By Travel columnist
updated 5/9/2005 5:21:38 PM ET 2005-05-09T21:21:38

Roger Hughes returns his Enterprise rental car in what he thinks is good shape. No scratches or dings. But he’s wrong, according to a manager who carefully circles the vehicle and finds a “dent.” After a lengthy fight, Hughes is forced to write a check for $510 to cover the repair and repainting of the car. But he continues to insist that he is innocent and that Enterprise has pulled a fast one. Who is right? And how can you make sure you don’t get “dinged” on your next rental?

  1. Don't miss these Travel stories
    1. Lords of the gourd compete for Punkin Chunkin honors

      With teams using more than 100 unique apparatuses to launch globular projectiles a half-mile or more, the 27th annual World Championship Punkin Chunkin event is our pick as November’s Weird Festival of the Month.

    2. Airports, airlines work hard to return your lost items
    3. Expert: Tourist hordes threaten Sistine Chapel's art
    4. MGM Grand wants Las Vegas guests to Stay Well
    5. Report: Airlines collecting $36.1B in fees this year

Q: Last year I traveled from Minneapolis to Los Angeles, where I rented a Kia from Enterprise Rent-A-Car. A quick walk around the vehicle revealed no damage to the rental. The next day I returned the car to the local Enterprise agency in Lancaster, Calif.

Another walk-around inspection of the car was done personally by the manager, which had never happened to me before. He claimed there was a dent in the door. He said he would have to file an accident report. But I said there had been no accident and I could not see a dent.

The manager then asked another employee to come out for a second opinion. She knelt at the front bumper and looked down the fender line. She said she could see an indentation by the door handle of the driver’s-side door.

I then offered to have the car inspected by an auto body shop just down the street. My request was denied. I asked two customers to come out and look at the car for another opinion. They agreed that there was no damage or dent in the door.

The manager made no comment. Instead, he filled out an accident report and requested I sign it. I declined. I had pictures taken of the car but I am not a professional photographer, and they only showed the car door.

In the following weeks I received a claim of $476 from Enterprise for damages and “repainting” of the door. I declined to pay and called and wrote the claims office indicating there was no dent or damage and I had witnesses to verify this fact.

Much to my surprise the Enterprise Claims office then changed the damage estimate bill from $476 to $510, which exceeded my insurance deductible. They then reported to my insurance company claiming I had an accident with their car.

I filed a fraud complaint with the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department. In response, Enterprise threatened to notify the State Motor Vehicles Department that I had an unreported accident with their vehicle, filed a credit report for lack of payment, and turned my case over to a collection agency.

My insurance company recommended that I pay the claim rather than fight it. So I did. But I feel as if Enterprise has taken advantage of me. If you can’t help me, at least help me warn others about this kind of behavior.

— Roger HughesMinneapolis

A: I’m surprised that this happened at Enterprise. I’ve had numerous conversations and e-mail exchanges with the company since this case and several others like it were brought to my attention, and the company insists that it goes to great lengths to process damage claims by the book.

But after reading your story, I had to wonder which book they were going by in Lancaster.

Enterprise is one of only a few car rental companies that processes its damage claims internally. Other companies sell the claims to outside companies, who then come after you with the bill. But Enterprise’s approach is more measured, and to hear its representatives talk about it, more compassionate. Still, Enterprise loses $60 million a year in uncollectible claims.

To hear you tell the story, it seems as if the manager you worked with was intent on charging you for what most people would consider normal wear and tear. I mean, when I have a small dent, I phone the Dent Doctor and he fixes it for $20 per ding — not $476. So even if there had been a dent, the price you were asked to pay was way, way too high.

Your actions appeared to be by the book: Taking the picture, asking for a second opinion, refusing to sign the “accident report.”

You might have also called the corporate office before releasing the car to see if you could talk with a manager. It’s possible that you would have come to a quicker settlement by roping the corporate office into the process sooner.

I spoke with Enterprise about your case, and it confirmed that there was no damage to the car before you picked it up and that the car was repaired by an independent shop, which billed Enterprise for the damage.

“All of us were very concerned with his perception more than anything,” said spokeswoman Christine Conrad. So Enterprise returned your money not because the damage was bogus, but because of the way you felt about the way in which the claim had been handled.

I think that’s a nice gesture by Enterprise, but I’m more concerned with the fact that the company apparently ignored your requests for a second opinion and then pressured you into writing a check for a ding that should have cost far less to repair.

I find that troubling and hope that what happened to you is just an isolated incident.

Christopher Elliott is National Geographic Traveler's ombudsman and a nationally syndicated columnist who specializes in solving your travel problems. Got a trip that needs fixing? Send him a note or visit his Web site. Your question may be published in a future story. Want to sound off about a story? Try visiting Elliott's forum.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments