Travel Troubleshooter

By Christopher Elliott

I rented a damaged car; why should I have to pay?

Q: I'm having a problem with Dollar Rent A Car. When I picked up my car at Southwest Florida International Airport, they did not inspect the car with me, but told me to just go "pick one out."

The car had some minor paint damage on the rear bumper, but a sticker was attached indicating that the damage was previously identified, so I didn't give it any further thought. Prior to leaving for the airport on my return trip, I walked around the car to make sure that there was no damage to the vehicle. There was none.

When I returned the car to Dollar at the airport, the guy didn't bother to inspect the car, so I pointed out the sticker and damage on the rear bumper, and he said, "Yeah that's previous damage."

More than two weeks later, I received a letter from Dollar asking for $239 for unspecified damages - no pictures, no description of the damage, just a demand letter. I tried to reach them by phone, but their subrogation department is closed over the weekend.

I am furious about the way this was handled by Dollar. The complete absence of inspections with the customer is not good business practice - but then, maybe they're not interested in good business practice. I'm sure they get a lot of suckers to pay up just to avoid the hassle involved in pursuing the matter. Any suggestions you have would be appreciated. - William Hicks, Carpentersville, Ill.

A: Wow, that's two Dollar cases in two weeks. Are we going for a record here? This one was mishandled from start to finish.

Let's start with Dollar. Sending a damaged car back out into the fleet, as you noted and as an employee verified, was an awful idea. Dollar should have fixed the car and then returned it to the lot to be rented again. The sticker was an interesting idea, but stickers have a way of coming unstuck and car rental companies are not the best at keeping repair records, as any reader of this column knows.

Let's start with Dollar. Sending a damaged car back out into the fleet, as you noted and as an employee verified, was an awful idea. Dollar should have fixed the car and then returned it to the lot to be rented again. The sticker was an interesting idea, but stickers have a way of coming unstuck and car rental companies are not the best at keeping repair records, as any reader of this column knows.

But you could have also prevented this. First, why did you select a damaged car? If you're ever given a vehicle in less than immaculate condition, don't accept it. Second, you should have taken numerous photos of the vehicle, and carefully documented the damage. That's pretty easy to do with your cellphone or digital camera.

And finally, you needed to make sure that any pre-existing damage was noted in writing. If for some reason no one is available for an inspection, then at least find a manager and let him or her know about the problem. Don't leave unless the dent is documented on paper. Verbal assurances are useless, as you now know.

Dollar's follow-up with you left something to be desired; waiting a few weeks before hitting you with a claim seemed suspicious. Why not ask you to fill out a damage claim when you're still at the airport? And why not send documentation of the damage and repair, as opposed to just a bill.

I contacted Dollar and it dropped its claim.

( Christopher Elliott is the author of "Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals" (Wiley). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, or e-mail him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Christopher Elliott receives a great deal of reader mail, and though he answers them as quickly as possible, your story may not be published for several months because of a backlog of cases.)

History of the World

By Mark Andrews

Feb. 21: ON THIS DATE in 1916, the World War I Battle of Verdun began in France; it resulted in 1 million casualties. In 1947, Edwin H. Land demonstrated his Polaroid Land camera, which could produce a black-and-white photograph in 60 seconds.

Feb. 22: ON THIS DATE in 1732, the first president of the United States, George Washington, was born at his parents' plantation in the Virginia Colony. In 1924, Calvin Coolidge delivered the first presidential radio broadcast from the White House.

Feb. 23: ON THIS DATE in 1836, the siege of the Alamo began in San Antonio, Texas. In 1954, the first mass inoculation of children with the Salk polio vaccine began in Pittsburgh.

Feb. 24: ON THIS DATE in 1868, the House of Representatives impeached President Andrew Johnson after his attempt to dismiss Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton; Johnson was later acquitted by the Senate. Feb. 25: ON THIS DATE in 1964, boxer Cassius Clay, a 7-to-1 underdog, beat Sonny Liston on a technical knockout in the seventh round to win the world heavyweight championship.

Feb. 26: ON THIS DATE in 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte escaped from the Island of Elba to begin his second conquest of France. In 1993, a bomb built by Islamic extremists exploded in the parking garage of New York's World Trade Center, killing six people and injuring more than 1,000.

Feb. 27: ON THIS DATE in 1922, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed the right of women to vote. In 1933, Germany's parliament building, the Reichstag, was gutted by fire. The Nazis, blaming the communists, used the fire as justification for suspending civil liberties.

