How to Avoid Damage Costs on Rental Cars

“Thanks for renting with us. Oh, and you owe us some money for the damage to your car. Have a nice day!”

Okay, so that’s not exactly what a rental agent might say. But it’s probably pretty close to how it sounds to you. After all, you’ve already closed the book on this transaction in your mind – then BAM! You’re informed that you have to shell out even more money. 

Many car rental companies are pursuing damage fees more vigorously than in the past because they are trying to minimize repair costs and boost their bottom line. Often, the “damage” they’re referring to is a little chip, ding, or scratch that’s practically invisible.

Regardless of their reasons, consumers are forced to be more proactive in avoiding rental car damage costs. Here are four ways to do that before you drive away in your newly-rented vehicle.

  1. Buy the damage waiver. It costs a few extra bucks, but it may be worth the peace of mind that comes with knowing you won’t be hit with surprise damage charges when you turn in the car. But be sure to check your own auto insurance policy (or even your credit card agreements) before signing off on the waiver. You may already be covered for minor damage to rentals.
  • Just say no. If you get to your vehicle and it hasn’t been cleaned or detailed since it was previously driven, chances are good that it hasn’t been inspected for damage either. And that could leave you holding the bag. If that’s the case, don’t be afraid to demand a different vehicle from the rental agency.
  • Deal with a rental employee. Many rental car companies provide a person to help you check out the vehicle for previous damage. But if they don’t, you should definitely ask for one. And double-check to make sure that any scrapes or nicks you do find are recorded on your rental form.
  • Photodocument. Before you leave with the vehicle, take out your camera or use your cell phone to take pictures of any areas which are damaged. Make sure to turn on or enable the “timestamp” feature before doing so. That way, you have evidence that the damage occurred before you got your hands on the car.

Finally, here are five tips on how to minimize the chances of damage occurring while you have the rental car.

  1. Park with plenty of space on either side of you to avoid door dings.
  2. Turn in the vehicle’s side mirrors when you park it to reduce the odds of passerby damage.
  3. Avoid steep driveways which may cause you to “bottom out” and scrape up the vehicle’s bumpers.
  4. Stay far away from 18-wheelers on the road. They have a habit of ejecting rocks or other debris onto your hood or windshield.
  5. Don’t drive like a maniac – it’s a rental, not a race car.

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