By Christopher Elliott Travel columnist
Tribune Media Services
updated 8/4/2011 1:21:19 PM ET 2011-08-04T17:21:19
travel troubleshooter

Q: I recently rented a car through Enterprise at Chicago's Midway Airport. I was taken to a vehicle that had a damaged fender. I called this situation to the attention of the rental attendant and he said, "No worries, I'll just note it on the contract."

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When I returned the vehicle, all check-in procedures ran normally, and I was sent on my way. The next day, I received an unsigned email from "Damage Recovery Unit" asking for my insurance company information.

I immediately contacted the agency by phone. A representative advised me to email them a copy of my original contract, which noted the damage. So I did. The next day I received another email from Damage Recovery Unit that said, "claim and invoice information was on the way."

I phoned the Midway location from where I had rented the vehicle. A representative at that location claimed not to have a copy of the contract stating, "we don't keep those on file here." Within three days, I received another email from Damage Recovery Unit, with an estimate and an invoice.

Clearly, no one had read my letter or looked at the contract attached. I couldn't get through to Damage Recovery Unit by phone, and the Midway location, which I was able to reach, didn't have any paperwork on my case.

I think I am the target of what may well have been a very lucrative summer vacation scam set up by the rental agency and this mysterious DRU agency. What do you think?
Janice Stickley White, El Dorado Hills, Calif.

A: I think I'm getting tired of answering questions about fraudulent damage claims on rental cars. Obviously, if there was pre-existing damage that was noted on your rental car, then Enterprise should have signed off on your car, thanked you for your business and let you be on your way.

If there had been damage to the fender that you were responsible for, an Enterprise representative should have noted it when you returned the vehicle and asked you to fill out a damage claim. The company shouldn't have broadsided you with a form letter a few days later, demanding the name of your insurance company.

Is this a widespread scam? It's hard to tell. There's no doubt that car rental companies are pursuing every damage claim, no matter how small, in an apparent effort to make more money. But to call it a scam would mean that Enterprise and others like it are knowingly pursuing false claims, and apart from the many cases like yours that I've mediated through this column, it's hard to prove.

There are a few things you might have done to prevent this from becoming a claim. When you picked up the car, and the representative promised to note the damage, I would have asked for another car. Enterprise shouldn't be renting you a damaged car.

If it were the last car on the lot, I would have double-checked the notation to make sure it was accurate. And knowing that you were driving a damaged car, I would have asked for a manager to sign off on the car when you returned it. Also, note the name and phone number of that supervisor, just in case Enterprise has second thoughts.

One other thing: Calling Enterprise was probably the least efficient way to contact it. A brief, polite email, disputing its claim, works the best. I like the fact that you copied the insurance authorities in Illinois on your correspondence — that underscores the seriousness of your grievance.

I contacted Enterprise on your behalf, and it dropped the claim.

© 2011 Christopher Elliott ... Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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