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Travel Troubleshooter

Dinged for pre-existing damage

Q. I need your help with a rental-car damage claim. Enterprise Rent-A-Car says that I scratched the bottom of the front fender of a car I recently rented.

At the time of rental, I mentioned a small scratch on the front bumper to the representative; he said it was “normal wear and tear” and not to worry about it. I took a photo anyway.

Upon returning the car, the representative wrote up the scratches and asked me to sign a form acknowledging the damage, but I declined to sign it. I later received a notice followed by an invoice for more than $800.


In the photos taken by the damage-recovery personnel, it looks to me like they intentionally caused additional damage to the bumper. This seems bordering on fraudulent, unless it is just a camera angle.

Anyway, the long and short of it: I didn’t cause this damage. Additionally, a co-worker was with me at all times when the car was driven over two days, and he will attest to the same.

If you can help me resolve this, I would really appreciate it. Note that I didn’t purchase the additional insurance that is offered at the time of rental, although I am an insured driver through my normal car policy.


Ballston Spa, N.Y.

A. If you flagged the damage to your car and have a photo to prove it, then this should have been a slam-dunk case. When you returned the car, you should have shown the rental employee the image of the scratched-up front.

Scratch that. When you were handed the keys to a scratched-up car, you shouldn’t have taken snapshots. You should have politely asked for a different vehicle. I know, the representative told you it was “normal wear and tear,” but could you show me the definition of what that means? I’ll wait while you look.


And please, don’t let them start talking about quarters. I hear a lot about “quarter-size dents or less” in the damage claims that cross my desk. As in, “If it’s a quarter-size dent or less, it’s normal wear and tear.” Trust me, they have no idea. Don’t let anyone give you a car with dents or scratches — ever.

The damage claim you refused to sign referred to a “gash” in the front bumper with the vague observation that “customer was aware.”

This is a strange case, because you had photographic evidence of the damage taken at the start of your rental. Enterprise came after you anyway. The damage looked worse in the picture it sent you. Personally, after reviewing both photos, I believe Enterprise is trying to charge you for the same damage.

The odds of your car being scratched in the same place during your rental are infinitesimally small. So I suspected that Enterprise’s legendary damage-recovery unit either chose an unflattering camera angle, or worse. It looks as if you tried to appeal this to Enterprise, with no luck. By the way, I list the executives in charge of customer service on my site (

I contacted Enterprise on your behalf to get its side of the story. It reviewed your file and dropped the claim.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and author of “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler.” He can be reached at