Budget Demands $2,080.93 To Repair Preexisting Damage

Kevin noted on his Budget rental forms that his truck was covered with graffiti and other nicks and scratches before driving off the lot. As soon as he returned the truck, the lot agent pointed out a slew of damage and invited him inside. He said that Kevin had two options: pay $670 in cash immediately, or pay several thousand dollars to corporate later. Kevin paid the extortion fee, but now Budget’s corporate office wants $2,080 to repair, among other things, graffiti damage.

On Sept 30, 2007, I rented a 24ft Budget Truck for the purpose of moving myself and my roommates from one apartment to another. Upon rental, I opted for the optional damage waver/insurance and was informed that that waver specifically did not cover overhead damage. I proceeded with the normal inspection, noting minor wear and tear that I could see as well as graffiti damage to the truck.

While driving, I was extremely careful to observe all overhead clearances, and did not drive the truck under any bridge where it could be “clipped”. Upon return of the truck, the rental agent immediately asks me what I hit, because he notices damage to the top of the truck. Incredulous, I answer that the only thing I could have hit were low-slung city trees. What looked like a minor scrape from ground level was pointed out to me, and I doubted that a tree could make that kind of damage, but there it was.

Upon returning to the inside of the office, I am informed by the Budget Agent, Dennis Neuhauser, that I had 2 options: 1) That I could pay $670 for the damage immediately up front and resolve the claim or 2) I could go through Budget Corporate, which could potentially cost me “thousands of dollars”. Although I was wary of the origins/cause of the damage, I was put under extreme duress by the draconian options presented to me by the rental agent. Fearing the prospect of having to pay “thousands of dollars”, I opted to pay the $670 and wash my hands of the damages. My roommate was there to witness the offer and the terms that were presented to me, and it was made clear that, by choosing to pay immediately, I could resolve myself of this issue (that was the only reason why I chose to).

November 28, 2007, I receive a Vehicle Damage Claim from Budget Corporate seeking an additional $1,910.93 for damages to the truck, for a total of $2,080.93 once the $670 I already paid was factored in. I am also sent the estimate/invoice for the repair of the truck, as well as low-res black and white images of the damage areas. This invoice has 20 line items, 12 which are marked as “judgment items”. Even things that I had marked on the original inspection form as pre-existing, such as the graffiti, were included on the claim I am on the hook for. The estimate itself is dated more than 2 weeks after I returned the truck, 10/17/2007, meaning I have no way of knowing if any of that additional damage was incurred by other drivers and/or was pre-existing, since I was never given any opportunity to inspect the roof, which is where all the damage was.

I think it is pretty clear from the confluence of these circumstances that Budget is trying to frame me for charges that could have no way been incurred while I was driving the truck for a few hours. I did not hit any structures, and the damages are shown at multiple, un-related points. They clearly just wanted to fix the entire truck and pin it on my rental. This is already in addition to the fraudulent verbal contract I was offered by the agent and the coercing of an immediate payment which was obviously made no difference in the handling of the claim.

In response to the claim letter I had been sent, I wrote a letter in response outlining my objections and demanding a refund of the $670 to pursue my legal options. I have been sent 3 more letters demanding that I respond to the claim, and I have sent 3 letters in response, all of which are documented as confirmed delivered. Given my experiences with Budget thus far, I wanted all communications about this claim to be delivered in a form that could be documented, such as postal mail. All letters have been ignored, and I have just received a final notice claiming that I have made no attempt to contact the company in regard to this claim, which I obviously have. They are threatening to report the charges to a collection agency and destroy my credit. I have even emailed the truck claims examiner, Janice Messinger, directly at her janice.messinger@avisbudget.com email address, and that too has gone unanswered. All I’m faced with is a destroyed credit report if I do not pay by February 25, 2008 at 5:00pm. I am writing this because I feel it is necessary for this story to be publicized to let other know how Budget treats its customers. I don’t know how else I can go about resolving this problem. I have been clear in all letters and emails that I am not running away from the claim, but I am challanging it. That said my responses are being stonewalled at every turn. Thanks in advance for any attention you might be able to give my story.

