06/29/2013 08:45 am ET Updated Aug 29, 2013

What a Hit and Run Taught Me About Customer Service

In an ideal world, every customer-service problem would solve itself. Thanks to Punit Joshi, we're one story closer to that world, in a small way.

Joshi rented a car from Budget in Oahu last summer. While he was driving, a vehicle rear-ended his rental. The other driver offered him "a couple of hundred bucks" before fleeing the scene.

"I called the police and they prepared a report," he remembers. "Honolulu PD was able to locate the driver and completed an accident report with the guilty party's information. I also prepared an accident report using Budget's accident report form that they put in every rental car."

Joshi turned in the report at the Budget counter in Honolulu.

"They said that they would be in touch with me," he says.

Case closed? Not exactly.

Like other car rental companies, Budget"s terms are clear when you rent one of its vehicles. If you damage one of its cars, you're responsible. And apparently that extends to any necessary paperwork and the follow-through. Filling out a form didn't cut it. In fact, Budget treated it almost as if he'd walked away from an accident.

"I received a phone call about two months later," he says. "It was a Budget accident claims analyst, and she asked me to provide her with the details of the accident. I didn't want to give them a hard time, so I went back home and sent them the information again."

Did that do it? Nope.

About a month later, he received a letter saying Budget had tried to pursue the at-fault party, who, according to Joshi, had a revoked license, was uninsured, and was driving under the influence. But if it couldn't, Budget would hold him responsible.

"I didn't have a problem with this," he says. "My problem was that instead of contacting my insurance company, they wanted to stick me with the bill."

Undeterred, Joshi took a few extraordinary steps to avoid a $6,600 damage charge. On a subsequent trip to Hawaii, he contacted the Honolulu police to find out if Budget had missed something when it processed his claim. It turns out the company had overlooked a large part of the police report. He also contacted Budget's corporate office to see if it could send the claim to his car insurance company.

What does all of this mean to you? Well, if you're ever in an accident with a rental car, here's what you have to do.

Get a police report. Without one, the car rental company will assume you damaged the car, and will hold you, or your insurance company, responsible.

Share the report with the rental company. Unfortunately, you can't assume your rental company will get all the necessary paperwork. "Don't rely on the rental company's claims staff to do their job correctly," he adds. "If I had waited for that, I'd be out $6,600."

Call corporate. Ask to speak to a manager or supervisor in loss control or the damage recovery unit. Budget's claim team was based in India. "My parents are from India -- don't get me wrong, it's a great country filled with smart people. But [Budget's claim team] didn't know what they were doing. The supervisor in India was as clueless as the staff," he says.

Stories like this suggest some car rental companies go for the low-hanging fruit when it comes to damage claims. Budget's Honolulu location made a minimal effort to file a claim with Joshi's insurance and instead stuck him with the bill. He might have paid, had he not been so determined.

I wonder how many other car rental companies feel the same way about damage claims.

"I hope no one else has to face a similar situation," he says.

That makes two of us.

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