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I recently rented a car in the UK (from a major chain). When I returned the car, the inspection found three pieces of minor interior damage, and I’m now getting charged £100 for these as “change of condition”.

However, all three pieces of damage were pre-existing, and I don’t believe I can reasonably have been expected to notice/declare them at the initial checkout stage, for several reasons. Primarily, no interior inspection was offered at the point of checkout. But besides that, two of the three pieces of damage wouldn’t have been recognisable with an ordinary visual inspection. (The third defect might have been caught with an interior inspection — it was visible once you knew where to look, though fairly inconspicuous.)

It seems obviously abusable, if car rental firms can hold renters liable for defects in condition that renters had no reasonable chance to discover in advance. Are there any consumer protection laws/regulations against such charges, in the UK?

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    Many national chains are franchise operations, and Should You Care If You're Renting a Car From a Franchise? tells you who is who. You can be a victim of "tricks of the trade", and in my case it was a fuel scam: the desk was the only rental in the airport, and there was nothing I could do except not hire a car. It's possible the manager did not know, and you could make a complaint there, or further up the chain. But to take legal action to recover £100 is going to cause more trouble and time than it is worth. – Weather Vane Nov 28 '20 at 13:03
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Are there any consumer protection laws/regulations against such charges, in the UK?

The legal aspects are probably a better fit law.stackexchange.com

Chances are, the legal path would be difficult. Read your contract carefully: when you checked out the car you probably signed a statement that you have indeed inspected the car and that you will take full responsibility for any damages or "changes" that occur while you are using the vehicle. These clauses are their for a reason: rental companies hear "oh, that wasn't me" ten times a day.

If it's a reputable company (Avis, Hertz, Enterprise, Europcar, Alamo, Sixt, etc. ) you can probably negotiate your way out of there. Some of the field agents can be overzealous and that just annoys customers and results in bad reviews on tripadvisor and social media.

It's a classical case of "your word against theirs" so you need to establish credibility. Call them up or write. Be polite, reasonable, constructive but firm. Explain what happened and ask for advice on how to proceed. Carefully choose your sentences. "The alleged damage wasn't even visible to the naked eye", "Lighting conditions during check out made it impossible to see the damage", etc. Express that you would be very disappointed with the company, if they were to force you to pay for damage that you didn't do.

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  • Would e-mail be better than a phone call, as you have 'written proof' of the discussion? – Willeke Nov 28 '20 at 13:05
  • I would definitely recommend writing, or else immediately following up the phone call with an email summarising the discussion. Invaluable if you end up having to deal with a different part of the organisation at a later date. – Andrew Nov 28 '20 at 14:45
  • Thankyou; in hindsight, yes, this probably would be a better fit on law.stackexchange. I’ll re-ask it there tomorrow if it doesn’t get answered here first. I agree with all the advice you give — my plan is certainly politely disputing the charge by email, not taking legal action — but for that negotiation, it would be helpful to know what my legal rights are. – PLL Nov 28 '20 at 14:59

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