28 July 2014
Last Sunday we left Marbella for a week of vacation in Andorra. Our travel plans included a flight to Barcelona, from where we'd pick up a rental car and drive the remaining three hours to Andorra. I've had such a bad experience with car rentals, that I almost expected something would happen, and it did.
Preparing for the trip, I reserved a car directly on the website of Europcar. The base cost of the car for eight days was 250 €, and the cost of full insurance coverage was an additional 150 €. The insurance seemed expensive, but I've been burned in the past by not purchasing full insurance on a rental car, so I bit the bullet.
At the Europcar desk at the Barcelona airport, the attendant quickly took my information, printed out my contract (on a single card), slid it into a Europcar envelope, pointed at the exit door, and said, "Your car is located in parking slot 53. Have a good trip."
Parking slot 53 was located on the second floor of an underground parking garage, where there are no attendants working. It was dimly lit and I could hardly tell whether the car was black or gray. The desk attendant hadn't mention any need to inspect the car for damage, and it didn't occur to me to do so. We just packed the family in and started off on the three hour trip to Andorra.
Three hours later, having parked the car in a sunny spot, I could finally get a good look at its exterior. The front left fender was badly scratched, as if the car had hit a post (or another car) while exiting a parking space. And the back hatch had a horizontal dent, as if it had backed into a flat-bed tow truck.
Wishing I had noticed the damage at the airport, I wondered what was going to happen when I returned the car.
A week later, back at the airport, I pulled into the rental return area — a big open sunny outdoor parking lot, manned by an attendant ready to inspect each incoming vehicle. The attendant, of course, immediately noted the damage. I explained and insisted that I didn't cause that damage; that it was there when I received the vehicle.
"No problem", he said. But I would need to sign an official "accident report". I asked why I needed to sign an accident report if I wasn't involved in an accident. The attendant said that without an accident report, the insurance company wouldn't pay to have the damage repaired. He insisted though, that since I had purchased insurance, there would be nothing for me to pay.
That sounded strange to me. The damage was so obviously visible, that surely it was noticed, and noted, when the previous driver had returned the car. Mentioning that to the attendant, he just shrugged and looked at me with a blank stare. I asked to see a report of the condition of the car after its last rental, and he again just shrugged off the request. I had a plane to catch, and so I begrudgingly signed the accident report and left.
Thinking about it later, here's my guess as to what's going on...
I imagine that Europcar did note the damage when the car was last returned, and that that driver was not insured. I imagined they charged him for the damage, but then waited until some insured driver (like me) rented the car before actually reporting the damage to the insurance company for repair — resulting in the repair being done cost-free to them.