the quick response Brian. The rental car was delivered to the body shop as that is where the tow truck driver took Leo(husband) car, that is where it was to be dropped back to. Leo was so upset after the accident and he didn’t know another body shop to take the car to.
        Damage is supposed to have happened when Leo had it.
        Leo trusts everybody, and also left his copy of the contract in the car. He walked the car initially and noted some minor scratches on door handle and the fact the car wasn’t cleaned inside very well.
        I have asked for the contract tto be scanned to me, so far no luck.
        I will contact the government resource you gave me. I’m very tempted to call in the police, or at least threaten the car company – by email – if we are not permitted to see the vehicle.

        1. Brian Cohen says:

          I do not believe the police will be of any use in this situation, Carol Stirling, as this is currently more of a civil matter than a criminal matter.

          Definitely contact the following entities: company through which your vehicle is insured; company through which your credit card is issued; government agency tasked with helping consumers; and possibly a consumer advocacy organization.

          As a last resort, contacting the media can be an effective tool — but again, only as a last resort. Even then, the media will not report on it unless the story is interesting enough to attract views.

          Do not threaten anyone, as those threats could be used against you; but refuse to pay anything extra at this time other than what is the cost of the rental of the vehicle.

          Unfortunately, your husband did commit some mistakes which could have helped to mitigate this situation: definitely choose the body shop and not simply acquiesce to the decision of an entity with a possible interest; never leave your copy of the contract in the vehicle after dropping it off at what is supposed to be the conclusion of the rental; and — unfortunately — do not blindly trust everyone.

          You do have me wondering just how prevalent is this alleged scam. I may do some research on this.

          Do please update me on this, Carol Stirling.

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