Fight Back? Hail, Yes!

by Chris Bjorklund

With some detective work, Chris avoided responsibility for costly rental car repairs. Photo: CC0 Creative Commons ©2019

I recently received an unexpected voicemail from a company representing a rental car agency. The caller said he was following up with me to collect on a damage claim for a vehicle I had rented at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Arizona for my niece’s wedding in February. He said I hadn’t reported roof damage upon returning it and was responsible for $749.13 in parts and labor for repairs.

At first, I thought this had to be a scam call and wasn’t going to respond. But my husband convinced me to call back, ask more questions and request photos of the damage. The representative promptly sent an itemized list of repairs and pictures showing a half-dozen roof dents. It looked like hail damage.

Now, you may wonder if I inspected the roof of the SUV when I picked it up. No, I didn’t. I walked around the vehicle and that was it. Everything looked fine, and truthfully, I’m too short to even see the top of an SUV without stepping up on the side runner. When I checked out at the gate, I was assured the agency’s cars were in top condition and photographed both when they exit and when they return.

I decided to fight the claim after talking to my own insurance company and my credit card company, which covers me in case of damage to a rental car. The central question was this: did it hail when I was in possession of the SUV? I was going to make the case that perhaps the previous renter had been in a hailstorm and the damage had gone undetected.

Thankfully, there’s an app for everything now…even hailstorms. I found a website that tracks storms throughout the United States and discovered there weren’t any in Phoenix on the days I had rented the vehicle. I called customer service armed with this information and the representative agreed that the roof damage couldn’t have happened on the dates of my rental. She apologized and immediately dropped the charges. Just to make sure the claim was resolved and closed, I asked for an official statement in writing.

I suppose we can all learn from my saga. When you check for damage upon picking up a rental car, a full inspection should include a peek at the roof. (And the upholstery, too! One rental agent told me he’s heard of people who extinguish cigarettes on the back seat and burn holes in the upholstery. If you don’t make note of the damage, you could be held responsible.)