Q: I recently rented a car from Budget in Nashville and returned it to New Orleans. It was in perfect shape when I brought it back.
A few weeks ago, I received a damage claim from the company. They asked me to pay more than $3,000 for repairs.
I’m not responsible for the damage. How do I know? Well, I can tell you that I returned the rental undamaged. But there are two things about Budget’s claim that don’t make sense, either.
First, I returned the car at the Budget Rent-a-Car agency in New Orleans, specifically on Canal Street. Canal Street is in the middle of town, surrounded by buildings. But the landscape in the pictures on my damage claim is completely different. There are no buildings at all. They must have moved the car before taking pictures of it. Who’s to say it wasn’t damaged then?
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Second, there was a picture of the odometer in the claim. When I returned the car, the odometer out was at 22,265 miles and when I returned it, it was at 24,374 miles. But the odometer on their picture is 24,196 miles, which is impossible. I was driving the car when it reached that number.
I tried to contact Budget several times by phone, by email, even by mail. But they never responded. Now I’m being threatened by a collection agency. What should I do?
— Guilhem Ibos, Chicago
A: Budget shouldn’t have sent you a $3,000 bill — at least not with that kind of documentation. Ideally, any damage to a rental car would be recorded when you return the vehicle and the renter would sign a form acknowledging it. This just looks like a “gotcha” — and a poorly executed one, at that.
What kind of documentation is adequate? A time-stamped photo of your rental car, showing that shortly after you returned the vehicle, the company discovered damage; a picture of the odometer that verifies your claim; and a repair invoice. The paperwork you received was less than persuasive.
I’m not sure why Budget didn’t respond to your letters and emails. If you’re being ignored, you can always escalate your case to a manager. You can find a list of executives on the Budget website, http://ir.avisbudgetgroup.com/management.cfm. Email addresses at Budget are formatted firstname.lastname@example.org.
I also list Budget’s executives on my website: http://elliott.org/contacts/budget-rent-a-car/.
One thing is clear: Without conclusive proof that damage to this car was noted — and repaired — shortly after your rental, Budget shouldn’t have sent you a $3,000 invoice. I’m not saying the company’s claim is invalid. Only that it needed to make a stronger case.
I contacted Budget and asked it to review its claim. A representative called you and told you the company had withdrawn its bill.
Christopher Elliott is a travel consumer advocate and the author of “How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler.” His column runs regularly at seattletimes.com/travel. Contact him at email@example.com.