Large BULGE in Car tire of rental car

I rented a car for one week and drove it very little. I am a capable and careful driver. When I returned the car, there was a Bulge-- 3" x 3", which stuck out about 1/2", on the sidewall of the front passenger side tire. Budget is now trying to get ME to pay for this ($170) saying that it is “Obvious Customer Damage”. I say it is a tire DEFECT and not my fault… there were NO scuff marks on the tire, and I did not drive up against anything. Am I correct to say it was a defect and not my fault? How likely is it that the bulge would be something I did? The car was only 2 months old, with new tires.

Budget Car Rental rented you a vehicle with a defective tire. The tire was manufactured with a flaw in sidewall cords causing the bulge.


Sorry, but bulges just don’t happen. I think the tire knocked into something. Perhaps it was there before you took the car but didn’t notice it. If you paid for the rental on a credit card, check with the card provider to see if they cover the rental with extra insurance, many cards do this especially American Express.

Stuff like this happens with rental cars which is why you take a careful look and inspect the car before you drive it away. I won’t say a sidewall bulge could never happen, or that a tire is never defective, but it is a rarity when compared to driver’s hitting curbs and potholes.

I once took delivery of a rental car, the tire was low on air. Pointed it out, they put air in it. Asked what if it looses air again. They said they checked it, I was late and in a hurry, so drove off. Did my job interview and came out and sure enough the tire was completely flat. They flat out denied that there was a problem before delivery even though I had names of the people involved. I hung up, did repair the tire at a local shop and never talked about it to them again. They wanted to put the tab for a new tire on me.

Sounds like a tire defect to me. Ask the tire experts at Budget how you could have done this if there is no scuff mark. Otherwise take it, if you can, to a store that sells that tire brand to ask their opinion. If it is almost new, there should be a warranty unless the tire store can present a convincing argument that you did it. Ask for their findings in writing if they can explain exactly how you did it and then take it up with Budget and the tire company if you don’t agree. Get a quality photo of the bulge for reference.

It sounds like an air bubble that formed due to a pinhole in the inner liner which is supposed to be air tight and with a weak bond between the inner and outer parts of the tire. You could try to find and patch the pinhole and then puncture the outer layer of the tire with a pin to let the bulge air out. Then give Budget their repaired tire back. Total cost should be less than $20.

Something quicker would be to pump in some Slime to plug the pinhole and then puncture the bulge to let the bulge air out.

These are all guesses for you to consider without my having access to the tire for inspection.

First, it is extremely unlikely this is a tire defect. What is most likely is an impact that broke the sidewall cords. Happens all the time.

Second, argue strenuously that they gave you the car with the impact and that it was not your fault. Tell them you plan to take your business elsewhere if they charge you for it.

Some rental companies are good at doing things like this. We had three bad experiences with one company, but I don’t remember which one it was. I know it was not Hertz or Avis. At any rate, I had to drive my wife to a recruiting site 350 miles away. She had had rotator cuff surgery and wasn’t supposed to do anything but local driving. I drove her down in our car so she would have one to drive around at the recruiting site and rented a car to drive back home. I took a picture of the car before I left the rental agency which clearly showed a small ding in the right front fender. I drove the car home, put it in our garage until it was time to go back to get my wife and returned the car. The “inspector” tried to charge me for the ding. I got out the camera with the date stamp and finally the inspector and manager were convinced and apologized for making a mistake. I chalked It up to an honest mistake until our institution rented a car from the same company for my wife to drive 55 miles to an airport–our university has a deal with this company in order not to tie up vehicles from the university’s fleet. At any rate, it was raining and my wife didn’t inspect the car. She drove to the airport and the inspector tried say she had put a crease in one of the fenders. My wife told her to settle it up with our institution and suddenly they remembered that the car already had damage. The final blow came when we rented from the same company when we were on a vacation. We rented the car in the city, and the manager at the rental agency assured us we could drop it off at the airport. They were to pick us up at our hotel. It took two calls to get them to come which was 2 hours after they had promised. I noticed a scratch in the wheel cover, but the rental agent assured me that they knew about it and that there was no reason to note it. We also got a call on our cell phone. The agent had not noted the VIN of the car and said she needed the information immediately. I was in heavy traffic and told her I she would have to wait. When I took the car to the airport, the inspector then wanted to charge me for the scratch on the wheel cover and they charged me a $50 drop off fee.
At any rate, when we got back home, I emailed the rental agency and outlined the whole situation.
A representative of the company did call me. I let him know that my institution rented from his company when all of our fleet vehicles were assigned and I would be talking to the person in business affairs at my institution who is in charge of the motor vehicle fleet and is a friend. It was interesting that the drop fee was waived because of the rental agent having misrepresented the company as was the charge for the scratch in the wheel cover. I received a check in the mail for the overcharge. My wife now insists that we rent from Hertz or Avis.

Just some food for thought, but maybe this flaw is a radial tire sidewall indentation that is being mistakenly called a bulge.

