Hey, that’s not my chipped windshield

Q: I recently rented a car from Thrifty in Toronto for two weeks. I travel more than 26 weeks a year and rent lots of cars, but this is the first time I have been scammed by a rental-car company.

Last month, they sent me a bill for $312 for a pebble in the windshield. I know nothing occurred while I had the car, otherwise, I would be more than willing to pay for any damage. When I received the letter, I immediately called them, letting them know that I didn’t cause any damage and was led to believe that I wouldn’t have to pay for this damage that I didn’t cause.

This week, I received a “second-notice” bill asking for the cost of the damage. I have no idea what to do. I left another message on their voice mail but haven’t heard anything back.

There’s something odd about the notice. It lists the date of loss a month after my rental. Can you help? – Mark Spritzler, Long Beach, Calif.

A: Windshield damage from a pebble isn’t always visible when you return a vehicle, and a car-rental company will replace the entire windshield after the crack begins to spread. So it’s possible that you didn’t notice the chip when you brought the car back to Thrifty.

I’m told that windshields are the most common damage to a car rental and, I would add, the most contentious. Why? Because, as your case shows, the problem isn’t always obvious when you bring the vehicle back.

You easily could have prevented a frivolous damage claim by taking “before” and “after” pictures of your car and simply sending those to Thrifty when it mailed you its initial claim.

I understand why you’d want to call Thrifty immediately after receiving its claim. But a phone representative’s assurances are worthless, particularly a vague promise that you shouldn’t have to pay for something you’re not responsible for. I mean, that’s obviously true, but it in no way absolves you of Thrifty’s claim.

Instead, a short, polite email to Thrifty might have yielded a different response. I list all of the executives on my customer service wiki, On Your Side (www.onyoursi.de).

I probably wouldn’t have taken your case, except for one detail you mentioned at the end of your note. The dates on the claim were wrong. To me, that suggests Thrifty sent the bill to the wrong customer.

I contacted Thrifty on your behalf. It apologized for sending you a claim with the wrong date. A representative admitted the “date logged for this damage was keyed inaccurately, resulting in the confusion on the date.”

Although Thrifty says it still believes you are responsible for the damage, it has closed your claim.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Email him at celliott@ngs.org, or troubleshoot your trip through his website, www.elliott.org. Distributed by Tribune Media Services.