When documenting vehicle damage, the pencil and paper walk-around method isn’t foolproof, oftentimes leaving uncertainty on how and when damage occurred.
What happens when an employee neglects to report damage during the check-in process? If damage is found when the vehicle is returned, how can a rental company prove that customer is at fault and the damage wasn’t there beforehand? Improperly documented vehicle damage results in the auto rental industry collectively losing millions of dollars annually on uncollected vehicle damage costs.
“It’s our opinion that the traditional paper and pencil walk-around has been an industry problem and will soon be obsolete,” says J.P. Vercollone of Damage iD. “Customers don’t feel protected and customer service levels drop as a result.”
With technology continuing to evolve, new solutions are entering the marketplace to address the problem of accurate tracking and accountability for vehicle damage.
Two companies, Damage iD and Record360, offer products that use mobile and Web-based app technology to document vehicles during the rental process. The systems use images captured on mobile devices at check in and checkout to note and compare vehicle damage or changes on the vehicle.
Record360 provides time-stamped records of vehicles at the time of check in and checkout. Using the Record360 smartphone and tablet app, rental employees can take still photos as well as video when performing a vehicle walk-around. To document existing damage or problems, employees use the app’s touch notations.
“Our technology captures the whole vehicle at the time of exchange,” says Shane Skinner, CEO of Record360. “You are covering your blind spots.”
Damage iD was developed by a team from Mass.-based VERC Car Rental (now a Sixt franchisee) that worked with ExtensionEngine, a Web and mobile software development firm. Using cameras and Web technology, this smartphone app has helped VERC recover hundreds of thousands of dollars in vehicle damage costs and eliminate pencil and paper condition reports, according to Vercollone.
“If a customer comes back from the rental period and talks about a dent, we can go back and look at photos to see if it was caused by that customer or a previous customer,” says Vercollone.
Additionally, these technology tools can be used to snap photos of the fuel gauge and odometer before renting out the vehicles. This could reduce the number of customer disputes involving questions about fuel levels or miles driven.
“Paper and pencil reports leave money on the table in terms of fuel, mileage or damage on the vehicle,” says Vercollone.
Having a more accurate damage documentation solution in place can ultimately improve your company’s level of customer service, Skinner and Vercollone say.
From his experience in car rental, Skinner has noticed that a large portion of customer service issues arise from disputed damages.
“There is inconsistency in the check-in and checkout process between employees and companies,” says Skinner. “Technology can leverage and ensure consistency, conformity and reliability. It can ensure fairness in the process.”
Providing images of the vehicle creates a higher level of trust and transparency with the customer.
“From a customer’s perspective, having pictures and videos puts some power back into the customer’s hands,” says Matt Vercollone, who also worked on developing Damage iD. “Not only is the renter going around the car with the customer, but the rental company can also send the photos to the customer. It removes the situation where it looks like a rental company is accusing the customer of damage.”
Some rental companies are starting to look at technology solutions to streamline the rental process, but many operators are still comfortable using the pencil and paper method.
“By using a technology solution to document vehicle damage, car rental companies have a chance to get an edge on their competitors,” says J.P. Vercollone. “With the accessibility to technology, it’s inevitable that the pencil and paper walk-around will go away.”