Enterprise Rent-A-Car repair bills shock customers

Christina Morales got sideswiped in a small-time fender-bender with another car. What came next was typical: Getting the insurance company’s approval to pay for a rental car and then driving the rental car while the old car was in a body shop for repairs.

For Morales, a 29-year-old nurse, this little chore ended badly. She found herself in a faceoff with Enterprise Holdings, owner of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, the rental company she used. EH also owns Alamo Rent A Car and National Car Rental.

The company accused Morales of getting into an accident with her rental truck. She received a pay-or-else invoice for $1,000 in repairs and $100 for “administrative fees.”

She knew that was wrong. She was never in an accident. She began to research on the Internet and found dozens of similar customer accounts.

WDN Article_June 8_2013_Enterprise
File 2009/The Associated Press

(Half of all car rental complaints made to the Texas Attorney General’s Office in recent years came from Enterprise Rent-A-Car customers, The Dallas Morning News reported in March.)

As readers of The Dallas Morning News Dave Lieber Watchdog column first learned,, she found the work of my predecessor, Problem Solver Katie Fairbank, who wrote a series of columns about customers who claimed the same. I’ve studied and written about other people who said they were charged for accidents they didn’t know about, too.

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A close examination of Morales’ case shows the company is breaking its own protocols for handling these situations. EH executives are aware of public criticism of their damage claims units, but they say they must protect their fleet.

“The common phrase we hear from customers is, ‘I didn’t do it,’ ” said Roger Van Horn, vice president for corporate loss control. “… Basically, what we’re saying is we gave it to you. There was no damage on it. You returned it. There was damage on it. It happened while it was in your possession, and therefore, you’re responsible.”

As soon as he concluded, Christine Conrad Cavallini, vice president for corporate communication and public relations, jumped in: “That’s not to say we have not made a mistake before.”

Or in the case of Morales’ rental, a series of mistakes.

Conrad Cavallini talked about a new initiative to soften the blow. An Enterprise representative is now required to call a customer “to reach out and discuss” a claim before paperwork is filed.

That didn’t happen with Morales. No one contacted her until she got the claim letter last month.

Conrad Cavallini said she wants customers to reach out to the company when they discover serious problems. Nobody answered Morales’ letter laying out her facts and seeking information from the company.

Morales discovered other problems. She said Enterprise employees faked the amount of miles she drove. The return slip for the vehicle shows that in two weeks, she drove almost 17,000 miles. (The starting mileage number is crossed out with a second smaller one handwritten in.)

“I would have had to drive to South America three times,” she said, when she only used the vehicle for a daily 40-mile roundtrip commute.

The return slip states in large, handwritten letters, “No damage on truck.” Yet she was charged for damage two weeks after the truck’s return.

She questions whether the photo of proof the company sent her is of the truck she rented. Other Enterprise customers have told me that the company sent them a photo of a damaged car different from theirs.

The company blames the confusion on this: Morales’ mother dropped the truck off at the end of two weeks. The company said that’s against the rules, but Morales said she called the branch office and received permission for her mother to drop off the car.

After The Watchdog intervened, the company released a statement: “What happened is that an unauthorized driver (the renter’s mother) returned the car and confused our employee, and, as a result, the employee failed to point out the visible damage at the time.

“As a result of the confusion and delays, we are dropping the claim. However, please stress to this customer the importance of allowing only authorized drivers to operate rental cars, even if only returning the vehicle.”

The Dallas Morning News reported in March that half of all car rental complaints at the Texas attorney general’s office in recent years came from Enterprise customers.

My take: When picking up a car, make written notations on the company paperwork of all damage found. Keep a copy. Also, when picking up and dropping off, use a smartphone camera to video record and photograph all angles of a car.

“We’re all trusting of one another,” Morales said. “These are hard times right now. Now we can’t even trust the people we’re buying from or getting service from? When can we trust people?”

TIP: How to fix this problem: Watchdog Dave Lieber suggests if you have this problem, file a complaint with: 1) the Missouri Attorney General, 2) the attorney general of your home state, 3) the Better Business Bureau, 4) the Federal Trade Commission. And remember to always take photos and video of your rental car both BEFORE and AFTER your rental.

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation won a 2013 writing award from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists

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Are you tired of fighting the bank, the credit card company, the electric company and the phone company? They can be worse than scammers the way they treat customers. A popular book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, shows you how to fight back — and win! The book is available at WatchdogNation.com as a hardcover, CD audio book, e-book and hey, what else do you need? The author is The Watchdog columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Visit our store. Now revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber


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