How to avoid extra charges and scams when hiring a car! - Always check thoroughly for dents and scratches at checkout of rental cars

Operating in the increasingly competitive car rental industry, rental station managers push for extra profits in any area possible. Unfortunately, the emphasis on profitability puts pressure on customers, who do not check their vehicle carefully before accepting it.

Rental car damage
Even brand-new rental cars can be scratched at pickup – above a nearly new Opel Insignia Tourer from Europcar, Denmark – Photo ©: 

Only a few years ago, most rental car companies (RAC’s) did not pay too much attention to minor scratches and dents on returning rental cars which, anyway, would be fixed in ’one go’ when de-fleeting the cars – usually through a remarketing company specializing in this important part of the RAC business.

Nowadays, in almost any vehicle rental business, much more attention to detail is shown as car rental profit margins are slim (or close to zero). Any extra income counts and that is why customers are charged for any small, and previously insignificant, damage when returning a rental car.

How to avoid extra charges? – check, check, check and double-check!
In order to avoid extra charges, it is absolutely essential, to check in the most conscientious way your rental car when taking delivery of it (at checkout). When you hand back the vehicle (at check-in), it will be too late.

When arriving to the holiday destination, late evening and perhaps with kids, most holiday-makers prefer to just get on with it and drive to their hotel or other holiday accommodation. As a result, little attention is being made to investigate what possible pitfalls the car rental agreement includes. One of the biggest pitfalls is, in fact, the checking (checkout) of the rental car.

IMPORTANT: By signing the damage sheet at checkout (when taking delivery of the rental car) all responsibility for damages, scratches and dents are solely on the customer. If you do not notice damages from previous rentals, you can, potentially, be charged for them – and it is increasingly likely that you will, due to the lack of profitability in the rental car business.

At, we know from customers experience that, especially in Spanish and in Italian destinations, the search for scratches and small damages and dents are on the rise.

Unfortunately, it has become of outmost importance, as a customer, to check your vehicle from all angles. The way to proceed is to walk (slowly) around the vehicle and point out all scratches etc. to the representative of the car rental company. Even better is to walk 2 or 3 times around and point out everything that remotely looks like the slightest of damage. Theoretically, a customer can be billed for EVERYTHING not noted on the damage sheet at checkout.

Rental car return Lisbon Airport
Check-in area in Lisbon Airport – handing back our test-car Toyota Aygo - Photo ©:

How to avoid extra charges and big bills – advice and tips to handle scratches, dents and missing items

Checkout advice #1:
Never EVER, if you can avoid it, take delivery of a rental car in darkness or in the rain.  Dark surroundings or rain make it totally impossible to spot any damages and, in particular, scratches to the paint on a car. You best demand that the car is driven outside in sunlight or, if not possible at evening time, to a lit up place at a gas station or similar to inspect properly the vehicle. Even professional car dealers will not have a clue in the rain or in the dark.

If you cannot inspect the car due to darkness or rain, you might want to ask to have the conditions as ‘not possible to check the car’ noted in the checkout papers or alternatively, you might want to ask for a dry, and ‘inspectable’, car.

Car checkout advice #2
if in doubt, take pictures. If, for some reason, you do not trust the rental company representative, you need to document with pics as much as possible – take pics of the car prior to delivery - and even pics of the car with the representative in the pic as well if possible. The documentation will make a potential complaint much easier to file and win. It is worth considering also, that rental employee’s speak to each other, and if it is well know that you are in a conflict, and rental staff know you have documentation, they are more likely to back off.

Rental Car checkout advice #3
Check the car inside as well. The interior of the car is very expensive to replace. Always ask if the car has a spare wheel (and check) – this item will frequently ‘go missing’.

Very expensive damages include stones or dents in the windscreen/front window – so check carefully for that (can only be done from inside the car looking out). Any damage/dent in the front window/ windshield will cost upwards of £250-£300. When inside the car, also please check for spots on seats and maybe especially for burn marks (from cigarettes). Those are ‘classic’ very expensive damages to fix – even though all rental cars are ‘non-smoking’, you may very well be charged for a ‘smoker’ if you do not check properly.

Rental Car checkout advice #4
If you do not, for some reason, detect a damage/dent/fault at checkout, it is of OUTMOST IMPORTANCE that you immediately call in when you detect it.

Rental car companies will not accept any ’late found damages’ unless you act promptly and call in.

In the case of the above Opel/Vauxhall Insignia rented in Denmark, we phoned Europcar as soon as we spotted the problem in the following morning (taking delivery at a remote airport at late evening time without any possibility to detect the damage to the car). With Europcar Denmark, in this case, everything was fine resulting in no extra charges. 

In Southern Europe, car rental companies are known, sometimes, to charge as much as possible for damages, so ignoring a problem does not pay off.

Rental Car checkout advise #5
Always be fair and to the point. Disregarding how scratched your rental car is when taking delivery of it, bear in mind that it is never the fault of the car rental representative who is just doing his/her job.

Basically, you want to keep your good relationship with the checkout-person (rental car staff in general) as it is much more likely, especially in Southern Europe, that any conflict with staff will, eventually, result in you paying a (higher) price. So be fair and forthcoming – in many cases in Spain, Portugal or Italy, your politeness will potentially save you a few hundred pounds in case of a small dent or damage.     

Ultimately, and most importantly, be aware, that it is your signature on the car rental checkout car rental sheet that matters.

How to avoid extra charges and scams when hiring a car!  - Always check thoroughly for dents and scratches at checkout of rental cars
Article: How to avoid extra charges and scams when hiring a car! - Always check thoroughly for dents and scratches at checkout of rental cars
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