Avoid Rental Car Headaches With This Simple Trick

Disclosure: We get a commission for links on the blog. You don’t have to use our links, but we’re very grateful when you do. American Express, Barclaycard, Capital One, Chase, and US Bank are Million Mile Secrets advertising partners. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or endorsed by our partners. Here’s our Advertiser Disclosure.

Million Mile Secrets reader, Elsa, commented:

When picking up a rental car, I always take a picture of the dashboard showing the mileage & gas level before I leave the lot, along with photos of the car’s pre-existing damage.

And reader David, commented:

I have always wondered how taking a photo would help.  Couldn’t a person just take the photo after they damaged the vehicle and say it was like that?

Taking a few quick photos before driving your rental car off the lot could save you time, money, and aggravation.

Because if the rental car company says you damaged vehicle or didn’t refuel to the right level, your photos can prove otherwise.

Rental Car Photos

Taking Photos of Your Rental Car Only Takes ~2 Minutes and Can Save You Time and Money If the Rental Car Company Sends You a Bill for Damages

I’ll share tips for taking photos of your rental car!

Take Rental Car Photos

It’s unfortunate, but sometimes you hear about rental car companies trying to charge customers for pre-existing car damage.

One of the frustrating things about these situations is you might not get a bill for damages until 60+ days after you had the rental car.  It’s easy to forget the exact condition of a car you rented a few months ago.

That’s why taking photos, like Million Mile Secrets reader Elsa, can be a great way to protect yourself.  Million Mile Secrets team member Harlan has also developed this habit.

And I recommend taking photos before you drive the car away AND when you drop it back off.  Because there’s always a chance the rental car company mistakenly sends you a bill for damage that was caused by the following driver.

Rental Car Photos

Take Photos of Any Windshield Cracks or Other Damage Before Driving Your Rental Car to Avoid Future Issues

Unless your vehicle is brand new, it likely has normal wear and tear.  But this doesn’t mean you should ignore minor scratches or dents.  Because you never know how much the rental car company could bill you for insignificant damage.

And if you’re not in a rush, you can also ask a rental car company employee to document any damages before you drive away.

Before you take off, you should also take a photo of the dashboard.  This will show the fuel level and number of miles on the car, which can come in handy if the rental car company says you didn’t fill up the tank or went over the mileage.

Rental Car Photos

Reader David makes a good point about the timing of your photos.  But thankfully, most smartphone photos have a timestamp.  Or you can email the photos to yourself immediately after taking them.  This way you can later find them by the date and time they were sent.

Get Primary Rental Car Insurance With Certain Credit Cards

Link:   13 Credit Cards That Offer Primary Rental Car Insurance

Rental car insurance can protect you in the event there’s damage to your vehicle.

And there are several credit cards that come with primary rental insurance when you use them to pay for your rental and decline the rental company’s collision damage waiver (often called CDW or LDW).  If you don’t decline the waiver, you’ll purchase insurance through the rental car company and have coverage that way.

Note:   This insurance does not cover damage to other vehicles, property, or injuries.

Keep in mind, the terms and conditions for most credit cards with primary rental insurance state you must report the incident no later than 60 days following the date of the theft or damage.

Rental Car Photos

You Usually Only Have 60 Days to Report Damage to Your Rental Car for the Credit Card Company to Provide Coverage

And as I mentioned earlier, it’s possible you don’t get a bill for damages from the rental car company until after this timeframe.  Plus, if you don’t have specifics of what caused the damage, the credit card company could deny your claim.

Here are a few popular cards that offer primary rental car insurance:

Bottom Line

The best way to protect yourself from potential damage disputes with a rental car company is to take photos before you drive the vehicle off the lot AND after you drop it back off.  Be sure to capture any scratches or dents regardless of how minor they seem.

Sometimes rental car companies don’t send a bill for damages until 60+ days after you had the car.  So I recommend emailing photos to yourself right after you take them.  This way you have the date and time of the photos, which makes it easier to keep track.

Remember, certain cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve come with primary rental insurance.  When you pay for your rentals with these cards, you’re covered for damage or theft to your vehicle.  But keep in mind, you must report incidents to the credit card company within 60 days or your claim can be denied.

Have you ever had a damage dispute with a rental car company?

* If you liked this post, why don’t you join the 25,000+ readers who have signed-up to receive free blog posts via email (only 1 email per day!) or in an RSS reader …because then you’ll never miss another update!

Editorial Disclaimer: Neither the responses below nor the editorial content on this page are provided or commissioned by the bank advertisers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertisers. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the bank advertisers. It is not the bank advertisers’ responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

25 responses to “Avoid Rental Car Headaches With This Simple Trick

  1. Do any cards provide “roadside assistance” for free on top of collision&damage coverage when it comes to rental cars? I have several cards that provides rental car insurance but is the best way to have roadside assistance to purchase seperately at the rental car desk? Amex PRG provides roadside assistance but only to your own vehicle.

    • Rental cars are typically excluded from the roadside assistance perk on credit cards. You might consider AAA, which provides assistance whether you’re in your own car, a friend’s, or a rental.

  2. The time/date stamp on a photos properties is extremely easy to change so I cannot see how that will not cover you in any legal way. Sending them in an email makes for a just as easily changed file. The header is easily altered, the only legal assistance I can see that affording you is the time/date stamp from the intermediary servers, should you be able to get your ISP to play along.

    • Hopefully you don’t have a legal dispute after a rental car experience. I’d expect time-stamped photos to work in your favor in the event of a damage issue with the rental car company.

