What to do to avoid, or dispute, charges for alleged car rental damage
Posted 26th June 2019 by Martina Nee - Press and Communications
Every year, ECC Ireland receives lots of complaints from consumers about car rental, in particular alleged damage charges. These charges can cost consumers hundreds and can often be difficult to fight, especially if the consumer doesn’t have enough evidence to back up their side of the story, doesn’t have enough information about the damage or how the charge is calculated, and/or they don’t know the best way to complain.
With many consumers preparing for their summer getaway, and possibly renting a car, ECC Ireland has put together some tips to help you hopefully avoid being caught by alleged car rental damage or, if you do find yourself unfairly charged, then at least you may be in a better position to put in a complaint and try to get that money, or some of it, back.
The consumer success story of the month is about how ECC Ireland helped a consumer get full reimbursement from a car rental company who charged him just over €780 for burnt out clutch. The consumer query answers the question if car rental companies can insist that you buy their insurance or retain a security deposit even if you’ve already bought your own.
Download a PDF version here or read on!
‘There’s a scratch there. That’ll be a €700 charge for that’ – these are the words, or very similar, that many consumers dread to hear when they are caught by alleged car rental damage charges. And a barely there scratch costing hundreds isn’t the only problem!
There have been cases where there is pre-existing damage (e.g. a dent) and despite the fact that the consumer pointed this out to the car rental representative when picking up the vehicle, and returning it back without any further damage, he/she still ends up being charged, sometimes a substantial amount. Consumers are often left in the dark as to why the charge is imposed and how it is calculated.
There have also been situations (also reported recently in the media) where a consumer is charged for ‘loss of use’ even though the vehicle in question may be used again and again by other renters (who may also be charged) and then repaired much later once there is a sufficient amount of accumulated minor damage. The unlucky renters may also be subject to a bit of pressure to just agree to sign the damage report form and pay so that they can catch their flight or they may not even know they have been held liable for damage only to find out weeks, if not months, later that hundreds have been withheld or taken from their accounts.
Of course, the car rental company is not always the bad guy. There may be legitimate reasons for a car rental company to impose a charge, for instance when the damage sustained to the vehicle was caused by the consumer; it may not be obvious to the car renter that a pebble created a dent or crack, the wheel is scratched from rubbing against a curb or there is non-visible mechanical damage caused by driver’s own negliance or bad driving habits. However, what is obvious, almost across the board of all car rental complaints that ECC Ireland receives, is that consumers are often very confused about their rights, how car rental companies apply charges for damage, and what to do if they are faced with extra charges.
Car rental damage 101 – What to do?
You may consider taking out insurance but make sure you know what it does or does not cover. For example, most do not cover damage caused by negligence of the driver or damage to the wheel/rim as highlighed in a recent Irish Independent article.
Take photos and/or videos
This is one of the most important steps consumers can take to protect themselves better from alleged damage charges. Why? Because a dispute may come down to your word against theirs, and so the more evidence you have to prove that you did not cause the damage or that it was pre-existing when you picked up the car will help make your case stronger when seeking redress later on. So don’t be shy. Take out that phone and take the pictures/videos (date stamped if possible) when you pick up the car and when you drop it back.
Inspection by car rental representative
Usually when you pick up the vehicle, the car rental representative will come out with you to inspect the car and so there is a number things you should do:
- Make sure you check the car thoroughly yourself, paying particular attention to scuffs/scratches on the wheels (remember – insurance may not cover this), and point this out to the car rental representative so that it is noted on the ‘check out’ form.
- The ‘check out’ may be a hard copy with a diagram of the car or it can be electronic. Whatever the format, you should ensure that any pre-existing marks are noted and that you retain a copy for yourself; if you are told that you don’t need to take a copy, ignore this and insist on getting one, even if you have to go back into the office to get it.
- This should be done again when you return the vehicle, noting any damage (pre-existing or otherwise) on the ‘check in’ form and get a copy. If you are returning the car outside of the working hours of the car rental location, then it is imperative that you conduct your own inspection, taking pictures/video to show that you left the vehicle back in the designated area and if there is/is not damage (pre-existing or otherwise).
In the weeks (or months) following your rental, you should keep a close eye on your account statement to watch out for any additional charges. Remember, these may actually be legitimate charges so it’s important to first contact the car rental company to clarify what the charge is for. If you are disputing the alleged damage charge/amount, then you should consider requesting the following:
- An itemised damage assessment by a qualified mechanic.
