Probably like most people, I have always carried out a rather cursory check of my rental car before driving it away, looking for damage and sometimes going as far as verifying the gas gauge. However, since a bizarre incident involving Hertz Rent-a-Car in Orlando, Florida last November, I now routinely take photos of my rental vehicle - including the license plate. Here's the story so you can avoid my problems in the future.
I had reserved my car on-line, as usual, and since I am a Hertz Gold Club member, skipped the counter at the airport and went straight to my assigned car - a Chevy Traverse. I did the usual quick check, looking for damage (none), and drove away. For those who aren't familiar with driving in Florida, there are toll highways, and Hertz "conveniently" offers the services of PlatePass® to all its rental car drivers. This is done automatically, and is not explicitly explained to the renting driver (at least, not to me!)
What is PlatePass®? Well, I did not know when I noticed their charge of $12.00 on my Visa bill several months after getting home from my vacation. I googled it, and discovered that PlatePass® is a service for which Hertz customers are automatically enrolled. They will pay your tolls on Florida highways when you do not, then charge you the toll (plus a hefty service fee) automatically on your registered credit card. In fact, it is explained on the Hertz website, if you search for it, and in Florida, if you do not want to use (or pay for) the PlatePass® service, you must pay all your tolls yourself, as you are passing through. If you do not, a photo of the license plate of the car passing though unpaid is taken, and you are tracked down that way.
Now you might ask why I tried to run through tollbooths in Florida without paying the toll. In fact, I did not. Upon requesting further information from PlatePass®, it turns out that the day that I was being assessed a toll charge for was a day during which the Chevy Traverse I had rented was, in fact, parked at the Disney World parking lot all day. A-ha! So then it was just a mistake! Well, that's what I thought, until PlatePass® found the photo of the offending car and sent it to me to prove that they had the right culprit.
The photo was of a Chevy Tahoe, with a license plate that was supposedly rented to me the day it passed unpaid through a tollbooth in Orlando. I figured that I had this whole thing beat, since I had rented a Chevy Traverse, and since I was definitely at Disney World and never took a highway the day the offense happened.
Unfortunately for me, when I dug out my receipt from Hertz all those months after my vacation, it turns out that the car I returned had scanned in as a Chevy Tahoe, having the exact same license plate as the Chevy Tahoe in the PlatePass® picture! So I could not prove that I had a completely different other car, although I know I did, and I could not contest the charge.
This was, in retrospect, not such a big deal, since the only thing the person driving that mysterious Chevy Tahoe did was fail to pay a toll, and this cost me about $12. What if he or she had committed a more serious crime? I would again be unable to prove that it was not me at the wheel, since Hertz (and I) had clear documented proof that I was in possession of that particular vehicle at the time of the offense. Since I had no photo of the actual vehicle I had been driving, and I had certainly not taken down the license plate number, I was stuck.
Ever since this incident, the first thing I do with every vehicle I rent is to pull out my camera and snap photos from all sides, including the license plate and make of the car. Not only is it a visual record of the vehicle I was given, it also serves to document the damage already present on the car when I rented it, in case any dispute arises later. Since it seems that most disputes between renter and rental agency arise after the vehicle has been returned, sometimes many months later (as in my case), having such photos could really save you from big (and sometimes costly) headaches in the future.