    • Coming from the rental perspective I can say this is good evidence even though your right about editing data. The company representatives job is to secure assets and assure good customer experience, and in a damage dispute these objectives can be at odds. A good representative will make decisions thats are based on the facts available so a picture even with the possibility of tech savvy dodgers is better than no picture at all. Pictures taken by the real car company are also becoming more common place because​ we are all human. Many times the pictures you take can actually tell on yourself but even that will help because sometimes we have a hard time accepting​ the fact that damage can occur while on rent even if you don’t witness it or see it until returning.

  3. In some places you have the opportunity to also make a list of all the little dings and dents on the rental agreement as you’re picking up the car. I also recommend taking a photo of the car and the license plate to help you find your generic white or silver car in parking lots later.

  4. Chaz Churchwell

    Do any of these cards pay for “loss of use”? If there’s damage to a car caused by you that takes the car out of commission the rental car company can charge you for the maximum amount per day they were able to get from the use of that car. If you use loss of use coverage provided on some Auto insurance policies then you were OK. Obviously, nobody wants to file a claim on their own insurance. Do any of these cards offer coverage to protect the loss of use?

  5. I take a video rather than just a photo and do it while the staff member is present and conducting the visual inspection so I have them in the video too. They know it too as I ask them to smile while I’m doing this, I’ve never had any subsequent problems. I also find video is easier to get all the detail rather than having to take multiple photos, its simpler to just focus in on any damage. You also get a soundtrack so you can add a bit of commentary to further reinforce any details such as timing and damage.

  6. I like Enterprise because they take you out to the vehicle & walk around it with you, making note of any prior damage. Not great when you’re in a huge hurry, but I’ve never had an issue with them regarding damages.

  7. It seems the car rental companies are getting wise to people taking photos with their smartphone. A friend recently received a bill for damage to the underside of the rental vehicle where it may be difficult to photograph unless it is on a lift.

  8. I always take pictures of my rental car after this incident. I took a picture of the rental car in front of the Avis return facility when we dropped it off, because of how comically muddy it was from the lack of paved roads (Outside of the US). My boss and I were accused of not returning the car and were called by Avis corporate. If I hadn’t had the picture of the car sitting at the facility, I’m not quite sure how we would have proven that we returned it.

  9. I used to take only pictures; but you only take pictures of the damage you spot. Once I failed to spot some damage and I was going to be charged $400 which my CC insurance will pick up, however their are additional admin charges that you have to pay yourself. I ended up calling the head office, and they were able to pull up photos of the damage from an existing rental, so dropped the damage & admin charges. Now I make a quick 30 second walk round, covering bumper, mirrors, tire rims and windows, ending the video in the dash, so milage etc is all captured, and that way they cannot accuse me of making the video after the rental began.

  10. Take a video of the car, starting with the dashboard showing the miles and fuel level. This establishes that the video was made before you drove off. Continue filming as you walk around the car, verbally noting any flaws on the car. This needs to be one continuous video. Make another video when you are in the return area, again starting with the dashboard showing the fuel level and number of miles.

  11. When you rent a car they give you a piece of paper that has a drawing of the car itself with front, top and back on it. On that drawing you mark the damage that you see, then you walk back to the desk and show them the areas that are a problem. They walk back with you to check. End of story. You take drawing with you and pics of the car.

  12. I recently rented a Jeep in Kauai through Enterprise. Had no issues until about a month after the trip, I got a request in the mail for my insurance or credit card for damage to the vehicle. I know I didn’t damage the vehicle, so I called and asked for pictures before and after. Also, I told them to forward any further communications through to my attorney (College buddy). About an hour later I received a phone call from a supervisor stating they had no evidence of damage, and they were dropping the claim immediately.
    I’m researched the situation and it seems to be very common. Now I take a video of the entire car along side the rental agent before I leave the lot.

  13. good advice, and great tips here in the comments. Yet wondering what we’re you do when facing the increasingly common practice (esp. at low volume rental counters) where you return the car — and then they don’t inspect the vehicle right at your moment of return? Several years ago, I took a car back, looked it over very carefully when fueling at a well lit station, and then returned it at a local airport spot at 11:30 at night. Only one person on duty that night (National) and he assured me it was quite alright to just leave it. 15 hours later, they call me up and claim they discovered a football size dent under the passenger door….. which I can’t believe happened while I had the car…… Rental agency had the attitude that so what, you’re responsible. …. (e.g., presumption of guilt, even though chain of possession was not obvious or provable just when the damage occurred)

    Was reminded of all this yesterday after bringing a long haul one way rental into a Budget car rental Sears location…. It was just before closing, and counter agent said they’d inspect it in the morning…. I asked what if somebody banged into it overnight. Rep then said not to worry, that they have security cameras…. As if that’s supposed to be reassuring… (and they work in the dark — run continuously?)

    I’m thinking to never, ever again leave a car (esp. at a fastbreak location) unless I can get it inspected and cleared on the spot…. If they refuse, then I’m thinking I should demand that they sign a statement admitting their laziness….. for use in court. (if they try to claim damages after the fact)

    yup, very sore subject. Glad you’re covering it.

  14. I never take a rental car unless I have someone inspect the car with me before I drive it off the lot. I lived in Europe for many years and over there you have to pay for every ding or scratch, no matter how small. Maybe things have changed but I doubt it. So I go over a rental car very carefully. I point out every flaw and insist that it is marked on paper in case any stateside company should decide to bill for any minor flaw they can find. Photos are good too. But having both documentation and photos is even better.