Keli Chick didn’t expect a one-day rental from Enterprise Rent-A-Car to turn into a year-long battle for a claim over $5,500.
Her battle with the largest car rental company in North America began when she rented a truck in Dawson Creek, British Columbia on December 29, 2020 and drove it to Red Deer, Alberta on next morning – a seven-hour journey.
The sky was blue and the sun was shining, so Chick says she was more than a little surprised when a letter from Enterprise’s damage recovery department arrived six weeks later saying she had to pay 5 $578, due to hail damage.
“I was pretty shocked,” Chick said. “I had to read it several times just because it was so widespread. I thought, ‘This can’t be possible. “”
Go Public has heard of a dozen other Enterprise customers who also say they were told long after their rental term ended that they were responsible for various repairs costing thousands of dollars.
A consumer advocate and lawyer, expert in contract law, says car rental companies need to notify customers of damages in a timely manner – and can’t just tell them they have to foot the bill for repairs.
“The onus is on the rental car company to prove its claims,” said Daniel Tsai, who teaches consumer and business law at Ryerson University in Toronto. “If they say you caused the damage, they actually have to provide evidence.”
An image is worth… nothing?
Before leaving Enterprise’s location, Chick and an officer performed a visual inspection and noticed a scratch on a door and a broken taillight. The truck’s roof and hood were covered in snow and ice, Chick said, but she assumed they were in good condition.
As she reached the highway the next morning, the sun melted the frozen white substance of her rental vehicle. A photo Chick stopped to take of the skyline included part of the hood and captured pock marks from what appeared to be hail.
When she got to Red Deer, the agent who signed the truck back told her not to worry about the obvious dents.
“It didn’t add hail damage because it was clearly sunny and no hail damage had occurred while it was in my possession,” Chick said.
It wasn’t until six weeks later that Chick received the letter from Enterprise, telling her that she had received “significantly reduced repair rates” and that she was responsible for paying the cost.
Chick thought she had insurance because she paid with a credit card – most provide coverage. But she discovered that the credit cards only covered car rentals, not trucks. On top of that, she says, filing an insurance claim would have been fraudulent, as she was not responsible for the damages.
She sent Enterprise the photo and a link to a local TV weather report indicating that there had been clear skies during her rental period. An Environment and Climate Change Canada meteorologist later confirmed that for Go Public.
“They told me it didn’t matter,” she said. “They were very clear it was my fault.”
Enterprise sent its case to collection agency Credifax, which added interest to the repair bill — so it rose to more than $6,200 — and threatened legal action.
“Every time I tried to reach them [Enterprise], they completely ignored me and just kind of gave me the sleight of hand,” Chick said. “That’s a lot of time. Lot of energy. And so frustrating that this has been happening for an entire year.”
Unable to “conclusively determine” fault
Company spokeswoman Lisa Martini told Go Public that the company’s terms and conditions specify that customers are responsible for damage caused by an “act of God”, which includes hail. If they don’t have insurance, that cost becomes a personal expense.
Similar clauses exist in the agreements for the three companies that account for about 95% of all car rentals in Canada: Enterprise (which owns National and Alamo), Avis (which owns Budget) and Hertz (which owns Dollar and Thrifty).
After Go Public requested an interview with Enterprise, the company dropped its lawsuit against Chick.
In a statement, Martini said the company was “unable to conclusively determine” when the truck was damaged, so “the wrong lessee was likely held responsible.”
But the rental company’s flip-flop doesn’t sit well with Tsai.
“You deny a claim you can’t even prove and give the client a horrible experience where they might even have to go to court?” he said. “It’s a major marketing failure.”
Similarly, Pat Abbott went undiscovered for three months that she was supposedly liable for $12,322 in damage to the 2020 Elantra she had driven for a month. Enterprise said the engine was shot.
“I said, ‘I won’t pay for this. This car was in perfect condition,” Abbott, 71, said from his home in Abbotsford, B.C.
She then learned that this model of vehicle had been recalled due to engine problems.
“I was livid,” she said. “The engine was being recalled, so why are they blaming me for the damage? »
Enterprise eventually dropped the claim — after it emerged that the vehicle’s odometer read nearly 1,300 miles more than when Abbott returned it. His letter to Abbott did not include an apology.
Taking months to hit a customer with a major repair bill is too long, Tsai says.
“There should definitely be a time limit in the event of damage or circumstances where the customer owes additional money,” he said. “This delay is completely unacceptable. And in fact, it makes it suspicious.”
Business says a “misunderstanding” caused the claim to be submitted while the cause of the engine failure was being determined.
It says less than 0.2% of all rentals in Canada last year resulted in cases “where the customer had concerns about how the claim was handled.”
When asked, Martini, the spokeswoman, said she could not say what percentage of tenants concerned about their claim were unhappy with the outcome.
It’s also unclear what percentage of Enterprise’s total rentals for 2021 resulted in claims.
Martini also said in the statement that it can take “several weeks” to notify customers of the damage as it “is not always immediately noticeable” and an invoice is not sent until repairs are complete. .
Tsai says the car rental industry has been “long overdue” for regulatory oversight.
“We should have a regulatory norm in place where automakers who make their claims have to prove it before suing them,” Tsai said.
“And need to provide some sort of mediation process to get these things dealt with fairly and quickly – to make sure rental car companies are accountable to their customers.”
Keli Chick says she’s relieved the hail damage issue has been resolved, but she’ll hold the Enterprise accountable in a different way.
“I tell everyone I know to never use this company again,” she said. “I will never go back to them.”
Go Public is an investigative news segment on CBC television, radio and the web.
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