Travel Troubleshooter: Damage to an Enterprise SUV prompts a dispute

Posted: February 12, 2012

Question: I recently rented an SUV from Enterprise in Tenafly, N.J. A manager and I walked around the car before I left the lot. Neither of us saw any damage.

A week later, when I returned the car, a regional manager, who was taller than both myself and the store manager, noticed two outward-facing dings in the roof of the vehicle. He even asked if anyone had gotten mad and punched the roof, or carried any cargo that could have caused the damage.

The store manager who had missed the damage on the first inspection had to climb up into the car to get a look at the top; at that point, he said he never could have missed it.

Enterprise wants us to pay for the damage. They've been predictably unsympathetic and seemingly programmed to say, almost word for word, that they were not accusing me of damaging the car, but that it had been damaged while I had it (which, infuriatingly, implies that I purposefully hit it from the inside).

Now a sideswipe, a dent, a broken light - I get it, could have happened when I wasn't looking, when it was parked, whatever. But dents in the roof of the car? You'll have to take my word for it that I didn't go all Incredible Hulk and start smashing at things indiscriminately.

Luckily, I have insurance through my credit card, so hopefully I won't be footing the bill, but I'm still livid. Do I have any recourse at all?

- Mark Ferguson,

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Answer: Enterprise is both right - and wrong. Yes, you are responsible for the car while you rent it, so either you or your insurance company should pay for any damage to the SUV during your rental.

But I don't believe the manager who claims he could never have missed the roof damage. If your account is accurate and he had to climb up into the vehicle to see the dent, then it's far likelier that he missed the damage during the first inspection.

A solution isn't obvious. I mean, even if you had photographed the car - which is something I always recommend - you probably would have skipped the roof. I know I would have.

Incidentally, I've also heard of a few damage claims resulting from dents to the undercarriage, which is, of course, completely absurd. Who would take pictures of the underside of a rental car? Who would even check it, pre-rental?

In order to make the system fair, a car-rental company would have to be required to photograph every vehicle from every angle, both before and after a rental, and to ask you to sign a form acknowledging the car's condition.

Car-rental companies tell me such a system would be too expensive and time-consuming, but the alternative is even worse. It is the guilty-until-proven-innocent system we currently have - one that favors the car-rental company and punishes too many blameless customers. There must be a better way.

It's too bad Enterprise just repeated the same line, which is basically that you were guilty unless you could prove otherwise. If this ever happens to you again, you can appeal to someone higher up at Enterprise. Here is a link to some names: http://onyoursi.de/wiki/car-rental/enterprise/.

I contacted Enterprise on your behalf. The company dropped its claim.


Christopher Elliott is the author of "Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals" (Wiley). He also is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the cofounder of the Consumer Travel Alliance. E-mail him at chris@elliott.org.

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