Car renters-- Don't pay for someone else's accident

WalletPop readers may be aware that I'm an advocate of renting cars for long business trips and vacations. You can save a lot of money by letting the rental company absorb the cost of vehicle wear and tear.

However, an article in the new AARP magazine reminds me that there are some risks that come with this strategy. In this instance, an AARP member complained to the organization's ombudsman Ron Burley that the rental company, Enterprise, had discovered a hole in the condenser of a rental car after the renter had returned it and gone on his way. The company billed him for an additional $570.64.

While the charge was eventually waived, it shows the importance of the walk-around. It is crucial that you accompany the agent in the pre-rental look-over of the vehicle, and make sure that each ding and stain is noted. To locate dents, etc., stand at the rear bumper and sight down the sides of the car, rather than face-on. Examine the front and rear bumpers and the trunk hood for creases from low-speed collisions. Check the trim under the bumpers for parking lot bollard scrapes, and the roof for dimples left by top racks.

Be sure to check the interior for stains, broken latches, and foul smells. Check the ground under the car for signs of leaking fluids. If, after you drive away, you find gauges that don't work or other problems, call your agent and ask him/her to note this on your agreement.

It is just as important to repeat these steps at the time you return the car, with an agent. Keep your receipt, too, showing that you have returned it in its original condition.

Be a pain in the ass if you don't want to pay for damage inflicted by a previous renter or as a result of normal wear and tear. Dropping off the key without such a walk-around gives the rental company latitude to bill you for repairs you shouldn't have to cover.

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