On a recent vacation, my wife and I rented a car from Enterprise Rent-A-Car. After five days the air conditioner went out, so we exchanged the car. A month later we got a bill for $570.64. Enterprise claims a rock punctured the condenser—damage not covered by warranty—and we are responsible. Neither of us remembers anything hitting the vehicle, although we have no proof this occurred earlier, either. Now, Enterprise wants the bill paid in two days. Do we have any recourse? —Don Generalli, Dunedin, Florida
Your story reveals a big problem with car rentals: if damage is discovered after you’ve returned the car, the company becomes judge and jury in deciding who’s to blame. Holding you liable for under-the-hood damage can turn renting into a game of hot potato—whoever is driving when a part finally fails gets charged for the repair.
To help you out, I called the rental office you used, then a regional claims center, where manager Peter Magrath referred me to the executive offices. Not to let his department off the hook, I asked how he knew the damage occurred while you were driving the car. He declined to answer or show me a rental agreement stating that incidental damage is a renter’s responsibility. I then asked if he would send you a copy of the repair bill and the replaced parts. No again. After a hat trick of denials, I dialed up Christy Conrad in corporate communications.
Conrad moved quickly. Within two hours Enterprise did a U-turn, deciding it didn’t have enough evidence to link you to the damage, and withdrew the claim. She admitted they’d dropped the ball on this one and promised to review internal procedures and policies to prevent more incidents like yours.
Total saved by On Your Side: $570.64
Car Rental Tips
Review your auto insurance and travel-club coverage for rentals.
It’s likely you’re covered, but you may have to get reimbursed for repairs. Carry the insurance information with you when you travel.
List all potential drivers on the rental contract.
You might not be covered—by your own insurance or the rental company’s plan—if a nonlisted driver is at the wheel during an accident.
Inspect the car on pickup, and take pictures when you return it.
While this wouldn’t have helped Don Generalli, recording how the front, back, and sides look can cut short most disputes over dents.