What are the typical consequences for a car renter (the one who rents the car) when the car was slightly damaged (upon return, renter's fault)?

I am looking at two typical cases:

  • the small scratch (the type that renters are informed of when renting a car, but which you are now the author of)
  • the larger bump you do not usually see on rented cars (the kind of "safe" bumps, a large scratch or someone slammed his door into yours)

I am aware that this will vary among the car rental companies (I have in mind the large ones like Avis or Hertz), the extend of the damage, your contracts,... I also nevertheless assume that there could be some kind of consensus (or experience) since I sometimes do get cars with small scratches.

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    renter's fault ... the one renters are informed of when renting a car ... these seem to contradict each other. What am I missing? – Flimzy Oct 30 '15 at 10:27
  • @Flimzy I initally had your understanding, but I've just edited it to reflect what I think is being asked. – CMaster Oct 30 '15 at 10:29
  • As a side note, AVIS now explicitly states which damage is billable and which is not (with the sizes of scratches etc.) – WoJ Apr 29 '18 at 10:29

If the damage is already present when the car is collected and is logged on the appropriate paperwork, then the damage should have no effect on the renter whatsoever. If there is damage not logged on the appropriate paperwork, then the renter should inform the rental agency of it before leaving the site, to avoid being held liable for the damage.

If the car is returned with "new" damage - either because it wasn't previously noticed or has now occured, the exact consequences depend on the rental company's policy and the rental agreement, as well as the insurance held by the renter. In general, the renter can be expect to charged for the damage, at what many would consider a somewhat inflated rate. The requirement of a credit card when renting is normally to make it easy for the rental company to do this. If the renter opted to reduce the damage collision waiver to 0, then this should cover any non-malicous damage (you may be questioned about the circumstances) and there should be no additional charge.

Note that many car hire companies exclude certain aspects of the car from their damage insurance/CDW. The most common exclusions are tyres (sometimes all aspects of the wheel) and windscreens. Also note that letting a non-named driver drive, or operating in any of the (often many) prohibited situations of the rental agreement can also invalidate any cover you may have.

With respect to the impact and reaction to the size of the damage, it's really difficult to generalize. Even among the big chains, rules may differe from country to country, and possibly between chains. Some have a policy on a minimum damage size before charging, others don't. If the damage was pointed out when renting the car, then that is probably because it is chargeable damage (those rental agencies I've used with a minimum damage size don't bother to point out marks below the minimum). Whether damage gets fixed or not is not an indicator of if you will be charged or not. This is for several reasons:

  • The rental company will argue that the damage effects the resale value of the car and hence the value of their asset
  • Cosmetic damage may only be fixed periodically, especially in busy periods when all the fleet is used
  • Car damage and subsequent charges to customers are a profit centre for many car rental companies. This is more common with companies in heavy tourist areas for whom repeat business is a smallr concern than low prices to get new business and maximizing the profit from one-time customers.

I've also seen cars being rented out with quite significant (ie major dents), cosmetic damage before, which it is almost certain was charged for.

  • I was not clear enough with the timing of the damage, thanks - now updated in my question. I was also looking at "small scratch" vs "bump" difference, if any, since the bumps are probably repaired and the scratches stay. – WoJ Oct 30 '15 at 8:15
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    For the size of the damage, it's really hard to generalise. There are companies that will charge you $/£100s for small scratches, and those that only charge for damage above a certain size - and while some of that is corporate policy, some of it is probably also the decision of the local office. – CMaster Oct 30 '15 at 8:18
  • Also, your question still says "the small scratch which you are informed of when renting a car" - which still parses to me as damage present when the car is collected – CMaster Oct 30 '15 at 8:19
  • I've tried to answer your question now, but having tried to so and ended up being vague, I think it may be best to consider this question too broad – CMaster Oct 30 '15 at 10:03

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