Woman taking picture with a cell phone Those of you who read our blog regularly know that we can be pretty creative when it comes to saving you money on the cost of your rental. Today we're going to break from convention, and show you not how to save money on the initial cost of the rental, but rather how to avoid being taken for a ride when you return your rental.

The issue we're dealing with today has to do with damage to the rental vehicle. We're not talking about legitimate damage where you unfortunately sideswipe a parked car while fumbling around on the floor for the bag of chips you just dropped, but rather damage that someone claims you inflicted on your rental vehicle, but was actually not caused by you.

Yes, we know it sounds a bit strange, but unfortunately stories abound about unsuspecting renters being charged for damage by unscrupulous rental employees/locations when either the car was returned without a scratch, or when damage that already existed before the renter drove off the lot is blamed on them.

For proof of what we're talking about, look no further than Travel Troubleshooter Chris Elliott's blog. We're a longtime fan of Chris and his work at Elliott.org. Chris helps customers fight injustices foisted upon them by travel companies. As expected he receives many complaints centered around car rentals. Some have more merit than others, but as they say, where there's smoke, there's fire. Here's a few notable stories of what we're talking about when it comes to unsubstantiated damage claims.

So how can you avoid being a victim of a bogus damage claim? Follow this handy checklist:

1. Every rental company has a form where you can indicate damage to the rental vehicle. Yes, we know you're in a rush, but two minutes now can save you hundreds or even thousands later (and no--this is not a Geico commercial).

Before you drive off the lot, walk around the car completely and note any damage on the form--even small scratches and dents. Don't forget a quick look on the roof as well as the interior for any rips, cigarette burns or the like. If there is anything of note, make sure you have a signed copy with the appropriate damage indicated on the form, and rental company has a copy as well. Also note the employee's name who accepted your form.

This is one piece of insurance if someone tries to claim you damaged the car later.

2. If you have a camera phone, or a digital camera, use it to take pictures of any damage to the vehicle. This should also be done before you drive off the lot. If you can get the rental office in the picture, it substantiates where the picture was taken.

If your camera or phone has a feature to date and/or time stamp the photo, be sure to use it. Even better, email yourself a copy of the pictures. This way, you have proof you can forward someone (like an attorney from the rental company) if a bogus claim comes your way about causing pre-existing damage.

You can even email the photos to photos@autoslash.com, and we'll hold onto them for safe keeping in case you get hit with a claim later!

3. When you return your still pristine rental, now's the time to document that it came back in the same condition it went out. This will avoid a situation where Joe from the rental company knocked the bumper off while taking it to the car wash and then tries to pin the blame on you, the unfortunate last renter.

You might note how it's funny that the rental company lets you drive off the lot without checking their car, but insists on checking every corner of it when you bring it back. Even if they don't do an immediate inspection upon return, rest assured that they will check it out, and charge you for any damage that was not reported on the rental agreement.

Again, use your digital camera or trusty camera phone and take a few pics of the front, rear and sides. It's your get-out-of-jail-free card should you need it later. While you're waiting for your flight to board, send a copy to yourself or to photos@autoslash.com, for safe keeping.

By following these simple rules, you'll minimize your chances of having to fight a bogus damage claim, and needing the help of someone like Mr. Elliott.

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