Last month, I rented a 2012 Camry from National Car Ripoff (i mean Rental). The rental location was Union Station in Washington, DC. In hindsight, I should have known the whole operation was trouble, when the counter clerk refused my request to inspect the car before signing the rental contract. I was told (in front of two witnesses traveling with me) words to the effect that "we don't do that." However, it was late, I had missed my train and signing the rental agreement - car unseen - was the only option I had to get home.
Although National has a retail desk in the Station proper, one needs to go to the bowels of the attached bus terminal in order to retrieve the chosen car once rented. When we got there, the attendants could not find the car for 5-10 minutes. After it was located, they again would not allow us to inspect it. We were quickly hustled into the car and out of the facility.
The drive home was uneventful. Two work colleagues traveled with me and could attest that nothing happened. We arrived back in Wilmington, DE around midnight. I dropped my colleagues at the train station parking garage. I then set about trying to return the car.
National has very little presence at the Wilmington Train Station. They share a desk with Enterprise (by whom they and Alamo Rental Car are owned). Nor does National have a dedicated lot at the Wilmington Train Station for its cars. Rather, rental cars are located in an unguarded, open lot approximately 1/2 block from the train station, which is located in not the nicest part of town. National has 2-3 spaces that are clearly marked with National signage. I parked the rental car in one of these spaces.
Although National's retail desk at the Wilmington Train Station was closed, they had an after hours drop box, in which I deposited the car keys. I also, in a move that would haunt me later, wrapped my copy of the rental contract around the keys so that there would be no confusion as to my identity. From there, I retrieved my car from the station garage and drove home, thinking my National Car Rental saga had reached its end.
How wrong I was! The next morning a clerk from the National desk at the Wilmington Train Station called me and asked if there had been an accident involving the car. I said no and asked what was wrong with the car. She said she wasn't sure but thought there was damage to the right front bumper and would get back to me. I never heard from her again.
The next communication I received was a letter from National's "Damage Recovery Unit". That letter insisted I was responsible for damage to the rental car but again provided no information about what the alleged damage was. Several frustrating telephone calls and emails followed, in which I tried without success to find out what the alleged damage was and what basis they had for trying to assign responsibility to me. I could not even succeed, except with great difficulty, in obtaining a copy of my rental contract. The first request was ignored. The second request resulted in them sending me a copy of such poor quality that it could not be read. Only on my third try did I actually get a legible copy of the contract.
I fared no better in finding out what was the alleged damage to the vehicle. A representative of the so-called Damage Recovery Unit actually insisted that they would not give me any documentation or other information about the alleged damage until AFTER they had completed their own investigation AND made repairs. That tactic, of course, renders it impossible for anyone to effectively challenge their claim of damage, which, I suspect, is just what it was designed to do.
Well, I eventually (after approximately 12 days) received documentation about the alleged damage in the mail. It included pictures of the alleged damage to the vehicle. What they revealed is that some third person (assuming that no one from National was responsible) had broken the window at the back of the passenger compartment, dented the car in various places, punctured a hole in the body, damaged the bumper and damaged a headlight assembly. The damage was extensive enough that I (or the other two people traveling in the car) would have noticed it. I, for example, can say to an absolute certainty that no occupant of the car was covered with shards of safety glass from a broken window in the passenger compartment at any time during our journey. The only likely explanation was that the care was vandalized by some third party after, per National's instructions, I parked it in National's open, unguarded lot at the Wilmington Train Station.
I patiently explained all this to the Damage Recovery Unit people. Their response was to insist that - despite the fact that I had returned the car and the keys to their premises - I remained responsible for any damage to the vehicle until a National employee got around to checking the car in during the next business day. For this proposition, they rely on language deeply buried in their non-negotiable contract of adhesion. At this time, I am continuing to contest their assertion of liability.
So, consider yourself duly warned. This is the treatment you can expect from this company. I can't promise you that other car rental agencies will be better. But, if my experience is representative of how National deals with its customers, you will come to regret using National if there is any problem with the vehicle you rented - regardless of your culpability - when you return the vehicle.