Q. I rented a car from Budget last summer in Jacksonville, Fla. I noticed several dents and scratches, which I planned to point out during the walk-around inspection. But the attendant told me that they “don’t do inspections” because they keep records of any damage that happens to their vehicles. That didn’t seem right, so I took photos of the damage.
When I returned the vehicle, there was also no inspection. The next month, I received a letter from Budget telling me it would charge my credit card $250 for damages. They claim that the damage involved a windshield camera — not any of the dents or scratches I had photos of.
I assured Budget that nothing had happened to the vehicle while I had possession of it, and I asked for paperwork on the damage. Budget never produced any evidence of the damage.
My credit card company told me that the time for a dispute had expired and there was nothing they could do. Can you help?
TONY PARISE, St. Louis
A. Budget was charging you to recalibrate one of its windshield cameras — a camera you probably didn’t even know existed.
The problem with Budget’s claim is that it didn’t elaborate on the damage. Why did it have to recalibrate the camera? Often, it has to recalibrate the camera when it decides to replace the windshield. But I didn’t see an invoice for a replaced windshield. So, this one is a real mystery.
You took almost every precaution to make sure you didn’t face any extra charges. Asking for a pre-rental inspection was a terrific idea. It doesn’t matter that Budget conducts its own inspection. You need your own photos.
Your case is a reminder to take pre- and post-rental images of everything, including the windshield. Why is the windshield so important? The leading cause of damage to car rentals is a chipped windshield. You need proof that you returned your car with an intact windshield.
I’m not saying your camera-calibration bill was fraudulent. But I had questions. You can buy a decent windshield camera for about $100. How can you justify a $250 charge just to calibrate a windshield camera? Also, where’s the bill from the repair shop for the calibration? And why didn’t Budget tell you about the problem, instead of just billing your credit card?
By the way, you need a new credit card company. If you notified your card about the questionable charge within 60 days, then it didn’t comply with the Fair Credit Billing Act. (I have more details about this in my free guide on credit card disputes.)
A brief, polite e-mail to one of the Budget executives I publish on my consumer advocacy website might have also resolved this problem.
I contacted Budget on your behalf. A representative responded and promised to fix the problem. But Budget only refunded $166, shortchanging you by $84. I contacted Budget again, and it finally refunded the rest.
That’s a lesson learned for the rest of us: Watch those windshield cams on your rental cars.
Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy (elliottadvocacy.org), a nonprofit organization that helps consumers solve their problems. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or get help by contacting him at elliottadvocacy.org/help/.