- Proof of the damage they claim was caused by you (e.g. if they say there was a crack on the windsreen then ask for evidence of this), and
- An itemised invoice for the actual repairs.
Asking for this information/documentation may help you dispute either the entire amount (depending on the situation) or get a reduction in the amount charged (e.g. it may be proven that the damage you caused should only be €200 instead of the €700 charged).
If that doesn’t work?
If you don’t receive a response from the trader or the response is unsatisfactory then you can do the following:
- If the trader is a member of the European Car Rental Concialiation Service (ECRCS) then you could lodge a complaint for assessment. Members, who currently include Europcar, Enterprise, Avis, Budget, Maggiore, Hertz, Thrifty, Dollar, Alamo, National, Firefly and Sixt, must adhere to a Code of Practice. The ECRCS provides an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) service which will assess the case and make a decision that the member company has to comply with.
If you disagree with the ECRCS’ decision and no amicable decision is reached, or the car rental company is not an ECRCS member then you could consider the following:
- Contact the ECC Ireland (if you’re resident in Ireland and the car rental company is based in another EU/EEA country) for free advice and, if required, further out-of-court assistance.
- Take court action via the European Small Claims Procedure which allows you to pursue a cross-border claim (up to €5,000) via your local court for a fee of just €25.
Consumer success story of the month:
A French consumer rented a car in Ireland. The consumer found difficulties from the outset in getting into gear and, after five kilometres driving, he decided to bring the car back to the car rental company, as he suspected that there was a problem with the clutch. The consumer was provided with a replacement car but was charged with the excess of €1,500 for the alleged clutch damage. The consumer was subsequently sent an invoice for repairing the burnt clutch, totalling €782.65, and got a refund for the difference (€717.35). The consumer disputed the charge of €782.65 on the basis that he did not cause the damage and reported the matter as soon as he realised there was a problem. The consumer contacted ECC France, which in turn sought assistance from ECC Ireland. We contacted the car rental company to point out that whilst appreciating that consumers may be liable for damages sustained to the vehicle during the rental period, they should not be penalised for normal wear and tear, or for being provided with a car which was not in a sound condition. Accordingly, if the mechanical failure was not caused by any negligent act or omission by the consumer, he should not pay for the repairs as, had the clutch been in a sound condition when the car was supplied, the consumer would not have faced this situation. Further, he reported the matter immediately to avoid further damage. Following our intervention, the consumer was refunded the €782.65 claimed.
Consumer query of the month:
Q: I booked a rental car through an online broker, and purchased the insurance offered during the booking process. The insurance was not honoured on pick-up, and extreme high-pressure tactics were employed by the car rental agent on the lot. In particular, the agent was insistent that they would not release the car unless I took out their own additional cover, costing €20 a day, or provide a security deposit of €1,200. I showed the paperwork of my booking to the agent, to prove that I had my own insurance policy, but he said that wasn’t his problem. Can they do that?
A: Car rental companies may require a security deposit, typically in the form of a credit card pre-authorisation, to cover the applicable excess (e.g. €1,200). Alternatively, they may offer their own cover, at extra cost, to reduce the renter’s liability for the excess. Where the consumer has his/her own insurance policy, we are of the view that the consumer should not be compelled to take out additional cover or insurance, yet the car rental company may insist on providing the security deposit (e.g. credit card pre-authorisation), to be waived once the car is returned undamaged. In the event of damage, the car rental company can charge the consumer for the cost of the repairs, up to the amount pre-authorised, in which case the consumer may claim these costs back from his/her own insurer afterwards.
The European Consumer Centre is part of the European Consumer Centres Network (ECC-Net), which covers 30 countries (all EU countries plus Norway and Iceland), and offers a free and confidential information and advice service to the public on their rights as consumers, assisting customers with cross-border disputes. ECC Ireland is funded by the European Commission and the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort is made to ensure accuracy, the European Consumer Centre cannot be held responsible for matters arising from any errors or omissions contained in this publication. The information provided is intended as a guide only and not as a legal interpretation.
© 2019 – European Consumer Centre (Ireland), CLG incorporated in Ireland, No. 367035, Registered Charity No. 20048617 – CHY14708. Located at MACRO Centre, 1 Green Street, Dublin 7.
This article was funded by the European Union’s Consumer Programme (2014-2020).
The content of this article represents the views of the author only and it is his/her sole responsibility; it cannot be considered to reflect the views of the European Commission and/or the Consumers, Health, Agriculture, and Food Executive Agency (CHAFEA) or any other body of the European Union. The European Commission and the Agency do not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains.