TAMPA, Fla. — Rental car veteran Lisa Laughlin says she frequently rents cars with Budget, earning a rewards status that allows her to pick up and drop off vehicles without ever encountering a human checkpoint.
It’s a perk she enjoys and has never had an issue with before.
But that changed during her Thanksgiving visit to Tampa. She says it wasn’t until she left the parking garage that she realized the rental she picked up at Budget was rattling and that the paint appeared to be two different tones.
“There was a very high-pitched noise that we never identified. There was rattling from the undercarriage and then a lot of squeaking from the brakes,” she said.
Laughlin says she returned the vehicle the very next day and reported the engine noise and paint issue to the Budget at Tampa International Airport.
Two months later Laughlin says the rental car company sent her a bill for more than $500 for damages and paintwork. Issues she denies causing.
Consumer travel expert Christopher Elliott says it's a complaint he has heard before.
“They are sending people bills even though they may or may not be responsible for what happened to the car,” he said.
Elliott advises renters to always take pictures or videos of the vehicle at pick up and drop off.
“You don't want to have to deal with those are not my dings, those are someone else's dings,” he said.
In Laughlin’s case, she pulled a Carfax report showing the rental car had been in a crash damaging the front, driver's side and rear two months before she picked it up.
“They refused to acknowledge that piece of information," Laughlin said.
ABC Action News asked the Avis Budget Group about Lisa Laughlin’s case.
The rental car company stated in this email.
“......the Carfax report the customer mentioned was for a different accident that occurred in August and was separate from the damage that the customer was billed for. However, as a gesture of goodwill, Avis Budget Group decided to close all claims and damages related to this rental...."
Laughlin says she'll never rent another car again without taking pictures.
Be sure to keep any pictures you take for at least six months, and if you get charged for damages you didn't do, file a dispute on your credit card. They may go to bat for you.