Budget did send Kevin several blurry black and white photos of the damage. He adds:

These pictures show damage to multiple points on the roof, and the damages look like they were incurred by multiple collisions, since hitting or scraping one structure, like a bridge, for example (which I didn’t even do), wouldn’t result in points of impact this varied. In addition, the cracking peeling of the top paneling appears as just wear and tear, and the graffiti is something I noted on the inspection form. They are charging me for ALL of it.

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4Bottom.jpegKevin’s story is a sad reminder to take a mess of pictures of any rental before driving away to establish a baseline to dispute any fraudulent claims. From the look of it, Budget is trying to bully Kevin into underwriting a batch of unrelated and overdue repairs. Sending disputes via certified mail is the right move, as is keeping a meticulous record of any documents. If they push the matter further, it may be necessary to consult a lawyer.

Comments

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  1. Clarkins says:

    I’d see if an EECB would work with the threat of legal action and publicity. I’m sure some reporter at one of the local stations would love to go to Budget and get more air time telling your story.

  2. Me - now with more humidity says:

    Talk to a lawyer. They probably can’t report anything until they have a legal claim against you. I would contact your attorney general’s office ASAP.

  3. RIP MRHANDS says:

    @Me: Of course they can report you. Do credit card companies go to court to report delinquent accounts?

    I hope the kid at least got a receipt for what he paid so far. The story gives the impression that it was just an under-the-table payment in exchange for the local store not reporting the damage to corporate. I think it was very foolish on his part.

  4. EricaKane says:

    This guy should have had the agreement in writing. Plain and simple.

  5. FMulder says:

    I try to avoid renting trucks/cars with significant damage primarily because I resent companies trying to foist damaged vehicles for regular price? Also, I get concerned about just this thing happening — being charged for damage I didn’t cause, just so the company can charge me for repairs they should have fixed. It is likely that this guy isn’t the only person they’ve charged for this damage – - and possibly someone at the local outfit is pocketing excess.

    Last time I rented a truck, I saw some dents but didn’t have time to get another truck, so I got a rental agent to stand next to the dents while I took a picture. I considered getting him to hold the day’s paper too. Excessive? When I brought it back, a whole new crew was on site, and began asking me about the damage — even though it was noted on the rental form as pre-existing, even though some of it was rusted, and even after seeing the picture gave me the impression he was disappointed not to be able to carry forward with his plan to blame me for damage. I don’t think for a moment he thought it was me.

  6. pmcpa says:

    Budget did this to me also… I had pictures of the truck as the rental agent said there was no need to do a walk around, as the truck was perfect. Upon return, I had “gone over my mileage” (I was told unlimited, but only given 300 miles to go from DC to Philly, a 350 mile trip) and there was “Major Damage to the box” I sent over the pictures and suddenly everything was dropped. Bottom Line… RENT FROM PENSKE! It might be a little more, but you get a quality truck with no run around!

  7. ironchef says:

    I got in the habit of shooting a digital photo of the car with my camera after a bad rental experience from another rental company.

  8. vitonfluorcarbon says:

    Why did you pay $670 if you did nothing wrong? Paying anything is an admission of guilt to me. I know hindsight is 20/20 but geez, I have a hard time believing all of your story.

  9. mkguitar says:

    YES! take photos! Every phone is a camera.

    I had problems with Budget NYC. My photos provided ALL the proof to corporate that the agents were in error (lying sacks of crap!).

    Even through this the Agency again tried to ding my credit card 8 months later. I changed my CC account numbers so that they could not try this again.

    MK

  10. Me - now with more humidity says:

    RIP: Budget is NOT a credit card company.

  11. evslin says:

    Shouldn’t have paid that first $670 to start with, now they’re probably treating it as an admission of guilt.

  12. koruptid says:

    In this case I should point out that given that they have sent their extortion attempts via US mail that you could contact the appropriate authorities as this is a clear case of mail fraud. make sure that they receive documentation of each of your receipt verifications as well as copies of the dispute messages and your copy of the original form detailing pre-existing damages to hold your case. I would also consult a lawyer (especially if they send this to collections, AFAIK if they do they would be making themselves liable for defamation of character for falsely accusing you of a bad debt.)

  13. scoobydoo says:

    Budget is a scamming thieving company.

    I rented a Benz on a business trip abroad, and upon return they claimed I had put a dent (about 4mm across) on the rear bumper.

    Of course, it was impossible to see it without getting on my knees and looking from about 10 inches away. But the crafty Budget guy saw it all the way from his office.

