Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Selfdrive rental accident damage Experience

It is very difficult to find a car in north India without any dent or scratches. The way people drive, almost all vehicles suffer different types of external damages within months of their hitting the road. When I was planning a 5 day, 2000 kms North India trip covering 5 states, I was hoping that I won’t have any unpleasant incident and will be able to return the car intact. Ever since I started driving rented cars in 2008 (Read- Chennai-Mysore in Skoda), I’ve never had a situation where the car would get involved in an accident and I’d to compensate the car rental company. However, I knew that one day my luck is bound to run out and it did run out last week in Uttar Pradesh.

This post explains how the incident happened and the process involved in self-drive car rental company (Carzonrent) w.r.t recovery of the damages. [Also read: Zoomcars vs Carzonrent comparison]

Disasters don't just happen- there're a chain of critical events leading to it.

2 days before disaster:
I collect my self drive booking of Swift Dzire from Delhi airport and drive to my destination, Bareily in UP. After an overnight drive, we head towards Pilibhit in an abandoned visit and attend family function in the evening.

1 hour before accident:
I had some free time in the morning and asked my hosts if there’s any place within short distance where I might get good sunrise- a river, view point or things like that. They arranged a local person to guide me with directions and we set out. We reached the river bed-the river was wide, water left in it was very minimal.

5 minutes before accident:
While returning, I decided to stop near a brick factory. A tall vertical chimney with smoke coming out would make good photograph. I pulled over, stopped by the roadside, walked little closer to the brick factory, started clicking some photographs.

Below are some of the photos clicked 
2 minutes before the accident
A driver boards his tractor, attached to a trailer full of fresh bricks, stacked pretty high, and starts reversing the vehicle.  As he knows his terrain very well, he doesn’t bother looking if the path he would cover while reversing is clear. It is my village and my road- if you’re coming in my way- you need to get out – seems to be his logic. Unfortunately a parked car can’t move itself away.

1 minute before the accident
Myself and few other villagers around spotted the reversing tractor and the fact that parked car seemed to be right in the path of the tractor. Sensing an impending collision, we should at the top of our voice- stop!, STOP!, there’s a vehicle behind.

10 seconds before the accident
Tractor driver either doesn’t hear our shout (because with the engine is making more noise than all horns in town put together) or doesn’t care to take any action (stop and find out why people are shouting)

2 seconds before the impact
Brick laden trailer is too close to the rear of the car for anyone to take any action. Onlookers watch helplessly as the trailer is about to kiss the rear of Swift Dzire

0 seconds before the impact
Trailer touches the rear of the car. The impact jolts the car and pushes it few inches ahead, damages rear bumper and tail lamp. Loud noise is let out.

2 seconds after the impact
Tractor driver feels the jolt and stops his machine. I take couple of quick shots of both vehicles kissing each other’s rear. Onlookers begin to gather at the scene. 

1 minute after the impact
Everyone around, including the driver, my local navigator, brick factory owner and others are now fully aware that a damage has been caused by the tractor to the car. To avoid blocking the road, driver is asked to pull over his tractor to the road side. Phone calls are made to key stakeholders to brief them about the damage.

5 minutes after the impact
People identify that we’re from Karnataka and we’ve come as a guest to one of the villager’s family.  Everyone around agree in principle that its tractor driver’s carelessness that has caused the damage and he needs to pay. The question was how much is the actual damage worth and how much we can make the errant driver cough up. 
I made calls to Carzonrent representative, to brief him about the damage and try to get a ballpark (approximate) number as to how much might be the cost of repairs (rear tail lamp replacement and bumper fixing). Carzonrent guy was fairly cool on the phone when he learnt about the accident. He calmly asked if I would like to return the car and take a replacement- I replied that No, I would continue my trip in the same car. As far as the damages concerned, I was told that they will be able to tell only after their team physically inspects the car.

I made a call to a colleague, who had his car’s front headlight and bumper damaged recently and replaced, to get an idea of cost involved. After hearing my story, he gave a tentative estimate of 7-8 thousand rupees.

Few onlookers get curious and wonder why damage is only this much. They come closer to check if the tail lamp is broken, would put their finger and check why it is not broken further. I tell them not to touch the car and increase the damage already done.

20 minutes after the impact.
Few of my hosts arrive at the scene, they know the brick factory owner and other key people around. Together they assess the damage and begin working out a compensation.

