Most people know what it feels like. The hassle of always having to look for a taxi. The exorbitant rates that taxies charge when traveling long distances.
That’s why we turn to rental cars; they’re life savers.
However, they can also be a dominant source of distress to you if not handled properly. Let’s explore what’s considered damage to a rental car.
Table of Contents
Here’s what is considered damage to a rental car:
The most basic forms of damage to a rental car are dents and scratches. Car rental companies don’t take this lightly and will request payment for damages. That’s why it’s a good idea to have insurance before renting a car.
How Big a Scratch Is Considered Damage in Rental Cars?
Multiple scratches found anywhere on the car body, including the windshield or even the side mirrors, are considered damage.
Also, a single scratch over 2 inches long located anywhere is regarded as damage too. Such scratches would require that the driver compensate the rental company for damages.
Therefore, you should thoroughly inspect a rental car before driving off with it.
Many drivers have been victims of paying for damages they didn’t inflict on the car.
It is possible that the previous customer who rented the said car caused scratches to its body.
The car rental company could’ve missed the scratch during inspection or may have inspected it nonchalantly.
If you rent the same car and drive off without seeing the scratch, the company can charge you for it.
This time, they may choose to inspect the car more thoroughly and blame you for it.
That’s why after inspecting the car, if you notice any major scratch on the body, you have three major options.
You can take pictures of the scratches and save them just in case they blame you for it later on.
You can go the extra mile and inform them about it before leaving. Ensure they document it properly before you leave. Ultimately, you can complain about the scratches and request that they replace the car for you to avoid further complications.
Note: The car rental company might consider a scratch on the car to be negligible if it’s minute.
Please also read our article looking at whether car covers do more harm than good.
How Big a Dent in Rental Cars Is Considered Damage?
The analysis for dents is quite similar to that of scratches.
Dents greater than 2 inches are considered damage by some rental companies. However, do not take any dent for granted.
Not all rental companies follow the “2 inch” rule strictly.
Some rental companies may charge you for a dent that’s less than an inch long.
In that case, do not ignore a dent when you see it, no matter how small it looks. That same dent can be used against you when you return the car.
When you’re with a rental car, make sure not to park in rough neighborhoods. Also avoid parking in any place where the car is likely to receive impacts. An example of such places is tight parking spaces.
Note: The car rental company might consider a dent in the car to be negligible if it is quite minute.
How Much Do Rental Car Companies Charge for Dents and Scratches?
The payment for such damages ranges anywhere from $25 to over $80, depending on the severity of the scratch. If it affects the paint on the car badly, you’ll likely pay higher costs.
However, the cost depends on a lot of other factors, so getting an accurate quote is quite difficult.
Another factor that will heavily influence the price is the car brand.
Since specific cars have different costs for fixing them, the charge for damages will no doubt differ.
A dent in a Camry will cost a lot less than a dent in a Mercedes.
It’s best for you to check with your insurance company first before renting a car.
This would make you aware of the things covered by your insurance policy. If there are excesses that aren’t covered by your insurance, you’ll have to pay for them.
However, they might tell you that the damages on car rentals aren’t covered. This means you’ll be required to pay for everything yourself.
In that case, you’d need to consider other options.
The Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) helps to minimize the risks associated with renting a car. It covers damages that might occur, such as scratches, dents, and cracks.
This can come in handy when damages occur unexpectedly.
How Can You Prove You DIDN’T Damage a Rental Car?
This is where accurate documentation comes in. If you previously took photos of the car before driving away and after returning it, you wouldn’t have a problem. Even better is when you made the damages known to them before driving away.
Sometimes, you don’t have to prove that you didn’t damage the vehicle. Instead, it’s usually the other way around.
The rental company would have to prove that you damaged the car to begin with.
They’ll have to provide time stamped images that show the damage occurred while the car was in your possession. This is because it’s possible they’ve likely rented the car to someone else after you returned the vehicle. Thus, the car may have been damaged by another customer.
You can even complete a dispute form to go against their claim.
Most car rental companies should have one.
Or you can register your complaints in form of handwritten letters and attach the photographs as proof.
If they discover they wrongly charged you for the damage, they’d have to refund your money.
It is also possible that there’ll be damages you somehow didn’t notice.
However, even while this may be true, the rental companies can charge unfairly high prices for damages. If you believe the charges are extreme, you can file a complaint with the rental company.
What Happens When a Rock Hits My Rental Car?
As expected, your collision damage waiver will cover for such damage. However, if you don’t have one, they’ll charge you for it.
Regardless of what most people think, rental companies aren’t interested if it’s your fault or not. They don’t want to cover the losses themselves.
However, if you’re involved in an accident, the rental company may let you off if it’s not your fault. The other driver’s insurance company would have to step in.
What Is Considered Wear and Tear in a Rental Car?
Wear and tear is inevitable, and that’s why there’s provision for such damages. This is so in order to prevent one customer from paying for damages caused because of many years of usage.
Rental cars can classify light scratches and minor marks as wear and tear. However, broken, missing or cracked parts are mostly still considered damages.