    I told him to pound sand and take it up with my CC company (Amex).

    He sent them (and me) a copy of the “damage claim”. Of course, it was all in Dutch (which I thankfully understand) and claimed the repair would be $2500.

    A quick google search showed that the franchise owner of that Budget also owned the auto repair shop they used for the estimate.

    I put that all in writing for Amex and they told Budget they wouldn’t get one penny from them and that any other attempt to claim the damages would result in legal action against them and possible cancellation of their amex merchant agreement.

  14. I would of walked out of there and told them to smooch my hind end! What are they going to do? Arrest you? I would of NEVER paid any amount… like Viton said, you pretty much acknowledged guilt. You didn’t even get anything in WRITING… so it’s hard to prove. So, you didn’t cause the damage. I think the next step is to go to the Attorney General, and request that the previous 3 months of rental sheets be disclosed on this vehicle, to show what damage Budget KNEW it had, before allowing you to rent it. Point out, that unless you are given a ladder, there was no way you could of seen the damage to the top of the truck before or after, and deny any claims that it was caused by you. The graffiti? Was already on the truck before you rented it, with proof on the rental sheet. Right there is a case of fraud, and if they are dishonest to do that, then the whole deal might be fraud. If your friend was with you, get a signed notarized statement about what happened. Send it all in, and maybe after all is said and done you won’t be idiot and hand over cash next time.

  15. ExecutorElassus says:

    @pmcpa: Second the Penske recommendation. The truck I got for a Buffalo to DC run (a long haul that’s hard on trucks) had 3k miles on it and not a scratch. When I dropped it off at the drop point, they contacted me the next day to confirm it, and ask if I was happy with the service. Stellar experience, and none of the hot humid pile of feces that Budget always gave me. And it was actually cheaper than UHaul.

  16. bluewyvern says:

    Wait, wait, wait. I always thought Budget was supposed to be the GOOD one — they always have the best rates, they actually have vehicles when they say they do, and I’ve never had any problems dealing with them. Certainly no shadiness of anywhere near this magnitude. They’ve actually been pretty nice and helpful when I’ve used them.

    So who are you supposed to use? Penske, really? Aren’t they expensive? (I know enough to know NOT U-Haul.)

  17. GearheadGeek says:

    I’ll join the chorus singing “Shouldn’t pay the initial extortion fee” over the $670. If they have a valid claim, let them make it. Someone at the franchise office is $670 richer, and now Corporate wants their pound of flesh.

    Climb the truck, check everything, note all damage however minor and photograph anything that seems noteworthy. They’ll move on to clip easier marks if you have evidence that supports your cause.

  18. parad0x360 says:

    Everytime i rent a truck I always bring my video camera and get every angle on the vehicle. They always ask me what im doing and i say im covering my ass. I have never had to pay any extra fee’s. These guys will make profit any way they can. Chances are they will never fix that damage even if you do pay for it.

  19. razremytuxbuddy says:

    I had a substantially similar experience to this one, with Enterprise. The only differences were, I had rented a pickup rather than a moving truck, and it was 2 MONTHS LATER when the Enterprise Claims Dept contacted me with their bogus claim of $1500. The rental car companies try to scare you into purchasing their ridiculously expensive “damage waiver,” and then later charge you with damage you didn’t cause. I too take photos now. Insurance companies and attorneys general should have dealt with this fraud a long time ago.

  20. Gordon2 says:

    On a recent trip to Scotland, I rented from Hertz at Glasgow airport. The rental papers showed that the agent had already done a walkaround, and noted the dings. I did my own, and found two more. I called the agent over, showed him the dings, and we both initialed the changes on the forms.

    When I brought the car back, the return agent went over the car very, very carefully. But he couldn’t find anything that wasn’t on the original form. It does pay to document every little thing before you drive off.

  21. bohemian says:

    I have to wonder if this has something to do with the fact that HE DID buy insurance from Budget? But he is also being charged for things that were covered by their “insurance”.

    My guess is the local franchise is running quite the scam and the information sent to Budget corporate might not be the same as what the guy who rented got? I would try to get someone with some authority on the phone and get them to fax you copies of the rental agreement papers from the corporate office, not the rental place. See if the damage insurance and existing damage are noted on the one at corporate.

