Hit and miss on Enterprise


Q: When I received my latest credit-card statement, I discovered that a recent car rental from Enterprise had more than doubled. Seems the company charged me for 142 excess miles.

Funny, but the receipt given to me by the agent did not have miles driven on it. Where did they get that?

I called Enterprise’s 800-number. What a mess. I kept getting a local agent. Then I got cut off. Then, when I finally got through – and consented to a quick one-minute customer satisfaction survey – they cut me off again.

I guess they will never know. Can you help me clear this up?

— Gary Moll

A: Charging a car-rental customer based on miles driven is stupid. Do hotels bill you more than your daily rate if you decide to spend more time in your room? Does a cruise line slap on a surcharge if you lock yourself in your cabin for the duration of your trip? I don’t think so.

Billing by the mile, as if your car is a payphone on wheels, just invites a dispute. And that’s a waste of your time and the company’s. I recently had a similar disagreement when I rented a pickup truck from U-Haul. I noted my starting mileage, but it differed with what had been entered in the computer. When it came time to settle up, the company wanted to charge me for 44 extra miles.

If you look closely, you’ll find that the incorrect starting mileage probably was on your rental agreement. My contract was, by the agent’s own admission, “miles and miles” long (and I joked that I would have to start charging U-Haul by the mile myself. I guess the joke was on me when I failed to check out the faded printout. I should have read over everything closely – just as you should have – and checked it against the vehicle’s actual mileage.

How did the incorrect mileage get there? The agents who checked the car in may have neglected to note the new mileage. Or maybe they didn’t forget – maybe this is just another ploy to drive up revenues. Who knows?

The solution is to read your contract very, very carefully. If you’re being charged by the mile, make sure that you, your rental agent and the contract are all in agreement before you drive away. I repeat: before you drive away.

“After looking at the records, it appears that an employee had incorrectly written down the mileage of his vehicle initially,” says Christy Conrad, a spokeswoman for Enterprise. “When he returned the vehicle, the branch estimated his total charges without checking the return mileage first.”

I have to hand it to Enterprise, though. As soon as you called (even after being cut off several times) the branch issued you a credit. So technically, you didn’t even need me to solve this problem for you. If only all travel companies were this responsive I’d be out of a job.

I’m happy to report that my own dispute with U-Haul had a happy ending, too. I phoned the company and spoke with a manager, who promptly acknowledged that “procedures weren’t followed” when I rented my truck. I got a refund of $25 – and yes, I’ll rent from U-Haul again.

Q: I recently took a trip to Baltimore, where I had a fender-bender in my Enterprise rental car. I was hit from behind while stopped at a red light by a woman with no insurance and what looks to be a stolen car. In fact, she fled on foot, leaving her car just before the police arrived at the scene.

Having a little extra time, I went to a body shop to get an estimate of the damages. I also took pictures. Both the pictures and my estimate ($670) confirmed that the damage was limited to the bumper cover on my Toyota Echo. When I received the estimate from Enterprise, it wanted an extra $500 to cover “damage” to the rear door, window, quarter panel, and even the roof.

I called back to contest the company’s estimate, which I think is ridiculous and a blatant attempt to use my misfortune to generate a little extra profit (whether it is for the rental company or the body shop, I’m not sure). I left a message with Enterprise, but have not been able to reach anybody. What should I do?

— Scott Cohen

A: Pay up. Enterprise tried to arrive at an accurate estimate of the damages, and I believe its number is correct.

In order to come up with its price, Enterprise returned to the repair shop where you had the damage to the vehicle appraised. It found that your shop had not noted all of the damage.

“The body shop agreed that it missed damage caused by the accident and rewrote the estimate to include the accident-related damage,” says Conrad, the Enterprise spokeswoman. She adds that Enterprise was just following its standard process and repairing the vehicle, nothing more.

But you did the right thing by going to an independent body shop. If it hadn’t sided with Enterprise, then you would have had a strong case to pursue with either the rental company or, if necessary, your credit-card company. Of course, there’s no way to anticipate an accident like this in the first place.

But for what it’s worth, you did the best you could to make sure you paid for the damages, and nothing extra.