Many car rental companies consider dents and scratches less than 2 inches wear and tear. Other companies may use 3 inches as their threshold.
However, some rental companies may decide to use stricter standards.
Thus, they may consider only 1 inch dents and below as wear and tear.
This also applies to the interior of the car. Wearing occurs because of failure of certain parts in the car that are prone to break down. These are mostly things that you have little control over.
That’s why they don’t blame customers for it. Renting a car doesn’t make you responsible for wear and tear that come up because of mechanical failure.
Components such as the doorknob or light switches can easily wear out after years of usage.
However, if the rental car is a brand new one, there might be an exception.
The rental company may not be inclined to classify such damage as wear and tear.
Thus, you’d need to pay the full cost of damages.
If you believe a damaged component is because of wearing and tearing, you can report it. Reporting it further gives you an edge and is better than if they find out themselves.
Other Things That Are Considered Damage
A scratch on the upholstery is considered interior damage and will cost you a lot.
So some car rentals insist drivers keep pets in crates. This would not only avoid torn furniture, but also prevent fur from being all over the place.
Another option is to use a seat cover during your trip. If you return the car with fur all over or with an unpleasant smell, you’ll be charged a cleaning fee.
Cracks on the windshield or side mirrors are also pretty serious damages and attract significant fines.
The car’s underbody is no exception. Most people forget the damages done to the underbody and usually skip it during inspection.
Another component prone to damage is the car’s bumper. It, like the underbody, is more susceptible to damage than other parts of the car.
Can a Car Rental Company Claim Damage After Return?
Rental car companies can claim damage even after you’ve returned the vehicle. They have to clear a vehicle before it’s checked-in or checked-out. Thus, they can charge you if they believe that the damage occurred while the car was in your possession.
They can charge your credit card. That’s why you should always gather some proof of your own.
So don’t forget to inspect the car thoroughly before driving off. Another important step is to inspect the car for dents after you return it before leaving.
Don’t forget to inspect the underbody.
This would give you a tremendous advantage if they decide to blame you for a damage found in the car.
Can I Fix the Damage Myself?
This is not always a smart move. However, fixing the problem yourself may be your cheapest bet. This is especially if you didn’t select the option of a damage waiver and your insurance doesn’t cover it.
If it’s a minor scratch or dent, you’re better off fixing it yourself.
Of course, the rental companies charge higher than the market prices.
Major damages are best left alone to avoid further complications.
However, there is still a risk in fixing it yourself.
The mechanic might do a job that the rental company would deem substandard. This could mean you’d have to pay twice for the same damage.
More severe even, is when the mechanic ruins a different component while he fixed the damage. This would cause an increase in the surcharge you pay.
Can I Smoke in My Rental Car?
Most rental companies do not allow smoking in their cars. This rule has little to do with burns on the upholstery and more to do with the smell. Smoke can permeate through porous surfaces.
Usually, after someone has smoked in a car, it is difficult to get the car free from the stench. This can make the car unconducive for another customer, who isn’t a smoker.
Most times, even smokers wouldn’t want to rent a car that already smells of smoke.
Some customers may even have an allergy and would demand cars that are completely smoke free. That’s why rental companies are so strict on smoking.
If you neglect the agreement and smoke anyway, it’ll attract a cleaning fee. This fee will be used to get rid of the smell and any leftover ash. The cleaning fee could be up to $250 or even $400.
However, since getting rid of the smell is so difficult, it’s best if you avoid smoking in the car altogether.
If you must smoke, don’t do it inside or around the rental car.
Can a Rental Car Company Sue You?
Lawsuits between rental companies and customers mostly arise because of a breach of agreement.
That’s why they have you sign documents before renting you a car.
A car rental company may sue you if you never return the car. Late return usually only attracts a fine. However, holding on to a rental car can cause them to get law enforcement involved.
Ultimately, they’ll probably sue you for breaching the agreement by refusing to return it at the stipulated time.
However, it works both ways because you can sue them if their nonchalance caused you to have an accident. So you can sue them for negligence if their car turns out to be defective.
The lawsuit becomes even more serious if you sustained any injuries from it.
However, you may not sue if you’ve signed document (s) that prevents you from doing so under certain circumstances.
If you’re to pay for damages, the rental company can send your bills to a collection agency. Of course, this will affect your credit score and ruin your chances of renting a car later on.
You might notice damage on the car when you return to check it in. When asked about it, make sure you don’t admit a possibility that you caused it.
Even if you aren’t sure if you caused it or not, wait until the both parties have accessed the damage.
Before signing a car rental agreement form, ensure you read all the terms and conditions thoroughly.
The terms and conditions for different companies, although can be similar, are usually quite different.
It is best to understand all that you’re reading to be sure you know what you’re getting yourself into.
Some rental companies have terms and conditions that are quite strict and would stand against you if something goes wrong.
Also, you might miss a spot while inspecting the car before driving off. Ensure you call the rental company and inform them immediately you spot it. Don’t forget to take pictures immediately.
Different rental companies have different policies.
This article should not replace your thorough evaluation of a rental company before renting a vehicle from them.
Agreeing to a collision damage waiver is a good idea.