Rental car companies are usually willing to overlook small dings and glass chips, But not Vancouver airport's Budget Rent A Car office, say a group of consumers. They claim that Budget location is notorious for flagging returned cars for the most minor of offenses. Worse, they allege that some damage may have been caused by previous customers, and much of it is usually considered normal wear and tear. Alarmingly, a number of complaints allege that damage charges were added after vehicles had been returned and inspected.

The Better Business Bureau has logged at least 70 complaints about British Columbia Budget locations, including claims that customers were forced to pay as much as $966 for total windshield replacements after tiny chips were found, and $446 for repair of a "dimple" in a car's roof. Most customers were informed of the damage well after leaving the rental office, and sometimes after the damage had already been repaired. The business gets an "F" from the BBB.

Those instances would be galling to say the least, but when things got interesting when CBC News' Go Public began looking into the claims.

They found that Budget Rent A Car of B.C. Ltd. is owned by Syd Belzberg, a "wealthy businessman" who also owns Inland Transportation. Which, coincidentally, is contracted to do all repair work for Belzberg's BC Budget locations. Even more concerning is that Allan Fung, the "independent" appraiser used by Budget in at least some of the claims is actually an employee of Budget.

Consumers worried about getting caught in such situations would be wise to sign up for insurance offered by the rental agency. That will at least limit their liability to the deductible, but, as Go Public points out, the rental agency is usually the issuer of the insurance. When, as in the Vancouver area, one man controls the rental agency, the insurer and the repair shop, business interests start to seem "Too close for comfort," as Montreal businessman Marc Vaugeois says.

So far, no lawsuits have been filed, and the Consumer's Association of Canada advises customers to closely inspect their rental cars before returning them and, for extra protection, videotape a walkaround of the car for evidence. To learn more about the Budget fracas, watch the CBC News video report below.

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