A huge, and well-earned, concern of those renting cars is the potential to be charged excessive, high, or unfounded fees for damage to a rental car that you may not have caused. Another big and valid concern when renting a car is the possibility of being charged high and excessive fees for minor damage. Excessively high fees for which you have no option but to pay as the rental car company has outlined. They can, after all, hold the balance against your credit card until it is paid. Here are a few things that you can do to help you avoid rental car damage fees:

Complete a thorough inspection

Statistics indicate that at least 1 in 4 people who rent a car will be blamed for damage to the car that they did not actually cause. Always thoroughly inspect the rental car before you sign for it. Note down ANY small scratch. Do not rely on ANYTHING the rental car agent tells you verbally. If you know that you are heading to an area that there is a possibility of even a small scratch–for example, a dirt road–pay for the extra insurance or make sure that you are paying with a credit card that provides it. The rental car company will gouge you as hard as they can for even the most minor of damage to the rental car. They will show you and your credit card, absolutely NO mercy. Take timestamped pictures and videos before leaving the rental car agency with the vehicle.

The rental car company associate will usually do a walk-around inspection of the car with you prior to giving you the keys, but there are times when this may not happen and you want to be sure you are protected in the event there was damage from the previous driver and it was not disclosed to the rental car company. Make sure to check for general scratches, stone chips and other body and fender damage. Look under the car and see if anything might be hanging or leaking. Check the interior of the car for any rips or stains. Make sure these are all properly noted. Also be sure to turn on the car and check all lights, gauges and moving parts and motorized accessories. Although this can seem excessive, so will the damage fees if you later find that one of these doesn’t work and it wasn’t properly noted down before you drove off with the car.

Avoid returning after hours

It may not be possible, especially if returning a car before catching a flight home, but you should try to make sure that you will not be returning the car after the rental car agency has closed. Returning the rental car after hours is how many people end up with what they believe are unwarranted damage fees. The car could be damaged after you return it. Or, the rental car agency can claim that damage to the car they’ve now discovered was your fault and you may not be in a position to immediately return to the rental car agency in order to verify the damage, or the extent of the damage, for yourself.

Pay with a credit card that automatically provides additional insurance

Certain credit cards have insurance they automatically apply to your car rental as long as you use that specific card to secure the car. Read the specifics of the policy for your credit card before renting the car and assuming that there is additional rental car insurance coverage.  Obtaining this additional insurance usually requires nothing more than charging the rental to that specific credit card. If you are using the additional credit card insurance, or purchase the additional insurance from the rental car agency, make sure that you do not provide them with your current automobile policy information.

Purchase the additional insurance

Consider springing for the cost of the additional insurance from the rental car company and treating it as just part of the cost required to rent the car. Even though everyone is loathe to actually pay for it, it really is one of your best options. Rental car companies are known to gouge for the tiniest of scratches; they are also known for not checking cars during busy periods then allowing the damage to be attributed to you because after all, you DID sign for the car indicating there was no damage. Purchasing the additional insurance will protect you from any of those possibilities, and any possible rental car damage fees. It is good to have in the event you have to return the car after-hours. You will not have to worry if someone damages the car after your return. The additional insurance is also highly recommended when traveling to second and third world countries where North American tourists can often be viewed as being more able to bear the cost of any damage to the rental car, regardless of whose fault it actually was.

When the rental car company charges you for damages, they will charge you administrative fees, loss of use fees and anything else they can possibly find to tack on. Ensuring that any damage present on the car when you received it is properly noted by yourself, and also to the rental car company prior to driving away, is the key to avoiding a bill for damages to the car that you did not cause.