I waited too long to file a car rental claim

Susan Young has waited too long to file a damage claim with her credit card company. But it's not her fault -- a car rental contract employee told her to do it. Who's responsible?

Q: I recently rented a car from Budget in Ontario, Calif. When I returned the vehicle, a representative claimed that I scraped the bottom of the front bumper on the passenger side of the car.

I did not cause this damage and told him I wanted to dispute the claim. He gave me a form to complete and told me not to do anything -- including notifying my insurance company -- until I heard back from Budget.

I received a letter from Budget in February, stating that I would be held responsible for the damage. I immediately notified my credit card insurance company, through which my rental was covered.

To make a long story short, my credit card company is denying the claim because it was filed on the 46th day after the incident, even though I filed the claim the same day that I was notified I was being held responsible.

When I called the Budget facility directly, the manager told me I needed to find out why the Budget claims adjustor, who is a contract employee, didn't notify me until six and a half weeks after the incident, saying that I should have been notified within three to four weeks.

My take on this is that the Budget claims adjustor took what should have been a viable claim and negated it by not following the timeline Budget has for notifying customers. I've filed an appeal with my credit card insurance, including a timeline of events. Any advice you could provide would be gratefully accepted. -- Susan Young, Lopez Island, Wash.

A: I'm suspicious about a few items in this claim. First, there's the mysterious damage to the bottom of the front bumper. I'm not saying the bill was bogus, but I've handled many car rental damage claims where an employee discovered previously unseen damage to either the underside of the vehicle, or the roof.

Second, there's the lag time between your return and your claim. A damage claim should be sent in within four weeks or less. What took Budget so long? Add that to the directions you received on the damage claim, and I had little choice but to ask Budget to review your case. I'll have the outcome in just a second.

But before I go there, I have a little advice for you. Always, always take a photo of your rental car before you rent it and afterward. These will prove (or disprove) any damage claim. Car rental companies ought to be photographing their cars, anyway, and thankfully, some are.

Also, if you believe there might be a damage claim -- even if it's not your fault -- you'll want to notify your insurance company immediately when you return a car with reported damage. Your credit card requires you to report any claim within 45 days. The contract employee you spoke with was incorrect.

Budget dropped its claim against you.

(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.)

Featured Stories

CTnow is using Facebook comments on stories. To comment on ctnow.com articles, sign into Facebook and enter your comment in the field below. Comments will appear in your Facebook News Feed unless you choose otherwise. To report spam or abuse, click the X next to the comment. For guidelines on commenting, click here.

Travel Troubleshooter

Ed Perkins on Travel

Travel News