I take a look at the tractor- from its driver’s seat, with bricks stacked so high, there was no way driver could see what’s behind. There’s no rear view mirror or anything else to aid him in his driving. Obviously every day he would reverse blindly and he wasn’t expecting one guy from South India rent a car from Delhi drive all the way to his village and park it on his taxiway.
30 minutes after the impact:
I was called in and after a formal apology, offered a cash compensation of Rs 3000. I demand at least 5000 Rs. I was told that tractor owner stays elsewhere, the driver has paid from his pocket and he being a poor guy, we shouldn’t demand further. My local hosts also advised me to end the matter with Rs 3000. I readily agreed, as on my own I might not have managed to extract even this much, given the lawlessness in the state of UP. Often villagers gang up against outsiders and only those with higher muscle power/people support would win any argument.
I feel we were lucky that things didn’t get worse. If the bricks had fallen off on the car, then rear windshield and boot door would have suffered more damages. Because Dzire was a compact sedan, damage was limited to the impact area in the rear. Had it been a small car without boot, damage would have been probably more, as more of cars rear would have come in contact with the trailer.

Luckily no one was inside the car at the time of impact- Else the jolt caused during impact could have caused some injuries.

8 hours after the impact:
I had another 1500kms worth of road trip pending. Driving with a dangling bumper and cracked tail lamp didn’t sound like right idea. Due to constant vibrations and shakes, the cracks/damage would increase further.

We arrive in Bareilly town, visit a mechanic to check what can be done to fix the car. In next 45 mins, the car was fixed as shown below. Rear right tail lamp assembly was replaced- Cost Rs 950. Right side bumper bracket (this unit connects bumper and chassis) cost Rs 150, labour charge: Rs 350. Deformed bumper was heated and molded back into shape (almost).

Now most of the damage is fixed- pretty neat job but not 100% perfect- few minor dents and scratches remain. Mechanic said fixing them are either not possible or carries a risk of damaging the paint. We continue with our drive to Amritsar. 
3 days after the incident:
This is the story so far. I returned the car without any further damage or any other incident during rest of the 3 day/1500 kms drive. Carzonrent guys who collected the car said they'll revert separately for the damage after checking with their fleet guys.

4 days after the incident:
Carzonrent says they’re gonna charge me Rs 5000. They say that if I’d not fixed it myself, they would have claimed insurance and my cost would have been less. (but driving with dangling bumper and broken tail lamp for 1500 kms wasn’t a good idea. While I don’t have much say in this, as I am responsible to return the car intact and I’ve failed in that, I feel Carzonrent could have considered charging a lesser fine and continue using the car without replacing the bumper. Going to Delhi to return the car and take another one was something I could have tried, but this process would have cost me about half a day worth my time in extra travel and process. 

Below is how the rear of the car looks-one of them is an existing scratch. The other bulges and and scratches are hardly noticeable. One could live with that probably without any inconvenience-visible or otherwise. Is 5000 Rs fair for this? (Also need to think from car owner's perspective)
In the end I’ll ended up paying Rs 3500 from my pocket for no fault of mine- that is the risk of driving in India- you should always be ready to pay for someone else’s fault. It is one thing when damage is financial- at times people even pay with their lives. An amount of Rs 30000 was blocked on my credit card by carzonrent/myles team while handing over the car, the difference will be returned.

Will this incident deter me from renting cars again? No. I will continue to rent the cars. Will be extra careful about the potential threats.

Further reading: Review of Zoomcars self drive * Carzonrent Chennai experience


Anu Menon said...

Wow! So when you rent the car do you take insurance? That is supposed to cover for any 3rd party damages, right?
Although i feel like if there was no insurance 3500 from your pocket for a damage like that wasn't too bad a price to pay and also that you were lucky to get the 3000 from the person that caused the accident.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Yes, car is covered under insurance. But to claim insurance there're lot of formalities and requirements- which are not practical when you're in the middle of a trip in some remote place.

Daniel Watterson said...

Its a big issue now a days that the people who not drive well damages their cars badly or now if you rent a car so keep in your mind,its not yours.So drive it carefully because if it damages so you pay for it.Nice informative blog for the people.I like it.

Sheshadri said...

if it were to be possible, u would have done only minimal repairs (i.e. mechanical and fixing the clamp) then u would have left the broken tail lamp for them to claim insurance

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Sheshadri: yes, at that time I didn't think much. Thought if I can have a decent fix for Rs 1500 it is good deal, even if it meant paying another 1000 or 2000 extra to carzonrent later

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks for your comments. but note that I've never had an accident while I was driving. THis incident happened while the car was stationary

Hanoz Shaher said...

I noticed the car registration is of a yellow plate with black text. I was under the impression that yellow plates are essentially commercial registrations and a commercial licence is required (strictly legally speaking)to drive these vehicles.

Don't self drive vehicles need a private leasing registration which is a black plate with yellow text??

Shrinidhi Hande said...


Yes, rest of India we get black plate and yellow letters.

Only Delhi seems to be exception. Carzonrent is giving regular yellow board taxi, with additional paperwork which permits self drive rental.

Seems delhi RTO prefers it that way

sushill said...

These are sharp practices that rental companies follow all over the world. They will have some sort of a maximum damage clause that they block on your card.And for anything minor you get charged. Else they play some insurance stunt on you were you pay a lot more and dont worry about any damage.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Yes Sushill. Thanks for your comment