Tips to avoid heavy charges for car rentals

People looking to rent a car for their upcoming holiday travels may want to brush up on their rights when dealing with rental companies.

Things to do before, during and after renting a car

Consumer protection

10 years ago
Duration 2:17
Experts recommend taking detailed notes about any windshield chips on cars you rent

People looking to rent a car for their upcoming holiday travels may want to brush up on their rights when dealing with rental companies.

Last week, CBC News reported on several Budget Rent a Car customers in B.C. who publicly accused the rental car giant of grossly overcharging them for minor "damage" to vehicles. On Monday, CBC News reported that three former Budget Rent a Car employees back up the claims, and Budget's head office is investigating the allegations.

The Better Business Bureau has a few suggestions for what you can do before and after your rental to avoid post-rental damage charges.


• Look up the rental company’s record with the BBB ahead of time, advises Jan Delaney, president of the bureau’s Western Ontario chapter. You can find out if they have had a lot of complaints filed against them and make a more informed decision.

• Take advantage of price-shopping by checking out rates on the internet from different rental companies. But watch out for deals that look too good to be true, which are usually topped with taxes, surcharges and additional fees.

• Before purchasing rental insurance from the car company, find out if you are covered for rental vehicles through your personal car insurance policy or a credit card. The Canadian Consumer Handbook, written by a joint federal and provincial committee, suggests that people call their existing car insurance or credit card company to find out. Frequent renters should ask their insurance or credit card company to add rental insurance to their existing policy. For credit cards, this only applies if the consumer uses the card to pay for the rental.

At time of renting

• When you arrive at the lot, conduct a full inspection of the vehicle before driving away — even if the rental company has already inspected it.

• Ideally, you want to conduct the inspection with an agent from the company, said Delaney — who said she would insist on this practice. The representative should have a sheet with a drawing of the car model on it. Make sure any damage is recorded on the sheet so you have that in writing before agreeing to rent the vehicle.

• Take pictures of the vehicle’s condition, including pictures of any scratches or dents already on the car. Start the car to make sure it runs smoothly.

• Ask lots of questions so you understand what you are paying for and read the rental contract. That way, you won’t be charged for insurance if you are already covered, or pay for add-ons you don’t need.

After your rental

• Try to bring the car back during the rental office’s open hours, said Delaney, rather than returning the vehicle and dropping off the keys after the office is closed. That way, an agent can inspect the vehicle for any damage with you.

• If you can’t bring the vehicle back during open hours, Delaney suggests taking photos of the car’s condition when you drop it off to prove that you did not damage the vehicle.

If you do see unnecessary charges after you return the vehicle, you can complain to the BBB, said Ric Borski, president of the bureau’s midwestern and central Ontario chapter. If the bureau receives a surge of complaints about a company, he said they would typically issue an alert to warn consumers about any potential scams and bring it to the attention of the company.