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The One Thing You Should Do EVERY Time You Rent A Car

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Why You Should Film Your Car Rental Before Driving Off The Lot

Renting a car can feel like life and death, especially these days when prices are high, people aren’t used to traveling and every company is seemingly short staffed. So much stress! And then what happens when something goes wrong? I recently had exactly that happen and I quickly “won my case” to save $17.46. Oh yeah! This is just one example of why you should film your car rental before driving off the lot.

The reason I am writing this is because someone recently posted about a bogus charge from a car rental company in our MtM Facebook community (link to group). That person was charged a bunch of fees because the car didn’t have a front license plate when it was returned. He claims the license plate was never there, but he has no evidence.

Video Tape Car Rental – When & Why

One thing I started doing a long time ago is taking a quick video of my car rental in a couple of scenarios. First, if I am at an airport with plenty of cameras, etc. I simply inspect the car and ensure there isn’t any damage. If there are some minor scratches or dings I’ll take a picture of them, but these are generally never an issue and I don’t do a video, but I probably should since it only takes a minute.

Outside of U.S. airport rentals though I take a video of the car front to back and top to bottom. Cell phone cameras are very high quality so a quick sweep of the entire car in 4K does a pretty good job. (Turn on your phone’s video flash if it is dark!) If there are some real trouble areas then I take photos of those to have a better look. I started doing this when I hacked my Mexican Car Rental and have done it ever since.

a speedometer in a car
The real fuel gauge. Pictures and especially video help tell your story!

Always Document Damage

Before I move on to how I “won my case”, I should mention if there is ever any damage you are nervous about then ABSOLUTELY 100% get it documented before you leave the lot. Never be shy about asking them to ACCURATELY document any damage (no matter how small) you are uncomfortable with. But sometimes you miss stuff or aren’t aware of what you should be looking for. That is when video can be your friend.

A Fuel Discrepancy – Saved by Video

In my recent case I rented a car from National Car Rental in Miami Beach. When I got there luckily there wasn’t a line, but when I was done there were 4 people behind me. I was given a specific car and there was no exit agent in this small off-airport location. My paperwork also strangely didn’t have the car’s mileage (luckily I had unlimited) or the gas. That was the problem.

Given that this is a city location they don’t fill up the cars and the car I received only had 1/4 tank. I noticed this wasn’t documented on my paperwork (there was no fuel level noted) so I headed back to the desk to find the 4 people who were behind me waiting for that same single clerk. I wasn’t going to take more of his time, so I decided to leave. Before I did though I made sure to video the car, the fuel indicator and in the same video a bit about the garage to prove I was there when I filmed it.

A Sneaky Return to National

Invalid request error occurred.
National tried to sneak a fuel surcharge on me but my video saved the day.

Upon returning my car in Tampa, the National agent scanned the windshield, verified everything and handed me my receipt without saying a word. I had brought the car back with 3/8 of a tank which was more than it had when I rented it, but he had stuck on a fuel surcharge for returning the car below the fuel level. Apparently Miami Beach said it was at half of a tank. Ugh.

Of course this kind of stuff happens when you are running late for a flight and don’t have time to do anything to fix it. I did bring it up to the agent on the spot and I showed him the video, but he was powerless to fix it. He said he needed to wait for his supervisor to return, but he would notate it and I would “get an email correct” within the hour. That never came.

Thankfully National has pretty good customer service and an email inquiry got them to refund my money without even having to send the video. Perhaps he notated it or maybe they just felt sorry for me, but I was happy for this little bit of customer service in the end.

Why You Should Film Your Car Rental – Bottom Line

Renting a car can be stressful these days, but there are ways to ensure you can take some of the stress out of it. Always make sure to notate and document any damage you are uncomfortable with and film some video for evidence later. Maybe it is a waste of 2-3 minutes whenever you rent a car, but it could save you tons of headaches later. And of course the videos become memories of the time you spent in that rental. Ah. Memories.

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Shawn Coomer
Shawn Coomer
Shawn Coomer earns and burns millions of miles/points per year circling the globe with his family. An expert at accumulating travel rewards, he founded Miles to Memories to help others achieve their travel goals for pennies on the dollar. Shawn also runs a million dollar reselling business, knows Vegas better than most and loves to spend his time at the 12 Disney parks across the world.

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  1. I also film every rental car but I was done at Miami airport. Just before returning the car I filled it up at the gas station and sure enough – there no gas cap on the car. I filmed everything except I did not open the fuel flap to check to see if the gas cap was there. Cost me $60.

    I wonder how many caps are sitting at the rental yard detail shop. Good little scam!

  2. It’s best to do this with a timestamp camera app. This goes beyond just a regular photo in documenting the location, date, time, etc. Also do this with any Uhaul, Ryder, etc. rentals. I also think it’s a good idea to take a time stamp photo of your bag before you check one with an airline. This shows them that you had the bag at the time of checkin and shows the condition when you let them transport it. I have an unproven theory that a bag photo could help with claims from credit card or travel insurance on lost bags, delayed, etc.

    • Good point! I think most cell phones record the timestamp and location, but you are right that it can be imperative to have that info and having it right on the pic isn’t a bad idea either. Thanks Dan!

  3. Spot on Shawn. I record every time, all the time. They got me once many years about when they said that I scraped a hub cap (back when cars still used those). That the first and last $80 bucks I’ve ever had stolen from me by a rental car company.

    Always record and like you mentioned, be sure to speak the time out loud and make sure you video captures some part of the rental facility or garage so there’s no ambiguity as to where the video was shot.

  4. 100% agree with this. One time an agent wanted to charge me a few hundred dollars because he claimed that there was a nick on a wheel rim. Unbelievable. I had only driven on paved roads and this supposed nick had to be maybe one inch at the most. This was also a dinky car (not a luxury car) so the charge was insane on many levels. I asked for a manager and after about 30 minutes I was on my way without any charge. But now I obsessively videotape (including the wheel rims!). This was at a u.s. airport not in any foreign country.

    • Wow that is crazy. It just goes to show you any rogue employee can cause you massive headaches and having evidence is the best way to combat that. Glad you got out without any issues, but its so frustrating when that stuff happens.

  5. When the gas tank wouldn’t print my gas receipt near MSP recently, I took a photo of my rental car with the gas $ in the background. They tried to charge me for gas but when I showed the agent the photo, she removed it.


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