Are you still responsible for paying the damages?
Does the “rental car damage” coverage on your credit card cover it?
Your own automobile insurance?
How can this happen and what do you do?
If you damaged your rental car, you are liable for the cost of the repair, even if the return agent fails to spot any damage and gives you a receipt.
Rental car agents attempt to process incoming vehicles as quickly as possible in an attempt to make your wait times as short as possible. After all, no one wants to miss their flight! When a vehicle is returned, the agent will check the mileage and gas level. Usually, the agent performs a basic check of the vehicle but may not take the time to do a full inspection. The rental agents are trying to spot any damage, but poor lighting or snow/dirt/mud on the vehicle might make it hard to identify damage. If there is damage to the vehicle, it may not be noticed until the vehicle is washed or undergoes scheduled maintenance. The renter of the vehicle at the time of the damage is still the responsible party.
Why is there sometimes a delay before you're notified of the damage?
While it is normally within a week or two, delays can occur for a variety of reasons. If the car is drivable and the location is busy, it may take time to pull the vehicle from the fleet. Estimates and repairs often need to be done by authorized service providers which may have a backlog. Additionally, some states require that the repairs be completed and billed prior to notifying you of the amount you owe.
Whether the damage was discovered by the rental agent when you dropped off the vehicle or it was discovered later, you are responsible for any damage that occurred during your rental period. Even if you did not cause the damage, you are still responsible for it.
Other Charges on Your Bill
If you receive notification of a rental damage claim, you may see that that in addition to the cost of the damage to the vehicle, there usually are additional fees. Often, rental agencies will add fees to the rental damage claim. This is to help defray the costs of processing the damage claim and not being able to rent the vehicle while it is being repaired. The definitions and explanations of these charges are detailed in the Rental Agreement you sign when renting the vehicle.
Note that your initial contact regarding the rental damage may not come from the rental agency. Most car rental agencies contract with third party vendors to provide “first notice of loss” and billing services. You may be contacted by a company you have never heard of like Viking Billing Service. Their role is to contact you and help guide you through the process of resolving the claim.
Below are some steps you can take to protect yourself from a mistaken rental damage claim.
Inspect and Take Pictures
If there is any damage to the vehicle when you pick it up and you do not document it, you run the risk of being held responsible for the damage. Note any damage with the company. Often, there is a Preexisting Damage Form in the glove box of the vehicle. If there is not one, the rental agent should also be able to provide one upon your request. Make sure that an employee signs the Preexisting Damage Form before you leave the rental agency and obtain a copy for yourself. Additionally, take photos of any damage. If your camera has a date/time stamp function, be sure it is turned on.
Whether damaged or not, when you return the vehicle, take photos of it or shoot a “walk around” video and retain them for six months. If there was damage before your rental, ask an attendant to walk around the vehicle with you and have him sign off on the preexisting damage form you filled out when you picked up the vehicle. The photos and the preexisting damage form will help show that you are not responsible for the damage if you are mistakenly contacted about a rental damage claim.
Avoid Returning a Car After-Hours
If you drop the vehicle off after hours, you are responsible for the vehicle until the rental agency opens and they check-in and inspect the vehicle. So if you can't avoid it, and you have to drop it off after hours, be sure to take pictures or a video of the vehicle to document its condition when you dropped it off.
There are multiple options available for insurance coverage when you are renting a vehicle.
Your Auto Insurance
Most primary auto insurance policies include coverage for damage or theft to a rental vehicle. Check with your insurance provider to see if you are covered.
Your Credit Card
Some credit cards, if used for renting the vehicle, offer rental damage coverage as part of their Card Member Benefits Program. Please note that some credit cards’ rental coverage terms may vary significantly. Some do not include coverage for additional fees like loss of use, administrative fee, etc. They may also have a “deductible” that you are responsible for. Check with you credit card company to see if you are covered. Also check the terms of your coverage.
Rental Agency Insurance
Rental agencies offer many types of insurance when you rent one of their vehicles. If you opt to purchase insurance through the rental agency, be sure you understand the type of insurance you are purchasing. Below are some of the insurance products they offer.
Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) or Loss Damage Waiver (LDW)
The rental agency will waive all or part of its cost if the vehicle is damaged or stolen.
Supplemental Liability Protection (SLP)
The rental agency covers the damage to another person’s property as well as medical costs for another person’s injuries for which you are legally responsible.
Personal Accident Insurance (PAI)
The rental agency provides medical, ambulance and death benefits to the renter and passengers of the vehicle.
Personal Effects Coverage (PEC)
The rental agency provides coverage against theft of personal effects.
Follow the Rules
Whether you are using your personal car insurance, credit card insurance, or insurance you purchased through the rental agency, if you do not follow the rules, the insurance company may not have to pay. Traffic violations, driving under the influence, unregistered drivers, and not reporting the damage are some issues that could void your insurance. Be sure to read your rental agreements and insurance policies to make sure you follow the rules and maintain your insurance protection.
Below are some steps you can take when responding to rental damage claims.
Avoid Frequent Contacts
If you respond to the initial contact regarding the rental damage claim, you will avoid frequent phone calls and letters as the billing company attempts to reach you to resolve the claim.
Verification of the Damage
Often, the initial notice of a rental damage claim does not contain all of the details about the damage. If you are uncertain, ask for more information. The billing company should have documents like the rental agreement, damage estimate, and photos of the damage. They will send them to you upon request.
Credit Card Time Limits
If you plan on using the coverage provided by your credit card company, the companies often have time limits on when you can file a claim. Delaying your filing of the claim may put you in jeopardy of not being able to use your credit card benefits. Billing companies usually expedite the claim process on your behalf.
Avoid Going to Collections
If you ignore a problem for too long, it often gets bigger. The same applies to a rental damage claim. If you do not address the rental damage claim, the rental agency may place the claim in collections. By addressing the issue in a timely manner, you can avoid having it become a collections matter.
Renting a vehicle is often necessary when you are away from home. By being proactive through taking photos, having inspections signed off, and having the correct insurance, you will be in a better position if you are contacted about a rental damage claim.
As you manage the insurance claim process, our account representatives work to resolve each matter quickly and thoroughly. They are professional and are committed to people and committed to good.