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Woman billed for rental car damage she says she didn't cause

How to protect yourself from rental car "damage" scams
Posted at 11:22 PM, Feb 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-22 23:25:54-05

Recent data shows the demand for rental cars is trending back up. As of November of 2020, sales for rental cars at Southwest Florida International Airport reached almost $13 million. Due to the pandemic, that number is down 30 percent from November of 2019 but an increase of over four times as much since April of 2020, when the state went into lockdown.

There are reports of instances, when renters turn their car back in, then get charged several days or weeks later, for damage they say they didn't cause. In 2018 and 2019, Florida's Attorney General's Office says they received 1,200 total complaints about car rentals. Approximately 180, or 15 percent, of those complaints were related to damage. According to the AG's Office, the damage category has a broad definition. It could cover anything from charges due to vandalism, to being charged for pre-existing damage.

Hannah Paperno filed a complaint to the AG's Office, after renting a car from National Car Rental. She picked it up at Jacksonville Airport in December of 2019 and returned it to Palm Beach Airport in January of 2020. She recalls, "They did a check of it and walked around it and everything. And, they said, 'Everything was good to go. You can get on your flight,' so I did."

Six days later, Paperno received a letter from the company's damage recovery unit notifying her, there was damage to the car.
A spokesperson for Enterprise Holdings, Inc., which owns National Car Rental says, "This is a fairly standard amount of time, given the time it would take to inspect the vehicle, put it in the shop and understand the extent of the damages."

Several weeks after the first notification, the damage recovery unit sent Paperno another letter saying she owed about $3,400 due to damage, including speakers, airbag controls, carpeting, and electrical. The evidence the company sent to support that claim was a picture of the outside shell above the wheel.

Paperno tells FOX 4, "I didn't do that, first of all. Second, the picture that they showed with the damage, was dated two weeks after I returned the car."

Enterprise Holdings opened an investigation then closed it. Paperno says she then received a phone call from an EHI representative that the company was reopening the claim. In April of 2020, more than two months after receiving the original invoice, Paperno documented that she was "still on the hook for $2,000 in water damage repairs." After some months of back and forth with the damage recovery unit, Paperno's claim was referred to the in-house collections in August of 2020, where it is currently.

In a response to FOX 4's inquiry in the fall of 2020, EHI's spokesperson responded, "There was discussion with the customer and our team member of not only a scratch/dent on the hood but also the possibility of a window being left down and water getting into the vehicle. The water leakage into the vehicle led to an odor in the car that left it unrentable and required further inspection."

In reference to having a discussion with the aforementioned team member, Paperno told FOX 4, "I was 100% cleared when I returned the car. Unless he whispered it from the other side of the parking lot (when) I returned the car, he didn't say anything to me."

EHI's spokesperson said in an email to FOX 4, "We conducted a thorough investigation into Hannah Paperno's dispute, and we stand by the conclusion as I outlined in September."

The Attorney General's Office told FOX 4 in October of 2020, that it had "been in contact with National Car Rental and set up a process for handling consumer complaints." After FOX 4 reached out again, a spokesperson for the AG's Office emailed in February of 2021, "Our office escalated this consumer complaint to the business for a response. We have not received any information back at this time. We are following up with the company for a possible resolution."

Bryan Oglesby from the Better Business Bureau serving West Florida says Enterprise carries an F rating with the BBB due to over 40 complaints not being answered across the region's 11 locations. In general, the BBB West Florida branch counts over 135 complaints. More than half are about the product or service. About 40 percent pertain to billing. Oglesby adds, "Other Enterprise locations do have better ratings. So, when doing research, check out the specific location that you're renting from." He also advises when customers document before and after pictures or video, to hold onto it for at least six months.