What happens when you damage a rental car

Have you ever wondered what will happen if you damage your rental car? Well, friends, you can rely on ol’ spatially challenged Castle here to deliver.

On my recent East Coast road trip adventure, my friend Michael and I hired a rental car from Avis.

To our great delight, when we went to pick it up from Avis Campbelltown, we got an upgrade (yay). Instead of the entry level manual hatchback we booked, we scored an all-wheel drive automatic – #winning.

When you’re driving long distances, over unfamiliar terrain, it really pays to have a reliable car so we were very happy with our hire.

The only hitch occurred when I backed into a tow bar in a carpark. Yep, even with a reversing camera.

I can still hear the quiet thud of the back bumper connecting with metal.

I spent the next couple of days alternatively freaking out about how much it would cost to fix, and Googling forums to find out what would happen.

A lot of people recommend a) lying, b) trying to fix it yourself, or c) not owning up to it.

As a person with a¬†¬†propensity for anxiety, that doesn’t work for me. I hate answering my phone as it is; I don’t need to spend the rest of my life wondering when Avis will track me down.

When I returned the car to Melbourne Airport, I showed the damage to the guy who checked the vehicle in. He made a note on the docket and directed me to the office to go and fill out an accident report.

I didn’t have the excess amount of $4500 available on my credit card so the lady at the desk said they would invoice me.

I nervously checked my email for the next couple of days but nada. In the meantime, the rental hire fee was refunded to my credit card.

And then ouch.

I received a $5028.28 charge from Avis with no invoice and no explanation.

I rang the office I hired the car from and (the excellent) Barry Dellas from Avis Campbelltown told me he would look into it for me.

He said that corporation-owned Avis offices (like Melbourne Airport) have to charge the excess to get the insurance ball rolling, whereas franchisees often hold off charging the excess because they can turn repair quotes around quickly.

While I had Barry on the phone, I asked him what was considered ‘fair wear and tear’ versus the damage you need to own up to.

He said scuff marks on the wheel trim, a little bit of paint off, a few scratches around the handles and a stone chip in the paint (but not on the windscreen) is considered OK. These things are detailed on the quality control paperwork you are given when you hire the car

Barry said, “If you can be polished out, it’s usually fine.”

He also said that if you damage a car, you should always fill out an accident report form because you probably won’t get away with it.

He said, “We understand if people are strapped for cash which is why we offer payment plans.”

After our initial conversation, Barry called me back to let me know that the damage would cost me just under $300 and that the excess would be refunded to me sometime in the next week.

One final thing I learnt through this process is that many credit cards offer complimentary travel insurance if you have spent a certain amount on that card on booking the trip and are a certain distance from home when the incident occurs. I have yet to confirm this with National Australia Bank (I have a Qantas Frequent Flyer card and technically meet their criteria of having spent over $500 on the trip and I was over 500kms away from home when it happened) so I will keep you posted.

In the meantime, have you ever damaged a rental car? If so, what happened?

Want to know more about the trip that resulted in this damage? Click here.

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