Be Careful About Returning Rental Cars After Hours…

I  rented a car on a Saturday for 24 hours from a local office of Enterprise Rent-A-Car not far from where I am based for me to take a day trip where the destination is four hours away — meaning I was to spend approximately eight hours driving in a car.

When I went to return the vehicle at the office on Sunday, it was closed; so I figured I would drop the keys off in the drop box located on the left side of the entrance to the office…

This is the front of the office of Enterprise Rent A Car; and the key drop box is located in the red circle. Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

This is the front of the office of Enterprise Rent-A-Car; and the key drop box is located in the red circle. Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

…until I read the words at the bottom:

Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

“Vehicles returned after hours are the responsibility of the renter until inspected on the next business day.” I felt uneasy after reading that statement.

I never was completely comfortable with the rare occurrence of returning a vehicle after hours at a rental car facility at an airport — most of the time, I rent cars from airport locations which are open 24 hours per day, seven days per week — but at least airport locations are usually secure. I thought that there might have been a secure location — perhaps in the back of the building — where I could return the car; but alas, none existed.

People rent and return vehicles during off hours, I thought to myself. This probably happens every day without incident. There is nothing to worry about, as nothing will probably happen

…but what if another car damages this car after I leave but before the office opens, I wondered. After all, the only place where I could leave the car I rented was in an open parking lot. I would then be responsible for paying for the damage — although the credit card I used would have most likely covered the damage.

The office of Enterprise Rent A Car is on the left. Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

The office of Enterprise Rent-A-Car is on the left. Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

Even worse: what if the car was stolen? That scenario concerned me more than just mere damage to the vehicle — and that is apparently what happened to a woman from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia back in October of 2013.

At the conclusion of the rental of a Ford Mustang, Kristen Cockerill dropped the car off at an Enterprise rental facility on a Sunday and deposited the keys in a secure drop box.

The keys were safe and secure in the drop box, all right; but apparently the car was not safe, as the vehicle was determined stolen — between the time Cockerill dropped it off at the office before it opened for business the next day — as the result of an investigation by police.

Cockerill eventually received a bill from Enterprise for $47,000.00, which purportedly was the replacement value of the Ford Mustang. She wound up not having to pay that bill after all — but not without enduring extreme stress.

What if that happened to me?

My thought process was that because the office was closed, the car probably could not be rented — and that thought process of course could have been erroneous, as I do not know what employees of Enterprise Rent-A-Car do on a Sunday while the office is closed: do they move cars around between different locations? Regardless, I decided to keep the car an extra day for peace of mind where I know it will have a greater chance of being safe, knowing I would have to pay for an extra day.

When I returned the car to the office just before it opened the next day, I tried to explain my concern and reasoning to the staff there both in person and the office manager via telephone later that day. I politely attempted to negotiate with them — but they remained steadfast about not removing the charge for the extra day.

I can understand their point of view: what is to stop someone from purposely renting a car on a Saturday and getting two days out of a rental and paying for only one day?

Regardless, that experience did sour me on renting from Enterprise Rent-A-Car. There is an office for Avis literally several hundred yards south of the office of Enterprise — and here is what is printed on the door:

Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

“No After Hours Returns” — and it is open for a few hours every Sunday. Clear. Straight. To the point…

…and the next time I needed a rental car locally, I patronized the Avis office. The staff were friendlier; the vehicle was better; and the rental rate was less expensive. How can you beat that combination?

Well, I never returned to that office of Enterprise Rent A Car; nor have I rented a car from the company since then — not out of anger or frustration; but rather because the competition offered a better experience for me. I do admit that I should have assessed the entire rental situation from the beginning and the potential problems which could occur, as I typically do; but if the staff of that local office of Enterprise Rent A Car could have worked with me even just a little bit, I would have gladly given priority to rent from that location again in the future without the need to seek out their competition. It was not the first time I rented a vehicle from that Enterprise office.

