Always check the damage sheet when renting a car – all damages, scratches, dents and upholstery stains need to be documented

The most important document when renting a car is the damage sheet.

Increased competition in the car rental business has made it economically impossible for suppliers of rental cars to ignore scratches in the paintwork and small dents; things that may have been accepted as wear & tear on rent-a-car vehicles only a few years back.

The damage sheet, therefore, has become essential for the customer to verify when taking delivery of the vehicle.

In the damage sheet must be specified which damages; large or small, are present on a rental car including inside the cabin.  Common damages to seats/upholstery include cigarette burns and stains.

Do not assume that smoking in rental cars never takes place just because it is prohibited in the rental contract. Especially in Southern Europe, damage from smoking is common. Ice cream stains on the back seat are very common too.

A particularly hard to spot damage is the odd stone chip in the windshield, which usually starts as a very small ‘star’ and, after a while, develops into a totally broken front window.

Europcar inspection form

A clean Europcar damage sheet for a VW Passat rental car in Denmark. See full document here.

How does the damage sheet work?  – list of dents, scratches an upholstery damage
At checkout, when the customer takes delivery of the rental car, the customer is asked to sign off the cars existing damages on the damage sheet. In some places, the customer is asked to sign the damage sheet even before the customer has had a chance to see the car.

By signing the damage sheet, the customer accepts responsibility for any further damage that may turn up at check-in; when the car is handed back to the rental company.

Any additional charges for customer damages will be drawn from the security deposit blocked on the customer credit card for the duration of the rental.

The customer will rarely have a say in whether additional damages like scratches, dents and similar are charged or not.

Rental car damaga

A rear bumper paint damage which was not on the damage sheet at checkout

It is of outmost importance to check the rental thoroughly for existing damages. The risk of paying for other customer’s damage(s) is very real.

Lack of attention to detail when checking for damages is likely to be costly. If not finding an expensive damage from previous customers, the whole security deposit will, in worst case, be lost.

Related article: How to avoid extra charges and scams when hiring a car.

From time to time, the damage charge from a customer security deposit is a matter of coincidence. It can be quite difficult to spot certain damages; even for experienced car rental staff. Sometimes, the rental company will only register a damage long time after it actually occurred. If the customer from a 3-day rental is charged for a particular damage, it may actually originate from another customer weeks ago.

In some cases, car rental companies speculate in damages generating additional income – the same spot on the rear seat upholstery or cigarette burn in a hard place to see on the front passenger seat can, potentially, be very profitable.

A reckless station manager chasing commission or rogue practises at certain rental car companies at management level can result in ’reuse’ of the same damages towards multiple customers. Hard to spot damages are known to work well for these illegal practises –  and in particular on high volume tourist destinations with lots of foreign customers. It does not take a lot of skill to generate a lot of income from security deposits from ‘dumb foreigners’.

As a customer, you need to be very careful checking your rental vehicle for damages before you leave the rental station.

ALWAYS take pictures of your rental car – inside and outside
Do not make the mistake of relying 100% on the goodwill of your car rental company.

As a customer, you can only protect your money (security deposit) by documenting all damages on your hire car.

Always take pictures using your mobile phone. You need to record as many pictures as needed for documenting even the smallest of damages. In this way, you are likely to be able to win any argument about additional charges for damages.    

Damage on upholstery

Example of small rear seat stain in SUV rented from Express in Warsaw Airport

The editors of were issued a damage sheet on a SUV rental that did not include damage to the rear seat cover/upholstery. The stain was rather small and we did not think much of it. A picture was taken using smartphone and it turned out to be our good fortune.   

The rental from company Express went fine. As it turned out, the Suzuki S-Cross SUV had a number of exterior dents and scratches. The 2 year old vehicle was actually quite scratched in places, but despite its 60.000 km’s, it drove well and as such it was a successful rental.   

We handed back the keys for the Suzuki in the Express ’key-box’ at Warsaw Airport as nobody was around early evening to meet us.

When the damage sheet report from Express check-in arrived in our email, however, a new damage had miraculously turned up on the rear seat. Please see damage sheet below.

Express Rent A Car damage sheet

We had a surprise – damage on rear seat marked with ’X’ on check-in damage sheet. Compare with the complete document, with damage at both check-in and check-out.

When forwarding our photo-documentation of the small white stains on the half-old car, Express immediately withdrew from charging the damage.

This goes to show that customers ALWAYS must take pictures in order to document damages or risk be charged.

Look for upholstery stains, seat cigarette burns and damage to front window / windshield stone chips.  Also look for scratches on bumpers and scratches on wheel arches (where they often occur), door side damages (from parking in a tight spot) and scratches on hub caps and alloy wheels which are charged by rental companies more and more frequently. 

When to take out excess insurance?
Damages are the responsibility of the customer up to the excess amount.

Usually, the excess on a car rental equals the security deposit. Details can be found in the terms & conditions of the rental agreement.

Damages, that can be proved to be the responsibility of the customer, will be charged from the security deposit.

A way to eliminate (or with some damages reduce) the risk of paying excess is to take out excess insurance. When booking a car on, excess insurance is always available.

Read more about EU car hire regulations.

Always check the damage sheet when renting a car – all damages, scratches, dents and upholstery stains need to be documented
Article: Always check the damage sheet when renting a car – all damages, scratches, dents and upholstery stains need to be documented
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