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Budget says we drove through a hailstorm. Now it wants me to pay $2,133

When Candace Welch returns her rental to Budget in Sioux Falls, S.D., the company bills her $2,133 for hail damage. Just one problem -- there was no hailstorm.

Last spring, I rented a car from Budget in Sioux Falls, S.D. We were in Sioux Falls for approximately an hour after picking up the vehicle and then drove to Montana. I returned the car, undamaged, to the same Budget location a week later.

A few weeks later, I received a claim for hail damage from PurCo Fleet Services on behalf of Budget. It was asking for $2,133 to repair hail damage.

PurCo claims there was a hailstorm in Sioux Falls while we were there. There was no storm at that time or at any other time on our trip. I have proven there was no storm by sending PurCo weather reports, but they will not listen.

Budget and PurCo have added other damage to the body shop report. They sent blurry photos with the damage mysteriously hidden under the reflection of overhead light in every photo. Please help us.

Candace Welch, Belfast, Me.

Something's not right with your damage claim. Budget should have talked to you about any potential damage when you returned the car -- if, indeed, the car got pelted with hail while you had it.

Waiting until weeks after you returned the car to report damage to you makes me suspicious. But the fact that there was no recorded hailstorm in your area for the entire week, plus the blurry photos, makes me deeply suspicious.

The correspondence between PurCo and you is fascinating. The company is basing its damage claim on two things: First, there was no reported damage to your car before you rented it. And second, there were reports of hailstorms in Sioux Falls when you rented the vehicle.

However, as you note, you were only in Sioux Falls briefly and then drove to Montana. You sent documentation that showed the weather along your route was clear. Reviewing the car's GPS records would have confirmed your story. I'm not sure why the company wouldn't do that.

You should always take "before" and "after" photos of the inside and outside of your rental car to verify the car wasn't damaged. It appears you didn't do that. You should also ask a car rental company representative to do a quick inspection and sign off on the car when you return it. Hail damage is not difficult to spot, so if there was a problem, you could have filled out a claim form on the spot.

By the way, if you have auto insurance or travel insurance, it would probably cover hail damage. You wouldn't have been on the hook for $2,133.

Let me be clear: If you drive a rental car in a hailstorm, you're responsible for any damage. But the car rental company has to do the damage claim the right way. Someone should have spoken to you about any damage when you brought your car back instead of broadsiding you with a claim weeks later. And the photos should have been clear and timestamped, showing that you returned a car with hail damage.

I like the way you handled this. You kept a comprehensive paper trail, and you reached out to the Budget executives I list on my consumer advocacy site, Elliott.org, to plead your case.

Of course, there's another side to this story. So I decided to ask Budget about the claim. A few days later, you received a letter from the company saying that you had been added to its Do Not Rent list. That's common when you have a billing dispute with a car rental company.

About a week later, Budget contacted you again. This time, a manager told you that Budget would close your claim, which means you will not have to pay the $2,133 repair bill. Your name has also been removed from the Do Not Rent list.

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps consumers solve their problems. Email him at [email protected] or get help by contacting him on his site.

© 2023 Christopher Elliott

 

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