When you buy a car, you do your research. You learn its history, take it for a test drive.
That’s not the case when you rent a car. For most people, it’s sign the contract, pay the fee, grab the keys and go.
That was certainly John Lynch’s experience on a recent golf trip to Canada.
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"Get in the car, do not walk around the car and don’t inspect the car. Nobody asked me to do that,” said Manhattan Beach resident Lynch, who rented a Dodge Grand Caravan from Avis while in Vancouver.
The problem started when Lynch returned the vehicle a week later.
“One of the guys looks at the car, says there’s a scratch on the left front fender,” said Lynch who replied, “I don’t know anything about the scratch.”
Lynch, a former LA County prosecutor, said he was told to simply write down that he knew nothing about the small scratch near the driver’s-side wheel well and he was sent on his way.
Twenty days later, “I get a charge on my credit card for $196 Canadian saying I caused the scratch,” said Lynch.
Because Lynch never inspected the vehicle before driving it, he said he has no idea if the scratch was on the vehicle before he drove it or if it was the result of him having caused it.
What Lynch learned is his rental contract with Avis makes him financially responsible for any damages.
“I don’t know anyone who reads rental car agreements and I’m a lawyer,” said Lynch.
Avis billed the damage claim to Lynch’s credit card, and the company initially disputed the claim on Lynch’s behalf, but ultimately paid it, “which just rubbed me the wrong way,” said Lynch.
Lynch called the NBC 4 I-Team, and following several inquiries with Avis, a spokesperson for the rental car company said in an emailed statement that, “as a gesture of goodwill, we have credited Mr. Lynch’s account in the amount of $196.60.”
That means the problem is solved for Lynch, but the scratch has left a mark on the lawyer’s psyche, learning he was unaware of the legal responsibility on a contract he signed and the solution to protecting himself.
“It never occurred to me to do a walk around the car,” said Lynch.
Some car rental companies do have mandatory before-and-after visual inspections when customers are asked to record any blemish on a vehicle that could later be disputed as a damage claim.
Avis says it encourages such inspections but they are not mandatory.
Using a credit card can help you dispute a damage claim on a rental car.
Attempting to pay for any damages through your personal auto insurance, according to insurance companies contacted by the I-Team, could lead to an increase in your premium.