How To Dispute An Unfair Car Rental Damage Charge

There’s nothing worse than coming home from a trip and being presented with unexpected expenses. Soon after I got home from France, I got an email about a car rental damage charge. The subject line was: “Notification of Damage Charge” and of course, I had a case of anxiety. What damage? And, I thought I was covered?

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The letter stated that the company discovered damage to my rental and unless I disputed the charge and presented evidence that proves I didn’t do the damage they would be charging me almost 238€ (about $350 Canadian). There were two problems with their email and in the end, they backed down and I was not charged anything. My post is about what you should do before you even drive off with your rental car and what insurance coverage you might consider getting to avoid any claims against you.

1. Car Rental Damage Charge For A Scratch: Their Claim

Fiat 500 car rental

(a) Renting Through AutoEurope

I rented the car through AutoEurope. They are a car rental supplier and use all the well-known companies including Hertz, Europcar, Avis, Budget and Sixt. AutoEurope not only has the best prices, but has given me refunds when the price has gone down, and helped me out when I had a dispute with a rental company. I will always book with them.

They advocate for the consumer and in this case about damages to my rental car, they confirmed my understanding of the insurance contract so I knew I was in the right.

(b) Rental Car Company Claim

The rental company letter basically stated that I was responsible for causing damage to the car when it was in my possession. They confirmed:

  • the date of the rental
  • the license plate of the rental that was registered to me
  • there was a 2-5cm scratch or mark— the damage on the passenger side mirror cover by providing somewhat blurry photos of the car and mirror

(c) Car Rental Damage Charge Amount

They went on to say that the repair cost was estimated by an independent expert and added,  “Since it is lower than the non-waivable excess related to the protection you purchased, your liability does not exceed the amount of the repair estimated, to which management fees are added”. The costs were listed as follows:

  • Repair cost: 142€
  • Lost of use: 23.41€
  • Administration fee: 72.5€
  • Total Cost: 237.91€

I was informed that I had 14 days to dispute this charge and provide evidence that I had not caused any damage to the vehicle. If I didn’t reply within this period, the cost would be billed to my account.

Although they sent me a photo of the mirror cover, I had evidence to fight the claim. When I picked up my rental car, I walked around, inspected, and photographed the car–inside and out….even the roof, before I drove off. The photos were date-stamped proving that the scratch/damage was already there.

2. Evidence: Photographs Of The Rental Car

Fiat 500 passenger side mirror

What’s interesting, in hindsight, is that on the car rental form, there was a list of a few areas on the car where there was damage; however, it did not indicate that there was already a scratch on the side mirror cover. I guess I could have gone back to the car rental desk in the airport terminal, showed them the photo, and had them modify the contract, but I didn’t. Something to think about for next time.

3. Proof Of Pre-existing Damage To The Rental Car

To dispute the car rental damage I sent them my photos and said the scratch was already there when I picked up the car.  They replied to my email agreeing with the “photos showing the damage that existed when the vehicle was picked up” and therefore would not be charging me.

I have been taking photos of the cars I rent for years. Many years ago, there was an agent there to inspect the rental car when I dropped it off. He indicated there was a scratch on the door. I immediately pulled up the photo I had taken when I picked up the car and showed it to him. He backed down and dropped the matter.

The way to fight an incorrect car rental damage charge is to provide proof (a photograph) that the damage was already there when you picked up the car. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer rental car companies inspect your car at the time when you return it. There’s no one at the drop-off location. During my last few rentals, I had to leave my car in the designated spot and then go to the nearby office to drop off the keys.

4. Car Rental Excess Insurance

I don’t use my credit card for insurance coverage because it’s a hassle and doesn’t cover everything that I need it to cover/include (ie. roadside assistance and theft protection). The extra expense of buying through AutoEurope is worth it.

(a) What Was My Insurance Coverage?

When I booked my car rental I opted for collision damage coverage, also known as rental car insurance excess or car rental deductible insurance. I chose the insurance requiring NO deductible. CDW insurance (AKA “insurance excess waiver”) waives the right to collect an “excess” or deductible from me if the car is damaged.

Through AutoEurope’s booking, I chose the “No Deductible Rate” which includes among other things:

  • Collision Damage Coverage. Rental limits potential vehicle damage liability to the deductible of approximately EUR 0.00.
  • Theft Protection For The Vehicle. Rental limits potential vehicle loss liability to a deductible of approximately EUR 0.00.

(b) AutoEurope Confirms I Was Covered

So when the rental company wrote this in their letter, “Since it is lower than the non-waivable excess related to the protection you purchased, your liability does not exceed the amount of the repair estimated, to which management fees are added”, I checked with AutoEurope asking them IF I had been at fault, would there actually be a car rental damage charge that I’d have to pay?

They replied:

“… but if it was just a scratch the only charge that would apply would be a damage admin fee.”

When I asked them to clarify further, they stated:

I assume this is in regards to [rental confirmation number]. This was a Zero Deductible rate, bearing damage to Glass or Tires, and or gross negligence (eg. misfuelling, texting whilst driving), there should not be a charge for Damage by the supplier.

It’s incorrect, and [car rental company] should not be charging you for damage based on the provided information.

(c) But What If I Had Damaged The Car?

So obviously I was relieved that not only had I provided the photograph, but the zero deductible contract stated that I shouldn’t have to pay (except an admin fee) even if I had damaged the car!

I am very happy that I got the excess car rental insurance with no deductible, and that I took photos of the car when I picked it up. Having the zero deductible in the contract and having photos as evidence saved me at least $350! When you are booking your next trip to France (or anywhere in the world), I highly recommend you consider using AutoEurope. As you can read in this post, they saved me hundreds of dollars with another issue—-roadside assistance.

Check out the best car rental rates here: AutoEurope

Have you ever been involved in a car insurance claim dispute?

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Why you should always photograph your rental car. Photo of cars for Pinterest

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  1. I’m glad this worked out for you, but the sad reality is that if a dishonest car rental shop wants to charge you then they’ll win. For starters, the date-stamp of the photos you took when you picked up the car don’t really prove anything. There is software out there for adjusting the dates of photos, in fact even Microsoft Photos will do it. Second, the last time I rented a car in France the car was in a parking lot about a quarter-mile away. So the days of walking out to the car and circling it with the rental agent who notes any problems may be gone. Lastly, when you return the car nobody checks it in. Instead you park in the designated return area and then trudge to the office to give them the keys. If the NEXT renter damages the car but then the rental office claims you did it, how can you dispute it?

    1. Thanks so much for you points about renting a car.
      I hate how there is no one near by to go over the car when you return it. Fewer employees and more onus on us.
      You’re right in asking how can you dispute the damage? Which is why I get no deductible and let AutoEurope and the company fight if need be. I don’t need the hassle…but of course, this comes at a cost….that I have to pay.

  2. How much did the insurance cost you? I usually waive it.

    1. The entire car rental, including car insurance for 7 days—pick up at Charles de Gaulle airport and drop off in Dijon was initially $518 Canadian. I booked it in January 2023 and when I saw the price had gone down in March, I notified AutoEurope and they refunded me $20. So the car rental cost $498 (Canadian) in the end. No extra costs to pick up at the airport or drop off at the train station. And, road taxes were included.

      Had I not gotten the insurance added on, I think the car rental would have been about $413. So I think the car insurance added on about $85.