At a glance
ONE of the unfortunate facts of fleet life is thus – take a car on the road, and it’ll get damaged.
A gritter lorry passing by can result in a chipped window. A moment’s carelessness in a car park leaves a scratch down the door. A hurried manoeuvre into a parking space wallops an alloy on the kerb.
And even the most careful of drivers can’t be too surprised to find stone chips on the front of his or her vehicle.
If the car is the driver’s own, he or she may dismiss the damage with a shrug. But when the car is leased or rented, someone has to pay for it, particularly if it is going to affect the resale value. Should it be the driver? Or should the lessor accept that no car will remain in perfect condition?
Such a problem has been the cause of many arguments between rental firms and drivers, because assessment of the extent of damage is often subjective.
When does fair wear and tear become malicious wound to the leasing company’s property, which they deserve to be reimbursed for?
SUCH a problem has prompted rental firm Avis to change the way it trains its staff to assess vehicles.
It has enlisted the services of remarketing giant Manheim, and its Birmingham training centre, to establish a consistent methodology across all its rental sites. Avis’ aim is that wherever a vehicle is collected or dropped off, the same procedure and the same standards will be applied.
Around 1,000 Avis staff will pass through Manheim’s doors to be given a thorough grounding in the world of inspection by training manager Roy Snape.
A straw poll of the 10 staff present when Fleet News visited it revealed that the time spent inspecting cars varies from less than a minute to a leisurely five minutes, depending on location and circumstances.
Snape says this is the core of the problem, and that the new method will ensure consistency and accuracy across the board.
‘There’s no such thing as a perfect vehicle, but you have to have a standard to work to,’ he explains.
When Avis vehicles reach the end of their rental lives – typically after six months – they are sent to nationwide defleeting centre where they are inspected and any damage repaired before they are remarketed. Each vehicle has a budget attached to it for minor repairs, but for more considerable damage the firm needs to cover the cost.
Unfortunately, many customers tend to treat rental cars with far less respect that they would their own.
Snape says: ‘I have seen people kick doors open, and smash the speaker grilles.
‘Some people tend to think ‘it’s not my car, so why should I bother?’.’
The costs of such damage can mount up. At the five Avis centres represented during our visit, uncharged damage costs came to £20,000 in October alone.
TO ensure both inspector and customer know what will be charged for and what will not, Snape has come up with a 14-point inspection standard for checking cars, as well as guidelines for establishing the severity of different kinds of damage.
Inspectors should stand two metres back from the car and walk round it using the 14-point method.
The method starts at the front of the car (1), before moving to the interior (2) and then the front right wing (3), front right wheel (4), right driver’s door (6) and so on in a clockwise fashion until number 14 – the front left wing – is reached. Number 9 is inside the boot to ensure that the parcel shelf and spare wheel are still there.
Snape says it is important to keep walking, as continual movement is much more likely to show up imperfections in surfaces and paintwork.
But once an imperfection has been discovered, how does one tell if it’s chargeable or not?
Avis’ guidelines state that non-chargeable damage is as follows:
Each centre has identical Vehicle Condition Report sheets on which damage can be logged.
The guidelines ensure every inspector examines a vehicle in the same way and make for more consistent and accurate judgements on whether the customer should foot the bill.
‘It’s not a case of ‘there’s a little scratch on the car, let’s charge them for it’,’ Snape says.
Some trainees expressed concerns that due to their location they cannot always have two metres around the car to inspect it – particularly at busy and cramped airport sites.
But Snape said the aim of the training was to establish an ideal, and staff should use their initiative to work as closely to that as possible.
The scheme should protect both rental firm and customer from unexpected costs.
‘Customers will probably come to expect you to look around the car when you deliver it and collect it,’ Snape said.