Car Rental Companies Charge Customers for Disputed Damages

The incidents happened when customers returned a car that was not looked at by an employee

Like many of us, Erica Lee would jump through a lot of hoops for her grandmother.

Her grandmother lives in the southeastern corner of Colorado.

The fastest way there is to fly to Amarillo, then rent a car and drive about two and a half hours north.

She made the trip recently from her grandma's 80th birthday party.

"It's such a small airport there's usually one person working the counters there and they don't come out to view the car with me," Lee said. 

A few weeks after her trip to her grandmother's home, she received a letter in the mail from the rental car company she used -- Enterprise.

It said the car Erica rented was damaged when she returned it.

A manager later called and revealed nearly $1,300 in hail damage they said Erica had to pay.

"He said there had been some hail reports in Amarillo during your rental period and I told him well that's great because I wasn't in Amarillo," Lee said.

National hail reports found online showed hail in Amarillo during her rental as well as the night after Erica returned the car.

But no hail reports on the farm three hours north, where Erica was with her grandma opening birthday gifts.

"It seemed like no matter what evidence I gave them they weren't listening," Lee said.

Lee's story is much like Chuck Hampton's. We spoke to him last year.

He flew to Colorado, rented a car, hit the slopes and returned the car to a small airport in Montrose, where no one checked the car when he turned it in.

"When I got home to Dallas, there was a voicemail on my phone from the manager of the Montrose Airport Alamo Rent-a-Car saying, 'You returned this car with a cracked windshield, and we're going to have to charge you for that," Hampton recalled.

Hampton had snapped pictures of his car, on a hunch, and they show the windshield was fine.

Hampton rented from Alamo, Lee from Enterprise. Both car rental agencies have the same parent company.

A spokeswoman for both companies told us, "Customers are financially responsible for any damage or theft that occurs during a rental transaction regardless of fault or negligence." She also pointed out with 70 million rentals a year, there would be disagreements.

But you couldn't disagree with Hampton who had proof his windshield was intact when he returned it.

They called that a "miscommunication" and credited back his $500.

As for Lee, after NBC 5 Responds reached out, they agreed not to hold her accountable for the bill as a gesture of goodwill.

"The biggest thing off my mind is not having to worry about this going to claims or getting something dinged on my credit score," Lee said. "For any rental or any kind of thing where you're signing a contract, it's good to be aware."

Lee said she's following Hampton's lead now and will take not just pictures, but video every time she returns a rental car. She said she will do it whether there's a agent looking over it or not.

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