We drove the car to our son's house in East Hampton and did not use it again until we returned to the airport.
When we returned the car, another Enterprise employee pointed out the nicks and scratches and claimed we were responsible for them. The representative we had originally spoken to when we rented the car was not available.
Two weeks later we received a bill for more than $319 to cover the cost of the repair and a note that the Enterprise employee we had rented the car from did not remember me pointing out the damage. Can you help?
—Paula Robbins, Boca Raton, Fla.
AWhen someone tells you not to worry, you should worry.
That's especially true when renting a car. More companies are giving their returned vehicles a meticulous once-over and slapping customers with repair and loss-of-use charges, even when the evidence that the renter did it is circumstantial at best.
I'll get to the particulars of your case in a second. But first, let me tell you how you could have avoided this mess. Normally, you'll have two opportunities to inspect a rental. The first is when you're handed the keys, at which point you can walk around the car and check for dents and dings. The second is when you pass through the security inspection at the exit and an agent checks your rental agreement and ID.
So if the first agent says, "Don't worry, be happy" and declines to initial that little form where you note any damage on the car, that's fine. Just ask the guy at the gate to note the damage. Another tip: Take pictures of your car with a digital camera or phone. Make sure they include a time-stamp .
Do that, and there's no way your rental company can stick you with a bill—assuming, of course, you returned the vehicle in the same condition you found it in.
I checked with Enterprise, and I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that you weren't being charged for any nicks. But there were a few "significant scratches" on an almost brand-new vehicle, as an Enterprise representative described it. "But probably what caught their eye on the return check-in was that the bumper was detached," she added in an e-mail, which included pictures of the damaged car.
Someone from Enterprise should have reviewed the scratches with you and explained that you would get a repair bill. Based on your account, it sounds as if there was a lot of finger-pointing .
Car-rental companies have a well-deserved reputation for surprising their customers with bills they don't deserve. But in this case, the only fault I can conclusively find with Enterprise is that it left you confused about how to go about paying for a car that appears to have been damaged while you rented it.
Enterprise withdrew its $319 repair bill.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org , or e-mail him at email@example.com.