They certainly were not obligated to work with me, of course — they did not owe me anything or do anything wrong — but it would have been a nice gesture for them to do something to keep my business. That is what I would have done if I were the manager, anyway. Perhaps that location is busy enough that they do not need my business; and that is fine…

…but I am relating my experience to you in case you already did not know: try not to rent a vehicle where you must return it to an unsecured area at a time when the office is closed, as you just might be taking an unnecessary risk. If that does happen and you are uncomfortable, then consider adding a day to the duration of time you plan on renting the car — or consider renting the car at a different time, if possible.

At the very least, ensure that you rent any vehicle with a credit card which covers your rental in case of damage. Be aware that the rental car coverage offered by many credit cards is considered secondary — meaning that your primary automobile insurance would pay for damage first.

I have probably overthought this whole experience, so I will ask you: have you ever had problems returning a vehicle to a rental car facility during off hours when its office was closed? What has been your experience?

34 thoughts on “Be Careful About Returning Rental Cars After Hours…”

  1. Bob D says:

    You would be charged even had you dropped the keys in the drop box on Sunday. You are charged for Sunday because they are closed and cannot verify. This has been my experience with enterprise and hertz.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      …then I am glad I kept the car for an extra day, Bob D. I just learned something new. Thank you for that…

      …but I then wonder why the contract for the rental was for one day even though it was rented out on a Saturday and that office is closed on Sundays…?

  2. I’ve done that I think once or twice with Enterprise, and I haven’t had a problem. The Enterprise that I have frequented has a parking garage and while it isn’t secure by any means, it’s at least not parked on a strip mall like the one you posted a picture of.

    My memory is a bit hazy but I want to say that I even did something along the lines of what you suggested – something like rented it from 9am Friday to 9am Sunday, but didn’t end up returning it till later on Sunday but still was only charged the 2 days I rented it for. From what I recall, the office told me that as long as it was there when they opened, I was fine.

    That was awhile ago, so perhaps their policies have changed, or maybe it depends office to office, but that’s what happened to me.

    Had the car been damaged and/or stolen, that would have been a sticky situation probably but at least it wasn’t a $47000 Ford Mustang 🙂

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      The vehicle I rented was not a $47,000.00 Ford Mustang either, Points With a Crew; but I also did not have six children with me…

      …did you?

  3. William says:

    Beware enterprise no rent bottom feeder company i got it from them in niagra falls airport 2 yrs ago same situtation not open on pick up and not open on drop off. Turn into a bill dispute that the credit card resolved in my favor. But that station manager b-tthead put me on the do not rent list over a 50$ dispute. This enterprise is a POS bottom feeder compamy to avoid at all necessity

  4. Segments says:

    I look for an Enterprise office that is open on Sunday. Usually one is open in larger markets.

  5. Prangh says:

    I was once liable for parking lot damage made to a car from Budget after an after-hours return. Showing photos of proof returning without damage did not matter, since I was liable by policy anyway. We asked for an itemization of the repair bill and it included items definitely unrelated to the damage. Fighting it went nowhere after dozens of calls, faxes, and mail. Litigating over a small amount was not worth the time and money so I paid up in the end. Since then I’ve stuck to Hertz, who have been much more lenient, even with small damage before return.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I had thought of taking photographs of the car before dropping it off, Prangh — but then I realized that that would not be proof at all.

      By the way, did you rent from a Budget Rent A Car rental facility in British Columbia, by chance?

      1. Prangh says:

        Hi Brian, it was in Philadelphia, but I could imagine it happening anywhere 🙂

  6. Steve says:

    You guys are all idiots. The rental car companies rent you a vehicle with clear understanding of the rules and regulations up front. Remember the customer is renting the vehicle on their own accord and clearly agrees to the process at the beginning. Regardless of outcome if the vehicle is returned in any condition other than what it was rented, it is the responsibility of the renter even if they didn’t do it. If you are worried about it don’t rent a car. Heck don’t even get out of bed you might slip and fall or get food poisoning. Take personal responsibility for your actions (that is why there is insurance) or purchase the coverage from the company and then you have no worries at all. Sounds simple to me

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      “That is why there is insurance”…

      …have you ever actually dealt with attempting to have a claim fulfilled on an insurance policy, Steve?

      While there are times where that might not be a problem, the company backing the insurance policy will usually attempt in any way possible not to pay on the claim — even if the claim seems to be obviously legitimate in terms of conforming to the terms and conditions of the policy…

  7. Samirah says:

    I’m going through this right now and my enterprise is like a block away from the ghetto so I’m really unhappy about leaving it on a Sunday, I think I’m just going to take it back right before they open cuz the probability of damage happening in the daylight within an hour is a lot less than over night. I’m so stressed I’m not renting cars on Saturdays anymore lol

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I do not blame you, Samirah; but if you do want to rent a car on a Saturday, be certain to rent a car from a company which is open on Sunday and will allow you to return the car without charging you an extra day, if you can do so.

  8. David Leifer says:

    I had a similar but different problem with Budget. My return date was on a Sunday and the return location did not have Sunday hours. I wasn’t as concerned about something happening to the car and nothing did. However a week later I had an additional charge of $95 for a late return since it was not considered returned until the location where I dropped it off check it in the following day. I called to dispute the charge but they insisted this was standard policy.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Budget has allegedly developed a shady reputation recently — especially in British Columbia, David Leifer.

      Please refer to the links in the second paragraph of this article for more details…

      In the meantime, was that specific provision memorialized in the contract you signed when you rented the car? If not, you might have a potential claim for that charge — or at least part of it — to be returned to you.

  9. Paul says:

    Enterprise Rent a car are shady crooks. Idiot kids wrecked my Mercedes and my insurance allotted me a rental from this place. The skeezeball punk kid blatantly lied through his teeth about a 16.99 fee (something to do with insurance) that would be one time deducted from my bank card upon return of the vehicle… days later when I called to confirm the amount of time I had the vehicle, they informed me that the 16.99 charge was Per Day and I didn’t even needed as lied to by their punk sales kid, because I had full blown, carry over, comprehensive collision coverage from my Mercedes-Benz. These people are shysters, liars, and crooks and I will NEVER do business with them again.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Wow. I am sorry to have read about your experience, Paul.

      How many days did you need the car until your Mercedes was repaired?

  10. Bob says:

    Interesting article. I personally prefer if they allow you to drop after hours with conditions rather than just say no, but to each his own. (That’s actually how I found this. I need to catch a train 2 hours before a nearby Enterprise office opens, so if they don’t allow off-hour drop offs, I’m screwed. Website won’t let me specify an off-hours return, but I was going to call them.) Many rental places I’ve dealt with in the past have said they charge until they open, even if that adds another day or two to the cost. My local Hertz moved to that policy about 8 years ago. I hadn’t really thought about the damage concern of an early drop-off though. After an incident 5 years ago I ALWAYS take the LDW now, even if I have to shell out the extra $15/day (though most of the time I can use a CDP where it’s only a couple of dollars extra). I never used to get the LDW, thinking after 25 years of driving and only 1 minor accident in my own car, what are the odds I’d ever be in an accident in a rental. But one time the price difference between 2 companies was only about $1/day, with the higher rate including LDW, so I figured why not take it. 2 days into a cross-country trip, on I-71 in Cincinnati a tow truck (with lapsed insurance btw) passes me, and part of the vehicle he’s towing breaks loose, smashing my hood, roof, taking out the driver’s side mirror, etc. (& causing a 4-car pile-up behind me), seriously damaged but still drivable. I bring the car to the rental office at the airport, they write a big LDW on the front of the contract, hand me a new contract and keys to another car, and I was on my way in 10 minutes. Other than giving a phone statement to their loss department a week later, I didn’t have to deal with it at all. I’ve known people in accidents with rental cars without LDW, and the headaches to clear it up can last for months. Back to your point, if you have LDW on the car, that would cover theft or vandalism in their parking lot too I’d think.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      You never know when something might happen, Bob. This is a reminder than insurance is basically a gamble; and on the day of your unfortunate accident, you won the bet. I am hoping that you escaped the accident unscathed.

      That is an interesting way of looking at how paying extra for insurance on a rental car can be beneficial. Many people look at it as a waste of money. At $15.00 for ten days, that is $150.00 in extra cost for no tangible additional benefit — unless something happens, of course.

      For some people, their credit cards include insurance coverage; but the coverage varies. One of my credit cards has a policy that the insurance is a primary insurance policy in case of an accident with a rental car outside of the United States at no additional cost — as long as I pay for the rental with that credit card…

      …and there are those people who will attest that a rental car company will not pay for an accident under certain conditions despite paying for coverage in a possible attempt to weasel out of the responsibility.

      Insurance pertaining to rental cars is covered in more detail in this article I wrote…

      …but as for whether LDW insurance covers theft or vandalism in the parking lot of the rental car facility when the vehicle is dropped off after hours, that is indeed possible and I would recommend carefully reviewing the policy details; but if I am paying for the extra day anyway because the rental car facility is closed for the day, I may as well keep the car an extra day anyway, as I indicated in this article.

  11. DaninMCI says:

    While they can say that you are responsible on the sign. They are actually responsible if they provide a key drop as this would convert over to their garage liability/keepers insurance and business auto coverage. It’s like the signs in the store parking lots that say they aren’t responsible for damages to cars but in many cases (like shopping card damages) they can be.
    Down side is that they will try to hold you responsible and also bill you for damages, fees, etc. If you are forced to do a key drop like say at 4am at the SJC airport, take photos of the car before you do the key drop to prove you dropped it off undamaged.

  12. MikeM says:

    Watch out for the word “inspect” . I just had an experience where I returned the car on a Wednesday nite (drop box system) , having picked the car up that same morning. I figured I was safe for a one day charge , having picked the car up at noon on Wednesday. Nope. the charge was for 3 days ! they said they were swamped with returns and didn’t “inspect” the car until Friday afternoon….

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I would demand my money back for those two extra days, MikeM — especially on the assumption that the rental car facility was open for business all three days.

      If I understand correctly what you are describing, that is outright fraudulent on the part of the employees of the rental car company; and I personally would report them to the authorities — if, of course, you can prove it…

  13. Silver says:

    Helpful post, Brian! Sure save me a ton of stress by reading this post first. I am surprised no one here mentioned alternatives like Turo and so on. I read from a blogger here they are not as strict, like Airbnb hosts, they try their best to accommodate. And their rent is usually a lot less than regular car renters like Enterprise, Avis, etc. P.S. Anyone from Enterprise & Budget reading this, there is a NO WAY I’ll be renting a car from you people!

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Thank you for your comment and recommendation, Silver. I appreciate it.

  14. Gigi Forde says:

    I had issues returning a vehicle to an enterprise at the airport in Fort Lauderdale Florida. I returned the vehicle before my flight. There was no attendant in sight but there were signs letting you know where to park the vehicle and where to leave the keys. I chose to leave the vehicle because I had a flight to catch.
    It was months later that I received a bill in the mail from enterprise saying that I owed them for the damages to the vehicle. I called and ask for pictures, and pictures were sent. My next question to them was why this incident was not reported to me as soon as it was discovered. She told me that they had to determine how much it would cost to fix the damges to the vehicle. That took months….come on.
    Looking at the pictures, it looked like I was in an accident. I told her I refused to pay it. I told her that I checked the vehicle before I left the lot and it was fine. Whatever damage that occured to the vehicle between the time I dropped it off and months later is not my concern. She tried to explain that it happened when I dropped it off. I told her prove it. I will not pay for damages unknown to me.
    Long story short, I couldn’t rent anything from enterprise anymore because my name was flagged. The woman on the phone threatened me with sending the info to a collection agency, threatened me with a law suit for the damages. I told her bring it on. It’s been years and I am still waiting. It’s either they figured out it wasn’t me or they were looking for another poor soul to pin the bill on.
    Moral of this story; it is best to always drop off the vehicle to a person who will inspect it and sign off on it. Anything less might leave you with a hefty bill.

  15. TxAqua says:

    Never trust the thieving filth at Enterprise.

    Immediately having a major surgery, I needed repairs done to my car, and of course I also needed transportation in the mean time. I rented a small car for two days from Enterprise. I’d never had a problem with them in the past. Has that ever changed!

