Avoid Rental Car Headaches With This Simple Trick

Avoid Rental Car Headaches With This Simple Trick

Million Mile SecretsAvoid Rental Car Headaches With This Simple TrickMillion Mile Secrets Team

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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?

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


A video is a great way to avoid any future issues. Thanks for sharing!

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