Q: I recently rented a Mazda 2 from Enterprise. When I picked up the car, a representative and I did a walk-around. I’m normally very careful when picking a car up. I noticed the fender well on the front driver’s side was popped out of place, and I noted that with the representative.
My mistake: I didn’t look under the front bumper to see what would have caused that to happen.
I drove the car home, where I parked it in my driveway, which is sloped. When coming out of my garage, I was able to see damage to the underside of the bumper cover. In an effort to do the right thing, I immediately called Enterprise and explained what had happened. I talked to the manager and told her I was on my way back.
The manager said the damage was not there when the car left the rental location. It was not noted on the rental agreement that I had signed (which is true). She took pictures and we drove the car on our trip.
When I took it back, I was careful to park it in the same spot as when I picked it up. The agent checking the car back in didn’t see the damage. I left and waited to see what happened.
Then I received a bill for $826. I am firmly convinced that my effort to do the right thing put me in a tough spot. They would not have seen the damage had I just taken it back and not notified them of the damage. Can you help? — Brad Joiner, Dothan, Ala.
A: It’s reasonable to expect you to carefully examine the exterior and interior of a car before you rent it, which is what you did. You noted all of the damage that was visible from the sidewalk. But you shouldn’t have to crawl under the vehicle to assure yourself that your Mazda 2 is in one piece.
The Enterprise manager was just doing what she’s trained to do. If there’s damage to a car, it’s presumed to be the responsibility of the last renter, facts notwithstanding. You didn’t exactly help your case by being honest, although that was the right thing for you to do. But once the damage was on your record, you were responsible — end of story.
I wouldn’t have continued driving a damaged car. I would have asked Enterprise to fill out a damage claim and then requested another vehicle. Also, since you had the vehicle for such a short time, I don’t think it would have been unreasonable to ask to see the previous renter’s records. It’s possible that something was noted on that form that exonerates you.
The fact that part of the damage had been noted by you was in your favor. In reviewing Enterprise’s claim, it looked to me as if you were being charged for pre-existing damage.
If your appeal to Enterprise’s damage recovery unit is unsuccessful, you can always take your complaint to the top. I list the names and email addresses of the executives on my website at elliott.org/contacts/enterprise
I contacted Enterprise on your behalf, and it dropped the claim.
Christopher Elliott is the author of “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money and Hassle)” (National Geographic). He’s also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org