Consumers’ Corner # 7

How to avoid costly
car rental surprises

By Jim Murphy

If you’re planning a trip that involves renting a car, here’s something you should know:

The windshield is the number one source of damage claims for rented cars, according to Christopher Elliot, a consumer advocate and journalist whose column appears in newspapers across the U.S.

Why is that important? Because if you are renting a car, you need to take photos of your rental car before pickup and after return.

And this includes both the front and back windshields and much more.

Having before-and-after photos can help keep unscrupulous car rental companies from ruining your vacation or business trip with unexpected claims … and thousands of dollars in charges you don’t learn about until months later.

If you think I am exaggerating, just enter “car rental ripoffs” in Google Search and see what you get. Or go to the car rental forum on Christopher Elliot’s website at to see what people are reporting.

Of course, there are good car rental companies out there. Unfortunately some of the biggest names in the business appear to be putting their interests above yours. So you need to protect yourself.

In this short space, I can’t begin to tell you all you need to know. But is a great start. And the FAQs about Car Rental are very helpful.

For now, don’t rent a car without doing these things:

  1. Find out what your own private insurance will cover when you rent a car. And check to see if your credit card offers rental protection. Ask for that info in writing, so there is no confusion later. Some cards may not cover all models and makes or all countries.
  1. Know what your coverage is before you approach the counter and exactly what you want to do for this rental. The cost of the Loss Damage Waiver or Collision Damage Waiver can double the daily rate of your car. Make sure whatever choice you make appears correctly on the contract before you sign it. Some employees will “accidentally” keep checking the insurance option. If you sign for the insurance, you will be charged for it.
  1. Make sure you know how to operate the car before you drive away. Inspect the car for damage with an employee and note any and all dings and scratches, no matter how small. And take lots of photos or videos. Elliot recommends “two close-up shots of each side, the front and rear windshield, the front and rear of the car, and the roof.”

Shoot the interior, too, including the trunk. If you want to be extra careful,” he says, take snapshots of the wheels and under the two bumpers.”

You want to be sure you are adequately covered. If a car is damaged in any way, even from hail, a stone kicking up or it’sscratched while parked, rental companies can make you or your insurance company pay, including the time it is out of action, with a “loss of use” fee, plus administrative charges.

Lucas Peterson, the New York Times’ Frugal Traveler, blew two tires in a remote part of Big Island of Hawaii. He paid for the two tires, but then received a bill from Hertz for $1,400, for scratches on the wheels. Fortunately, his credit card’s insurer paid that. His advice: “Know your coverage before you begin driving. If you don’t have personal insurance, you’ll definitely want to make sure you either buy the rental company’s insurance (which can be very expensive) or make the purchase on a credit card that includes vehicle coverage (and you may want to supplement with liability coverage, which often isn’t included).”

Bottom Line: Do a little preparation before you rent a car, and take photos before you drive away and as soon as you return the vehicle. That should help eliminate some costly problems and make your trip and memories far more pleasant.



“Car Number 1” flickr photo by Curtis Dalton Brown shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license


Jim Murphy is a direct marketing copywriter who has run his own consulting business since 2004. For nine years, he wrote and edited “Choices,” an award-winning credit union magazine with a circulation of 80,000. He also is a certified member of the Association of Philadelphia Tour Guides.

Any comments made are Jim’s opinion, and not necessarily those of the Old Pine Community Center.





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