Keli Chick never expected a one-day rental from Enterprise Rent-A-Car to turn into a year-long battle over a damage claim for more than $5,500.
Her fight with the biggest car rental company in North America began when she rented a truck in Dawson Creek, B.C., on Dec. 29, 2020 and drove it to Red Deer, Alta., the next morning — a seven-hour trip.
The skies were blue and the sun was shining, so Chick says she was more than a little surprised when a letter from Enterprise's damage recovery department arrived six weeks later, saying she was on the hook for $5,578, due to hail damage.
"I was pretty shocked," said Chick. "I had to read it a few times just because it was so out there. I thought, 'This cannot be possible.'"
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Go Public has heard from about a dozen other Enterprise customers who say they, too, were told long after their rental period was over that they were responsible for various repairs costing thousands of dollars.
A consumer advocate and lawyer, who is an expert on contract law, says car rental companies have to inform customers of damage in a timely manner — and can't just tell them they have to foot the bill for repairs.
"The onus is on the rental car company to prove their allegations," said Daniel Tsai, who teaches consumer and business law at Ryerson University in Toronto. "If they say that you've caused the damage, they actually have to provide some evidence."
A picture is worth… nothing?
Before leaving the Enterprise location, Chick and an agent completed a walk-around inspection and noted a scratch on a door and a broken tail light. The truck's roof and hood were covered in snow and ice, says Chick, but she assumed they were in good condition.
As she hit the highway the next morning, the sun melted the frozen white stuff off her rental vehicle. A photo Chick stopped to take of the horizon happened to include part of the hood and captured pock marks from what appeared to be hail.
When she arrived in Red Deer, the agent who signed off on the truck's return told her not to worry about the obvious dents.
"He didn't add the hail damage because clearly the weather was a beautiful day and no hail damage had occurred when it was in my possession," said Chick.
It wasn't until six weeks later that Chick received the Enterprise letter, telling her she'd received "significantly discounted repair rates" and that she was responsible to pay the cost.
Chick thought she had insurance, because she'd paid with a credit card — most provide coverage. But she discovered that credit cards only cover car rentals, not trucks. On top of that, she says, filling out an insurance claim would have been fraudulent, because she wasn't responsible for the damage.
She sent Enterprise the photo and a link to a local TV weather report that said there had been clear skies during her rental period. Ameteorologist at Environment and Climate Change Canada later confirmed that for Go Public
"They told me that that didn't matter," she said. "They were very clear that this was my fault."
Enterprise sent her case to the collection agency Credifax, which added interest to the repair bill — so it grew to over $6,200 — and threatened legal action.
"Every time I tried to reach them [Enterprise], they completely ignored me and just kind of gave me the runaround," said Chick. "It's a lot of time. A lot of energy. And just so frustrating that this has happened for a whole year."
Can't 'conclusively determine' fault
Enterprise spokesperson Lisa Martini told Go Public that the company's terms and conditions spell out that customers are responsible for damage caused by an "act of God," which includes hail. If they don't have insurancethat cost becomes an out-of-pocket expense.
Similar clauses exist in agreements for the three companies that account for an estimated 95 per cent of all car rentals in Canada: Enterprise (which owns National and Alamo), Avis (which owns Budget) and Hertz (which owns Dollar and Thrifty).
After Go Public requested an interview with Enterprise, the company dropped its claim against Chick.
In a statement, Martini said the company was "unable to conclusively determine" when the truck was damaged so "the wrong renter was likely held responsible."
But the rental company's about-face doesn't sit well with Tsai.
"You deny a claim you can't even prove and make the customer go through a horrendous experience where they might even have to go to court?" he said. "That's a major marketing fail."
Likewise, Pat Abbott didn't find out for three months that she was supposedly responsible for $12,322 in damages to the 2020 Elantra she'd driven for a month. Enterprise said the motor was shot.
"I said, 'I'm not paying this. That car was in perfect condition," Abbott, 71, said from her home in Abbotsford, B.C.
She then learned that that model of vehicle had been recalled due to motor issues.
"I was livid," she said. "The motor was under recall, so why are they pinning the damage on me?"
Enterprise ended up dropping the claim — after it emerged that the vehicle's odometer showed almost 1,300 kilometres more than when Abbott had returned it. Its letter to Abbott did not include an apology.
Taking months to hit a customer with a major repair bill is too long, says Tsai.
"There should definitely be a time limit if there's any damage or any circumstance where the customer owes additional money," he said. "That delay is totally unacceptable. And in fact, it makes it suspicious."
Enterprise says a "miscommunication" caused the claim to be sent out while the cause of the engine failure was being determined.
It says fewer than 0.2 per cent of all rentals in Canada last year resulted in cases "where the customer had a concern with the way the claim was handled."
When asked, Martini, the spokesperson, said she could not say what percentage of renters who had a concern about their claim weren't satisfied with the outcome.
Nor is it clear what percentage of Enterprise's total rentals for 2021 resulted in claims.
Martini also said in the statement it can take "several weeks" to inform customers of damage because it "is not always noticeable immediately" and that a bill isn't sent out until repairs are complete.
Tsai says the car rental industry is "long overdue" for regulatory oversight.
"We should have a regulatory standard in place where car companies that make their claims have to prove it before they pursue them," said Tsai.
"And have to provide some kind of mediation process to get these things dealt with fairly and quickly – to ensure that rental car companies are accountable to their customers."
Keli Chick says she's relieved the hail damage problem is over, but that she'll be holding Enterprise accountable in a different way.
"I'm telling everybody I know not to use that company ever again," she said. "I will never go back to them."
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