Don't mess with Barbara Kotzin.
Someone should have warned Enterprise before she rented a Toyota Corolla from the car rental company earlier this year. Maybe it wouldn't have sent her the repair bill, which Kotzin claims was bogus.
Then again, maybe it would have. Hard to know.
Here's what I do know: Kotzin's tale of fighting what she believed to be a fraudulent damage bill, is an inspiration to anyone who thinks car rental companies are enriching themselves from frivolous damage claims. It's a particularly timely story on the eve of the American Thanksgiving holiday, when roughly 39 million people will take to the nation's highways.
Enterprise, like other car rental companies, insists its damage recovery unit isn't a profit center and that it only pursues cases where a customer is responsible for damage to a car. To be fair, I've covered some cases where that's true -- where the damage was a driver's fault -- but also many cases where it wasn't true.
When she picked up her car, Kotzin says she did a walkaround with a representative to check for damage.
"There was a small ding on the back bumper, which we both saw," she says. "It was noted on my original rental agreement. I also mentioned some pitting in the material on the passenger seat, but was told that this was wear, and nothing about which I needed to be concerned."
When she returned the car, another representative gave the vehicle a closer inspection and then delivered some bad news: there was a "crack" in the front bumper, and she would be responsible for it.
"I asked to be shown the crack, which looked like a pencil line on the very bottom section of the bumper. I never saw this, and I doubt if the first representative saw it," she says.
From there, the situation quickly spiraled out of control. Enterprise eventually sent her a series of photos that supposedly documented the damage she'd done to the vehicle. In one, someone pulled apart the front bumper to make the small crack look like a gaping hole.
Here's the photo.
"In another photo, they seemed to have superimposed damage from another car onto the left side of the bumper in question, and it looked like a huge gash in a horizontal direction across the bumper," she says.
Kotzin couldn't even be sure it was the same car she rented. She suspected that Enterprise was trying to pull a fast one, so she phoned a supervisor and confronted her about the damage. She says the manager quickly ended the call, but promised to get back to her. She never heard a thing.
At that point, Kotzin emailed me, and if I'd seen the photos and read her story, I would have asked Enterprise about this case. But alas, her email was one of 10,000 other messages that got stuck in an unchecked mailbox.
Undeterred, Kotzin consulted with an attorney and called a local TV station. She refused to pay the claim and eventually sent an email to the president of Enterprise. A day later, she says she received a reply, assuring her that a regional manager would contact her soon.
"I got a call the following week," she says. "Amazingly, she said that they were willing to drop their claim."
And that's exactly what Enterprise did.
This story is important for many reasons. First and foremost, it's about consumer empowerment. Kotzin helped herself fight and successfully fended off what she believed to be a frivolous damage claim.
It's also a cautionary tale about the need for insurance. Kotzin had insurance, but refused, on principle, to give the information to Enterprise. If she didn't have the insurance, then she'd have been on the hook to pay for a new bumper.
But the biggest takeaway by far is that, if some renters are to be believed, the so-called ding-and-dent scam is still being practiced. All the more reason to be extra vigilant when you rent your next car.
This Thanksgiving, take pictures of your rental car. Document any damage. And don't be afraid to turn down a high-mileage vehicle.
After you've left a comment here telling me that I'm costing the car rental industry real money by giving this useful advice (I know, I know ... don't all thank me at the same time) let's continue the discussion on my consumer advocacy site or on Twitter, Facebook and Google. I also have a free newsletter and you'll definitely want to pre-order my new, amazingly helpful and subversive book called How to Be the World's Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money, and Hassle). Photo: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock