Sky-high charge for scratch

This item appears on page 30 of the May 2008 issue.

On a trip my wife and I took to Europe in May ’07, we picked up a car at the Frankfurt airport that we had reserved over the Internet from National Car Rental. As always, I scrutinized the car carefully before signing the form that claimed it had no damage.

Three weeks later we returned the car, and at the sign-out station when the man scrutinized the car, he found a tiny scratch on the front bumper. He and I went down on our knees to examine it. He wiped away the road film and I, too, could see it: a very slight line that, I’d like to say, was minuscule, about 3/16 of an inch long.

Truthfully, I told him that I had not touched that bumper to any other car or to a wall or even a bush. He asked me if I had ever parked on the street. Of course, I had. He said that another car may have touched the bumper.

I could not argue, for I did see a tiny scratch. The car was not new and, to me, the scratch looked like ordinary wear and tear. I signed the sheet acknowledging the scratch.

Over the next few months I received several mailings detailing, in German, the efforts the company was undergoing to remove the scratch. The bumper had to be removed, lights taken off, etc. In the end, the charge came to around $900.

My Visa card covered it under the collision damage insurance and it cost me nothing, with the exception of a $15 fee for something that National charged and that I paid myself because it wasn’t worth arguing over and I was so relieved that the $900 scratch would be covered by Visa.

But I’m bothered by this. We’ve rented many cars in our more than 35 trips to Europe. I’ve never had an accident and never before had to use my Visa card to back up any damage. Is it normal for such a tiny thing to have such a high cost? A good rubbing would have almost eliminated that scratch. Was this a case of a company taking advantage of a situation to make some money?

I would like to hear from other ITN readers who have encountered a similar situation.

I wonder if Visa questioned the bill. I told them they should. If I hadn’t been covered by Visa, would the bill have been that high? I didn’t have to pay that bill, but Visa did and, in the end, all the users of its credit cards paid the bill.


West Grove, PA