    I second the idea of getting the attorney general’s office in on this.

    Have them or get a lawyer and have them demand copies of all rentals after his.

    My guess is the rental place is pocketing the cash extortion money from the renters, pocketing the damage payments corporate might get and never fixing the truck. Then doing it again. Easily handing someone like this money seems to only encourage them to try to milk you for more.

  22. Sam2k says:

    I’m not a lawyer, but the OP may be out of luck on enforcing his verbal contract that released him from liabililty by paying $670. A verbal contract with consideration in excess of $500 must have at least some portion in writing.

    Still, it sounds to me like someone at that local Budget office scammed him which is a whole different ballgame.

  23. jwissick says:

    I third the idea of getting the AG in on this.

    I would have never rented a truck that looked like that. If it is in such bad repair, then how can you believe that it has ever been maintained?

  24. weave says:

    I’ve always wondered what good taking pictures is to prove it was damaged before you picked it up. Couldn’t they claim you took the pictures after you damaged the vehicle?

    I think it’s a good idea, and I do it too, but I also immediately uploaded them to a site like flickr.com which timestamps when the pic was uploaded.

  25. MT says:

    This may seem like a stupid question, so pardon me if it is, but why don’t rental companies like this charge the person who damaged it initially for repairs? I would think they would check for damage on every vehicle returned, and the actual person who damaged it would be billed. Eh?

  26. sickofthis says:

    @MT: They probably do. They probably try to charge everyone who rents the truck. That’s why other posters were saying this is probably a scam – the office is pocketing money from multiple renters and never getting the damage repaired.

  27. SJPadbury says:

    @MT, it’s real simple. They probably did. Doesn’t mean they repaired it. Just means it’s there to keep charging the next guy that comes along and doesn’t sit there with a camera for 20 minutes before driving off the lot.

  28. Mr_D says:

    They’re not all bad. I was traveling on business and rented a car with National. I was in a hurry, so I didn’t bother to do a walk-around to look for damages. I just signed and said there was nothing. When I returned the car, I noticed there were some scuff marks on the bumpers, probably from a parking loot oops. I said to the guy “There were some pre-existing damages I didn’t write down,” and he said “OK” and processed my return. I wasn’t charged.

    They were at an airport, though, so maybe they did so much business and had so much car turnover they didn’t care.

  29. AT203 says:

    I agree with all of the posters that say you should contact the Attorney General immediately.

  30. Nighthawke says:

    Lawyer time on this one, I do smell a Class Action as well as the AG putting their two cents worth in too.

    Never had a problem with Enterprise in my regular biweekly rentals. I did have one that put a gas surcharge on the ticket, but the company was paying and it was only a couple of bucks. Besides, the kid was new and trying to play it safe. The rest of the staff probably set him straight after they saw the receipt.

    You always need to be with the agent too while he/she/it is going through the motions. The snaps with the camera phones are a nice touch and really do put a kink in any potential scammer’s plans. Hard copies signed by the agent and one of their colleagues is a smart play too.

  31. kenblakely says:

    “Fearing the prospect of having to pay “thousands of dollars”, I opted to pay the $670 and wash my hands of the damages.”

    You’re a dumbass. You’ll prolly know better next time.

  32. WraithSama says:

    Two words: mail fraud. For mailing you an invoice for damages that you noted were pre-existing prior to your rental, they are constituting mail fraud, and I would not hesitate to call them on it.

  33. chartrule says:

    the original poster should probably drop in to their local attorney generals office

  34. TechnoDestructo says:

    Don’t just take pictures. Take video. Get the rental agent standing in front of the truck, stating the time and date. That way they can’t try and weasel out by saying that the photos were taken after you drove it.

    @mkguitar:

    Not every phone is a camera.

  35. oneswellfoop says:

    Budget will argue that his paying the initial amount is effectively a confession to having committed the damage, or having it happen while to truck was in his possession. Regardless of the tactics they used to “sell” him on paying, he should have given them the finger.

  36. TPS Reporter says:

    “Honestly, I really didn’t cause the damage, but I’m going to pay $670 in cash to wash my hands of the whole mess”. If I didn’t cause the damage, I would have told the rental agent to blow it out his butt and I’ll see ya in court. Sometimes customers deserve what they get for not using their brain.