If this is really a bulge then the great odds are that it was caused by an impact of some sort. If push comes to shove and you have to pay for that tire then you might demand that the tire be turned over to you after replacement.
With the flawed tire in hand you might have it examined by some tire experts and if it’s determined the tire had an existing flaw you might go back and argue for a refund.
That gets back into the push and shove territory along with how far you want to carry your principles.

It’s possible the previous renter damaged the tire and the bulge did not show up right away.

A few years ago my wife was unable to avoid some road debris and the impact was severe enough to put a dent in the steel rim. There was no scuff mark or obvious damage to the tire at the time. She drove it locally for a week and I checked the tire each day. The following weekend she went to Philadelphia to visit family (~150m round trip), when she got back there was a quarter size bulge in the sidewall at the impact spot. The tire was replaced after that.


It’s impossible to tell without a forensic failure analysis whether the bubble was due to a manufacturing defect or damage, and if it was damage it’s impossible to tell when it happened. The contract you signed (and any court would decide) holds you responsible for anything wrong that was not found on the car’s preinspection. That makes you responsible. Be glad it’s only for the cost of a tire. And a cheap tire at that. Consider it the cost of en education; always perform a thorough inspection before driving away, and get any defects documented no matter how small.

It could have been worse. The bubble could have popped on the highway. Consider yourself fortunate.

If the rental company is going to charge for the tire, it seems to me that the tread depth should be measured and the person who rented the car should only be charged for the service left in the tire. The renter should not have to pay for the use previous renters got from the tire.

Without seeing the bulge it is impossible to make a meaningful guess as to what the problem is but if a tubeless tire innerliner is pierced from the inside it should not cause a bubble to form on the outside of the tire unless there was a failure in the sidewall to carcass adhesion.

Thanks everyone for the feedback. The car was turned in 2 months ago, and at that time, the manager came out and agreed that the tire probably had a defect (almost brand new tire). Now two months later, they sent us a bill in the mail, tire was already replaced several weeks ago, so I can no longer ask for it. I like the suggestion to rent another car, and punch a hole in the tire with a nail. I was not aware at all of hitting anything or rubbing against anything… and there were no scuff marks on the tire… we will fight this, just in principal. Thanks.

It seems to me that the manager accepted the car when you turned it in and called it a defective. I don’t think the rental company can collect anything at this point. You probably used a credit card when you rented the car. You should be able to prove that the rental company accepted the amount and closed the contract. I think the rental company is on shaky ground coming back two months later with a bill. If you kept the paperwork when you returned the rental, you should be able to prove this point.

Seems to me it’s pure speculation on the rental company’s part who is responsible for the tire problem, the tire manufacturer, a previous rental driver, or you. I think they are fishing, see if they can get you to pay without a fight. Assuming what you’ve said is the whole story – that it is in fact NOT obvious what happened by looking at the tire, and you drove the car normally, me, I’d just toss that letter in the trash and forget about it. Likely you’ll never hear from them again.

I don’t remember what company we used in Florida some years ago but we usually go with low bid with Alamo, or someone. When I brought the car back to their outside clean-up facility, I told the guy that the front tire needed air. He didn’t know how to add air to the tire. I had to show him how. Its not like they have technicians inspecting the cars every time they are turned over. I’d fight the charge but after all, that’s what the insurance is for.

You make excellent and pertinent points with your two previous posts. OP would be well advised to use them.

I will never rent from Budget again. They screwed me out of a moving truck on the day of my move and they couldnt care less.They take reservation’s for trucks they dont have.
Budget is awful!!

I think Budget should learn the lesson I learned when I was a kid. I was teaching my neighborhood friend how to ride a bicycle. He was getting pretty good at it when suddenly he went one direction and the front wheel of the bicycle went another direction. The front fork snapped. I told him it wasn’t his fault, but he went tearing home and came back with his mother. His mother wanted to pay for the damage to the bike. My dad wouldn’t hear of it and made me explain why the fork broke. I had set up ramps in the yard and imitating what I had seen daredevils do in the thrill show at the fair. I got the dickens for the way I treated my bicycle and I was a couple of weeks saving enough money to buy a new front fork. I didn’t want my friend to tell his parents, because I knew that I had caused the problem and if my dad got involved I would really get chewed out which was what happened. At any rate, the tire was defective, either because of a manufacturing problem or someone before you hitting a bump and weakening the tire. Budget needs to learn that an occasional tire replacement is just the cost of doing business.

A lot of Budget offices are franchises and the owner/operator often gouges clients as they see fit. Once I was rented a car from them with 4 nearly bald tires. I promptly returned the car and they said it was fine. I threatened to have a DOT inspector look it over and they gave me another car. In another situation I got a car where the trim around the front door was defective and the car had sat out in the rain and the front seat was soaked. This was at a major airport location.

You have to learn to ply hardball with car rental agencies. As said by others, a tire with TREAD SEPARATION is defective in my book. These things often happened when tubeless tires were first introduced in the 50s, but is now basically a thing of the past.