Christopher Elliott / Travel & Leisure

Why are they charging me for someone else's damage?

Q: Please help me with a bogus damage charge by Alamo. We picked up our car in Kona, Hawaii, at dusk and saw numerous small dents and dings and scratches on the vehicle. We couldn't find a form to report the damage.

We asked the agent where the form was and reported several areas that we were concerned about. We were advised that they no longer have that form and if there was damage "golf ball size or smaller" they don't worry about it.

We told her that the car had several areas of concern, some larger than a golf ball, and then left.

When we returned the car two weeks later, they gave my husband an express incident report indicating damage to a passenger side panel. Although we explained that we had tried to report the damage, Alamo eventually sent us a notice saying that based on its investigation, "we must hold you contractually responsible for this loss."

This seems so unfair! What should I do? -- Renee Tyler, Loxahatchee, Fla.

A: You're right, this one seems unfair. You did your best to report the damage, and the Alamo agent shouldn't have shrugged off your attempts to report the dings and dents on your car.

First, though, let me commend you on your choice of vacation destination. Hawaii's Big Island is one of The Travel Troubleshooter's all-time favorite places, and he recently rented a car in Kona with exactly the same problem.

How did I get around it? I wrote a detailed description of the damage on the rental receipt, brought it back to the rental agent, and asked her to sign it. She did. I also took pictures of the rental car in order to document the numerous scratches on the minivan.

Had the agent refused to sign, I would have asked for another vehicle. It's not that I demand a flawless car when I'm on assignment (I don't) but I know too well the danger of being held responsible for pre-existing damage. And that's unfair, as you correctly point out.

After you contacted me, I advised you to go through the proper channels with Alamo, disputing the charges and making your best case in writing. Although you did, Alamo insisted on charging you.

I think you could have avoided being broadsided by a claim, but that would have required buying Alamo's optional insurance, which can double the cost of your rental, and represents a huge profit center to the auto rental industry.

I contacted Alamo on your behalf. It contacted you and said that after further review, it decided to close its claim. It apologized for "any inconvenience" it may have caused.

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Christopher Elliott is the author of "Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals" (Wiley). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at chris@elliott.org. Christopher Elliott receives a great deal of reader mail, and though he answers them as quickly as possible, your story may not be published for several months because of a backlog of cases.





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