    When the dealership called and said my car was ready, off I went. I was going to take the rental car over and get a ride back to pick up my own car. That’s when I made the fatal mistake: The dealership guy said, “You can leave the car here and Enterprise will pick it up. People do it all the time. I’ll take care of that, you go home and rest.” I thought, Awesome, this saves me a trip and I can get back in bed where I belong. Little did I know…

    One night recently, I had to go into the emergency room because I was having post-op complications. I was discharged rather early in the morning, around 4 a.m. After being stuck at the hospital for several hours without anything to eat or drink, of course I was hungry and thirsty and swung into a fast food joint to relieve it. I handed the clerk my credit card to pay for the meal, but it was declined. I have one of the new cards, and they can be a little finicky at times, so I didn’t think anything about it. I paid cash for my food and went home. I was tired when I got there at last, so I went to bed.

    Later in the day, I remembered the declined card and checked my bank account. That’s when I saw that Enterprise had a pending withdrawal of $345 on my account that put my available balance in the negatives. I also found another nasty surprise: They had also taken out not the $138 that we had agreed on for the rental, but over $500. When I tried to call the Customer Support line, of course they were not open. Enterprise doesn’t do customer support outside of a very small window of time. My dealership was still open, though, and they were shocked that I had been charged for the car, when Enterprise had picked it up on the very afternoon I had left it at the dealership. The guy who had helped me even said, “I handed those keys over myself. I saw the person from Enterprise drive off.”

    So Enterprise has taken over $850 from me for a two-day rental.

    I call that stealing, don’t you?

  16. June says:

    I love Enterprise! 😀

  17. NAM says:

    First off…. wow Steve. You are a moron. “Don’t even get out if bed you might skip and fall…”. Well, I get out of bed and work my ass off everyday for my family but it doesn’t mean I want to est thousands of dollars worth of damage bc after hours was the only time I could return it and despite extra security methods it is actually quite often rental car companies will charge the renter for the damage. Not fix it then wait for another renter to turn it in after hours etc and do the same to them. It’s all a scam just like insurance and most other things. Everyone wants the all mighty dollar. If course you already knew all these things. You just must have money falling out of your anal cavity. Anyhow, yes these situations happen quite often I’ve been investigating these types of situations for over three years now. It’s a shame you can’t just count on honesty because everyone is so crooked these days.

  18. FoolMeOnce says:

    Like many above have stated: caveat emptor if you choose to leave the car during non-biz hours. I will add the following: if you tend to drop off during off-hours (like I do to avoid $30 airport hotel overnight parking charges, for example), you should only return to a 24-7 facility.

    Budget at PIT does this shady stuff. You can pick up keys to a car anytime while the desk is open, but the garage return hours window is small on weekends. So if you fly in 10p on Friday, don’t expect to drop off at 10p on a Sunday. You are barged for 48hrs use but get less than that due to operating hours.

    Budget PIT after-hours signs say “leave keys in off-hours box”. But you are charged for extra day bc they don’t physically check the car back in until the next day. Total scam. I tried to point out this policy hypocrisy to a mouf-breathing agent and got glazed look instead. Buyer beware at smaller non-24/7 hillbilly locations like PIT and smaller …

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      That car rental facilities resort to such tactics is a shame, FoolMeOnce.

      Thank you for sharing your experience and information.

  19. You are able to realize that obviously placing nearly 50,
    000 miles on a car in five days and managing out 1 / 2 of its beneficial life and merely spending
    1200+ pounds charge the automobile rental firm a bunch of money.

  20. Julio says:

    Hello, and what about insurance if you all car rental companies have insurance for cars. If you return it after office hours. If car got it to accident insurance should pay for it. Or am I wrong? Hm company which create that service that you can return car after office hours safely, will won a big market peace.

  21. jeremy says:

    I experienced the exact same unfriendliness in Lewiston, ID at Eterprise Rent A Car. I was treated like dirt. The guy switched rates on me because he knew i was stranded with no ride. I was so mad and discussed i walked a mile to the airport and rented from Avis. The guy was super friendly, and gave me a car for 1/3 of the price of Enterprise. Enterprise you should be ashamed of yourself!!

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