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Couple's Trip To Florida Turns Into Nightmare, After Car Rental Results In $7,600 Bill For Damages; 'It Was A Scam'

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A dream trip to Florida turned into a nightmare for a Logan Square couple, when a $60 rental car reservation turned into a $7,600 bill.

Daniel and Mary Mann now know they made a mistake when renting an SUV from Ace Rent A Car at the Miami airport. They didn't take any photos before driving the vehicle off the lot.

"When we picked up the car at midnight when we got in, the lot was dark, the car was kind of backed in against the fence," Daniel said.

"With it being poorly lit, you couldn't really notice anything," Mary said.

They spent three days in Miami to tell his parents the good news, the young couple was expecting.

When they returned the SUV to Ace, they were told it had a dent on the back. Daniel wasn't aware of the dent, and said he didn't cause it, but signed an incident report with an X on the rear of the car, figuring the small damage he was shown would be about $1,000 tops.

"Three months later, when Rockport Auto Claims, which is Ace's insurance company, sent us a bill for $7,600," Daniel said. "Now he's got pictures of rusty paint problems all over the back bumper, there's roof damage."

When the dent spread to the roof, and quarter panel, and lift gate, lamps, and bumpers, the bill ballooned to $7,641.62:

  • $4925.36 for physical damage
  • $1970.14 for "diminished value"
  • $492.54 in administrative fees
  • $188.58 for loss of use
  • $65 for an appraisal

"I got the email and I was fuming," Daniel said.

After the Mann's insurance company paid for the actual damage, the couple was still on the hook for more than $3,000. They were told to pay up immediately, or the bill would be sent to a collection agency.

"This is crazy. $7,600 for one little dent," Daniel said.

The emails came from Rockport Auto Claims, a third party hired by Ace to collect on damages.

How could this happen? All because of the fine print in the rental agreement, which notes insurance companies don't cover the costs of towing, diminished value, or other administrative expenses.

"You're responsible for paying those fees if your insurance company won't pay them," Mary said.

The Manns found other similar horror stories involving Ace and Rockport online, including two for $14,000 each.

"I'm gonna use the word scam, because I believe it was a scam," Daniel said.

Rockport Auto Claims refused to answer repeated attempts for comment.

Ace Rent a Car said it found nothing out of the ordinary with the charges the Manns faced, calling the case "unfortunate, but well within the realm of what is normal."

To avoid this kind of problem, CBS News Travel Editor Peter Greenberg said anyone renting a car should spend five minutes walking around the vehicle taking pictures of everything before leaving the lot.

"If something happens, you have photo evidence," he said.

All pictures you take should have a time stamp. You should document every dent, ding, and scratch inside and out. Don't forget the wheels and windshield.

Repeat that process when you return the car.

"It is a no-brainer to take a photo, but most people don't think about it, because they're racing to get the car out of the lot, or they're racing to return it to the airport," Greenberg said. "At that point, it's the rental car company's word against yours, and you're going to get dinged for the ding that you may not have even caused."

You should also walk around the car with an agent before and after the rental, and have them sign off on the condition of the car.

Keep all your pictures after the rental ends, because companies sometimes will wait months to come after you.

Rockport Auto claimed Ace offered to knock about $1,000 off the Mann's bill, but they said they're not willing to pay a penny more than their $750 deductible.

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