  37. sue_me says:

    Dude, even when my parents rent from a reputable company like Avis (not saying they’re any better), we do a walkaround of the the car they bring us and THOROUGHLY check for any damage. Any damage seen is reported and documented on the spot.

  38. dweebster says:

    Ugh. I’ve never been through this with any rental company, but nearly always for the past couple decades I’ve rented from Hertz and Ryder. Guess that Budget is off the list for good now, this is plain amazing.

    First off, if you are indeed truly innocent stop being on the defensive and go on the OFFENSIVE. If they’re communicating fraud to you through the mail, involve the postal authorities. If they’re trying to bill you for damage that they signed off as prexisting on the original contract, then bring in the Attorney General. Don’t give this slimy company another dime, and your focus should be on retrieving your $670.00.

    Don’t know why anyone would hand over cash (AND not get a receipt?!?), but if you were stupid enough to fall for that scam then it’s no wonder Budget saw you as an easy mark and further decided to overhaul the whole vehicle on your dime. Again, stop playing the victim. This franchise also would have to have a local business license that can be contested, and you probably have a local newspaper and/or radio and/or television “consumer” reporter… if their employees have a habit of doing this scam to enough customers then there will be others that will also report this happening.

    This franchise’s extortion of cash from a gullible renter can be turned around to make them wish they had paid YOU $670 to accept their apology. AFAIK extortion is an illegal business practice, and also if they didn’t report receiving your cash then there are tax and other issues to pursue. Stop whining, learn your lesson, and hunt the bastards down.

    In the future rent your next vehicles somewhere else that doesn’t lowball the rental fees so they can truly screw you upon coming back. What a disgusting scam. Do us a favor and NAME the __location__ you rented this from – so people can be forewarned about them.

  39. strathmeyer says:

    Why on earth did he pay the $670 to begin with? Make the entire rest of the story seem a bit sketchy…

  40. seth1066 says:

    The $670 payment is an admission of guilt? If so, he paid for _all_ the damage. What is Budget going to claim the $670 was for? A down payment?

    Further, Budget will have to prove that the roof damage pictures offered weren’t taken _before_ this rental or one or more rentals _after_. Hell, the roof shots could be from another truck entirely.

  41. pwillow1 says:

    I have rented cars before when my car has been in the shop, and so I’m familiar with the inspection before and after. I always refuse the extra insurance as it is a huge ripoff. But it never occurred to me to take photos beforehand — that’s a great idea! I especially like the idea of putting the rental agent in the photos (I don’t think the day’s newspaper is necessary, but maybe have the agent write the day and date on a piece of paper and hold it?) Not only does it cover one in case there is a damage claim, but it puts the company on notice ahead of time that the customer is not a pushover for this type of scam.

    I wish I had some words of wisdom for this particular customer who finds himself in this difficult situation, but I do thank the Consumerist contributors for these tips. I’m learning so much by reading this website.

  42. meeroom says:

    Mental note-Continue to enjoy my lovely rental experiences i have as an Avis member. I got hosed by Budget in the past and all I can say is STAY AWAY from budget.

  43. ekthesy says:

    I have moved three times in the past four years. I moved with Budget once (NJ to VA). It was the most expensive of the truck rentals (~$1100), and the experience was adequate…not great. For the next two moves (VA to VT and VT to NJ) I rented from Penske and it was like night and day with Budget. Not only were both rentals cheaper ($700 and $500, respectively), the trucks, as noted upthread, were nearly brand-new (<5k miles), ran wonderfully, and the Penske agents were all up-to-speed, friendly, and helpful. And yes, even at the Penske in Brattleboro, Vermont, a place that probably rents no more than ten trucks a month, the truck was new, clean, and actually fun to drive.

    Rent cheapo U-Hauls at your own peril. Even if Penske is expensive, it’s well worth the extra couple hundred bucks.

    Also, in my renting experience, I’ve been able to manage without LDWs by going over the truck with the rental agent. S/he and I notes any and all damage on the form, we both sign off on the sheet, and that’s that. Climb up to look at the roof (but don’t walk on it, those truck roofs are mad flimsy) and make them mark down every scratch and dent. That form covers you for additional damage.

