How to protect yourself from rental car damage scams

13 May 2022
How to protect yourself from rental car damage scams

Damage to rental cars is a common travel problem and it’s the root of some rental car scams. Did you know that rental car agencies, especially companies abroad, can bill your credit card even months after you return it? It’s true. By that time, travelers often have no documentation to prove that the damage wasn’t their fault.

Most experienced travelers know to carefully look over the vehicle while their partner loads suitcases into the boot, but that’s only the start. On any given day, especially at busier car hire companies, there are thousands of rental cars being driven on and off the lot.

Some car rental companies try to transfer the cost of damage done by other drivers―even their own staff―onto the next unsuspecting customer.

Here’s another thing you may not know: recording the condition of the car before you rent it will help you if you do get in a collision on your trip. Rental car companies are happy to pass on all the damage to the car―even if it was there before you rented it. Your recording of the car’s condition can help in the damage assessment.

Taking pictures of your rental car before you drive away isn’t good enough!

To protect yourself from the all-too-common damage scam, you have to do more. Here’s how to properly record the condition of a rental car before you drive away and when you return it.

Checklist for the exterior of the rental car

The easiest way is to use your smartphone, but any good-quality camera will do. Start by taking pictures of the following:

  1. Each panel of the car- doors, bumpers, hood, and trunk
  2. Each wheel of the car
  3. The roof of the vehicle

After that, turn on the video and, moving slowly, film the entire vehicle. If you notice dents or scratches, point them out while you are recording.

Picking up the car late at night? Move it to a well-lit area before you take pictures and video.

Checklist for the interior of the rental car

After you record the exterior, the next step is to record the interior. This is an important step even experienced travelers often skip. Start the car and take pictures of the following:

  1. The instrument panel – to log the mileage, amount of fuel, and any warning lights
  2. The entire dash
  3. Front and rear seats
  4. The trunk (before you place your luggage inside)

If you rented any extras like a child’s car seat or GPS, take pictures of those items as well.

Email everything to yourself

Once you’ve recorded the condition of the vehicle, email the photos to yourself or save them to an online drive. You don’t want that stuff junking up your vacation photos after all. Now you have recorded (and time-stamped!) proof in case you need it.

Don’t sign the clipboard sheet

In some places you rent a vehicle, the staff will walk you around it and mark existing scratches and dents on a clipboard sheet.

This could be the start of the scam. If you sign the sheet, you’re signing off that the damage was already there before you rented it.

Typically, this type of scenario happens with low-budget rental companies. Your best bet is to try not to rent from these companies. If there’s no other choice, and you have to sign to rent the car, do these things first:

  1. Take careful photos and video of the vehicle, including the license plate.
  2. Write ‘There’s more damage to this vehicle than listed here. See video and photos’ on the sheet before you sign it. 
  3. Snap a picture of the clipboard sheet.

This way, you have proof that you saw more damage than was noted by the staff member. If you later receive a bill, you can use these assets to fight them off. 

Worst case – deny the charges

A well-chosen credit card company has your back. If you can’t get the charges reversed by talking with the rental car company, you have a final way to fight back. Contact your credit card company and dispute the charges.

Related topics

Damian Tysdal

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and he believes travel insurance should be easier to understand. He started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and he believes travel insurance should be easier to understand. He started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.