On Sept. 1, 2010, I rented a Volvo station wagon from the Hertz agency at Barajas Airport in Madrid. Here is my carbon copy of the “Addendum and Statement of Vehicle Condition.”
On Sept. 11, 2010, I received an invoice in the mail from Hertz de España that claimed 362.60 euros ($460) worth of unspecified damage to the car, plus a “damage processing admin fee” of 24 euros ($30). Here is the invoice.
On Sept. 13, 2010, I called Hertz customer service and requested an explanation and investigation.
On Oct. 1, 2010, I received an email from Hertz customer service with three photographs and three documents attached. The email stated that “We have been advised all damage charges have been reviewed and found to be correct.” I called Hertz customer service to point out several inconsistencies in the claim. A representative asked me to document them, and I sent her the following emails. Here is the entire email thread.
I noticed several additional discrepancies on further examination of the photographs and documents provided by Hertz in support of its claim, as well as the documents I kept from the rental, and photographs I took of the car before I removed it from the lot on Sept. 1. Here is my response to the claim, point by point:
1. The time stamps on the photographs provided by Hertz are demonstrably false. The Hertz invoice notes that the car was returned on Sept. 6, 2010 at 19:04, that is 7:04 p.m. The photos submitted by Hertz are time stamped on Sept. 6, 2010 at 13:17, or 1:17 p.m. — nearly six hours earlier. How could Hertz have taken these photos six hours before I returned the car? At that hour, my father and I were in the car, driving on the A-6, hundreds of miles from the airport. In fact, we had just been stuck, stopped completely on the A-6 in Ponferrada about four hours north of the airport, for nearly an hour, until 12:40 p.m. See the photo I took of the car as we were stopped on the highway, my Sept. 9 blog entry about the incident and this newspaper article from the Diario de León, verifying that the protest closed the highway until 12:40 p.m. on Sept. 6. Having established that I returned the car in the evening, I also wonder why the photos provided by Hertz appear to have been taken in daylight.
2. The Hertz documents include another copy of the “Addendum and Statement of Vehicle condition.” On this one, notations have been added under “vehicle condition at return” and an estimate of the repair amount has been added under the section “In case of damages during the rental, please complete details below.” My undated signature appears under that section, but referring back to my carbon of the original, it’s clear that I had already signed the form before those notations were added. One has to wonder — why did the Hertz agent instruct me to sign that section before I rented the car?
3. The Hertz documents provided (in Spanish) to describe the damage don’t match the pictures provided. The forms entitled “Parte de Accidente” and “Informe: Sistema de Gestion de Peritaciones” describe three separate areas where there was supposed to be damage:
1. Puerta Delantera Derecha. Carcasa espejo lateral / Right Front Door. Side mirror casing
2. Capo Daño Medio / Hood Medium Damage
3.- Puerta Delantera Derecha. Daño Leve / Right Front Door. Light Damage
None of the photos show the hood of the car, although the damage claimed to the hood is the most serious, estimated at 196.90 euros. The photo that seems to be of a right front door shows no damage. The photo of the mirror is not of the car I rented, as I explain below.
4. The Hertz photo with the file name T120040.jpg apparently purports to show scratches to the back of the side-view mirror on the passenger side of the vehicle. Please see my photo of the passenger side of the car and the close-up of the mirror that I cropped from that photo. Note the discrepancies between the two photos in the shape of the signal light on the left and in the structure of the mirror, particularly in the arm that attaches it to the door. This is not the same mirror.
5. The Hertz photograph with the file name T120039.jpg shows the back of a car with the correct license plate. But it’s not clear why this photo is included, as the Hertz documents claim no damage to the back of the car, and none is evident in the photo. The only obvious defect is a missing towing connection cap, which is noted in my original copy of the “Addendum and Statement of Vehicle Condition” and which also shows in a photo of the back of the car and a close-up, both of which I took before I removed the car from the lot at Barajas Airport.
6. The Hertz photo with the file name T120041.jpg seems to show the right front door, on the passenger side of the car. The door is dirty and there is a reflection in the paint, but there is no obvious damage. Please note also that all the photos I took when I removed the car from the lot (including these: side view, rear view ) show that car was dirty all over, which made it impossible to detect tiny scratches in the paint, even if a customer could reasonably be expected to catalog them.
7. Hertz de España’s annotated copy of the “Addendum and Statement of Vehicle Condition” clearly added notations about damage after I signed it. Yet both my carbon of that document and the altered version show the “number of damages” as “3.” Both also show check marks next to “golpes / damages” and a shaded box for “rasguños / scratches.” In the altered version, the notes “RLF /RLS” are added, but are not explained. All of this indicates that the body of the vehicle had minor scratches and dings before I rented it.
8. My father and sister were with me on this trip and will swear, under oath if necessary, that it was not damaged during the rental.
When I started examining these documents, the most charitable possible view was that Hertz de España made a series of sloppy mistakes that included using a camera with an improperly set time stamp, which led to an erroneous damage claim. But on examination, I see clearly altered evidence that indicates deliberate fraud. I believe Hertz should revoke its franchise license with Hertz de España, investigate whether other customers have been victims of this agency, reimburse those customers and refer the perpetrators to criminal investigators in Spain.