  44. redqueenmeg says:

    I totally believe this. I rented a truck from Budget once and got their insurance because they seemed shifty and I could tell they were up to something. Inspected the truck, everything was fine. When I brought the truck back, one of the headlights was poking out of the front of the truck. It was clear it had been loose and just pushed lightly back in by the staff so that they could charge me for repairs. Fortunately I had the insurance, so I didn’t have to pay for a repair, but they DID force me to fill out an “accident report” before they would allow me to leave the rental place. I wrote “Nothing happened” on the report.

    I knew they were going to push the headlight back in and charge the next person to rent the truck too.

    I knew you were supposed to check the truck first before driving off with it, but I didn’t know to check if the headlights were loose.

    I have never dealt with Budget since.

  45. GrandizerGo says:

    You paid 670 bucks because of some “draconian” measures?

    I call BS, that seems so far fetched it isn’t funny.
    What were they going to do? Send you to the back and do oil changes until you worked it off???

    You and your friends drove around and busted it up.
    Now pay up.

    Although I do believe that if you paid 670 bucks to some person at the store, the price they are looking for should be reduced by that much.

    Note that to them as well, and question why someone at the store is that much richer…

  46. MarktMan says:

    It appears to be a corporate policy, and a way for them to make some more profits. I had a similar experience renting from Avis in St. Louis. They sent me the same B&W photos showing some “damage”. They eventually closed out the case without charging me because I rented the car at night, only a few hours after it was returned so there was no way to prove that I caused the damage (which I didn’t).

  47. FightOnTrojans says:

    Why not take a page from the “How to deal with a scammy car dealership” playbook: stand outside the lot with a big sign and hand out pamphlets detailing your ordeal to everyone coming onto the lot. Do this around the end of the month (when people utilize moving trucks most) and you can probably do some serious damage (sorry, couldn’t resist).

    Changing gears: Hate to be all “Blame the OP” but dangit, you coughed up $670! If I’m in the right, and the company is in the wrong, no way they are prying that much money out of me without a fight! You gave in way too quickly and easily and that doesn’t sit well with me. I truly feel for you because either way you are getting scammed.

  48. Sian says:

    Real classy of Budget to send what appear to be photocopied or faxed photos instead of quality digital prints.

  49. trujunglist says:

    The problem here I think is that he agreed to pay the $670 up front, basically admitting his guilt. If he truly didn’t hit anything, and I’m pretty sure that the large and complete fuck up on the truck roof would’ve been noticeable upon impact, then he should’ve given the dude the middle finger and said see you in court mother fucker. However, he didn’t do that.
    I think the only way to deal with this at this point is to get a hold of the original paperwork to show that you marked out certain damages. You’ll be liable for the other damages. I think it’s super shady that the dude immediately said you hit something and pointed to the roof, which doesn’t appear visible from ground elevation. Perhaps he fucked the truck up himself and needed to get someone to pay. Perhaps it’s the charge multiple people multiple times scam. Either way, I think you may be fucked.
    Other options: EECB, small claims court, and I really like the idea of picketing. That’s just my spiteful nature though.

  50. evixir says:

    I had an annoying experience with Alamo renting a car once — late at night, one guy on duty at the airport, took forever to get to me in the first place, and when I noticed damage on the driver’s side door (sizable black smudge/dent on a gleaming white car) I couldn’t find him to report the damage and I was late to pick someone up. My big mistake was in presumption: “Since it’s a very noticeable black mark on a white car that anyone getting into the car to drive it would clearly notice, it’s obviously been noted by management for future repairs so I don’t need to bother reporting it myself.” You’d think logic would work in these sorts of situations — Alamo staff have to drive the cars from the dropoff point to where new customers pick ‘em up, so they’d note the damage as from the previous customer at that point — but not in this case, and Alamo stuck me for the damages (which I did not incur, but could not prove they were pre-existing).

    Luckily, I rented the car with a Visa and they have insurance provisions to cover this, so it didn’t cost me anything — only the Visa folks. From now on I’ll bring a camera and make sure the checkout guy sees me taking photos, noting down every detail before I drive off. And Alamo is off my list of possible rental places from here on out.

    Here’s a question, though — you rent a vehicle, note off the damages, and THEY keep that form, right? Until you return? Do you have the right to demand a copy of that form so they can’t amend it in any way before you get back (erasing damage you’ve noted, etc)?

  51. painfullyblunt says:

    just another reason to get a cameraphone, use it to document any and all damage before driving off the lot.