Who Foots the Bill for a Spontaneously Shattering Window...On a Rental Car?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jan 01, 2005

Dear Tom and Ray:

My 19-year-old son works for a rental-car company. Recently when he put the top down on a Chrysler Sebring convertible, the rear window shattered as the roof came down in back, breaking into hundreds of pieces and falling into the back seat. This was a brand-new car (600 miles). Chrysler says this problem is "not under warranty" and insinuates that my son smashed the windshield by hitting it with something, which is just absolutely ridiculous. They say it is not their problem, and they will not cover the damages. The car-rental place is making my son foot the bill, to the tune of $700. This can't be legal; this could have happened to a customer or an owner. Luckily, no one was sitting in the back seat at the time. Chrysler should own up to this defect, which is obviously very dangerous. Whom can I contact for help? -- Dawn

RAY: Your lawyer.

TOM: Yeah, this is ridiculous. We believe you that your son didn't whack the window. Windows do shatter from time to time without any obvious cause, and it's usually because of some unseen defect in the glass.

RAY: It might have come that way from the factory, or it might have had a small crack in it from being hit by a stone during its first 600 miles. In either case, the hidden defect would have made the window vulnerable. And then all it would take is some stress on the window to cause it to shatter.

TOM: The stress can come from being twisted slightly -- as it might be when the convertible top goes down -- or from being hit by something, even lightly. We've even heard of a case where a stream of water from a hose caused a windshield to shatter.

RAY: So, Chrysler is right that these things don't "just happen." But when glass does appear to shatter for little or no reason, it's because of some sort of pre-existing stress or defect in the glass, and it's not necessarily the fault of the guy who happens to be standing there when the glass breaks.

TOM: And of course the rental-car company wants your son to pay for it. It'd do the same thing to a customer. Have you ever known a rental-car company to say, "Ah, don't worry about the damage, these things happen?"

RAY: So, if the rental-car company won't be reasonable and put in an insurance claim to fix the window, as I see it, your son has three options: Have a lawyer take it up with the company, quit the job and walk away, or both. Good luck, Dawn.

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