( Mark Andrews can be reached via e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

Park Clips

Evergreen Park

A Girls Night Out for girls in second through fifth grades will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday, March 16 at the Community Center, 97th Street and Homan Avenue. Cost is $15. Event will feature cupcake decorating, freeze dance, scavenger hunt and more. To register call 229-3373


Step & Strength Training is from 9 to 10 a.m. Monday and Wednesday, 7 to 8 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday, and 6:45 to 7:45 p.m. at the Community Center, 3450 W. 97th St.

Palos Hills

The Palos Hills Community Resource & Recreation Department will hold its 2013 Health and Wellness Expo from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday, March 14 at the Palos Hills Community Center, 8455 W. 103rd St. Health screenings include ultrasounds of the heart and arteries (appointment required, call (855) 861-8378), blood pressure, dental and back, as well as chair massages. The secretary of state's office will offer driver's license/state ID renewal. A free raffle ticket will be given to everyone that attends.


A trip to "Anderson Japanese Gardens" in Rockford will be Thursday, May 16. Cost is $30 per person, advanced registration is required. For more information call 430-4500 or visit


The Resource & Recreation Department will offer programs at the Activity Center, 8455 W. 103rd St.

Parent and Tot classes for children 2 to 3 years old and a parent are from 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Cost is $30 for Palos Hills residents, $35 for non-residents.

Huggy Bear Twos is Thursday, Feb. 28 to April 4.

Cooking/Craft classes for children 7 to 10 years old are Tuesdays, 3:30 to 4:45 p.m. Cost is $12 per student.

Green & Lucky St. Patrick's Day will be March 5, Hopping Into Spring will be March 26.

Disney Dance Class for children 6 to 10 years old will be Saturdays from 1 to 2 p.m. Cost is $25 per session.

Oak Lawn

The park district offers duplicate bridge every Monday at 11:30 a.m. at Oak View Center, 4625 W. 110th St. Cost is $7 per person and includes a light lunch. All ages are welcome. For more information call 857-2200.


Registration is underway for before- and after-school FLASH (Fun & Learning After School Hours). The park district has partnered with Ridgeland School District 122 and Oak Lawn-Hometown School District 123 and is in all of those districts' elementary schools - Columbus Manor, Harnew, Kolb and Lieb in District 122, and Covington, Hannum, Hometown, Kolmar and Sward in District 123. For more information call the FLASH director or the FLASH assistant director at 857-2420.


An antique appraisal with professional appraiser Rex Newell of Rex's Antiques will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 20 at the Terrace Centre, 11500 Beloit Ave. Appraisals are available for the first 40 patrons for $5 an item. Only one "hand-held" item permitted. Call 448-7080 to register. Deadline is March 6.


Little Club offers benefits such as free indoor playground usage. Fee is $10 resident, $15 non-resident. For more information call the park district.


Jazzercise for persons age 16 years and older will be from 9:20 to 10:20 a.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and 9:15 to 10:15 a.m. Saturday; and 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday at the Terrace Centre, 11500 Beloit Ave. Fee is $37 monthly for an Easy Fit Ticket and a registration fee of $25. For more information call 448-7080 or visit


The Terrace Centre, 11500 Beloit Ave., has an indoor playground featuring slides, a climbing wall, tree house and more for children who can walk through 4 years old. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Fee is $1 for residents, $2 for non-residents. For more information call 448-7080 or visit


The Worth Park District Historical Society meets at 7 p.m. every fourth Wednesday of the month at the Worth Historical Museum, in the Terrace Centre at 11500 Beloit Ave. Meetings are open to the public. Membership is free but is not required to attend.

Volunteers are welcome to come to the museum from 10 a.m. to noon Tuesdays to assist with projects. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Curator hours are 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday. For group visits call 448-7080, Ext. 107.

Mayor on 'The Mac'

Palos Hills Mayor Jerry Bennett will be on "The Ed McElroy Show" to air at 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 5 and Tuesday, March 11 on Comcast channel 19.

Pets of the week

    PG11 pets-dog 2colPadme is a 4-year-old female poodle-schnauzer mix given up by her owners because the landlord said they could not have a pet in their apartment. She is a loveable girl that enjoys to play and go for walks.
  Ginger Snap is a 2-year-old female orange tabby-domestic shorthair that was found stuck in the front bumper of a car. Her ear is bent from a previously untreated ear infection or wound. She is a sweet, playful girl.

  The Animal Welfare League is holding a Summer Adoption Special featuring cat adoption fees of $55 (for one or two cats) and dog adoption fees of $99. All adoptions include spay/neuter, vaccinations, microchip and 10-day PG11 pets-cat 2colhealth guarantee. If the animal is too young to be spayed/neutered, a deposit of $50 is required to ensure the animal is altered. Deposit is refunded, via mail, once the animal has been spayed/neutered.