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Can my car rental company have me thrown in jail?

On Behalf of | Sep 18, 2023 | Firm News

Over the past few years, there have been many news stories about customers who were sent to jail after a dispute with a rental car company. North Carolina residents may wonder if a car rental company send them to jail here too?

The not-entirely-satisfying answer to the question is that your car rental company cannot send you to jail, but they can call the police, which can lead to an arrest and charges.

The vehicle is damaged

The most likely scenario that could lead to the police arriving is if the vehicle was damaged. Depending on the nature of the rental, if you refuse to pay for damages, even if you did not cause it, the car rental company could call the police claiming that you committed theft, vandalism or even fraud. This could even happen if you dispute the amount with your credit card.

The police will usually leave this up to the civil courts. Though, you may not be so lucky, and you may end up with charges. Luckily, those charges are not likely to hold up in court as long as you can show that the damages were not done intentionally or recklessly, or that the dispute does not rise to the level of a criminal infraction.

The car is returned late or not at all

Auto theft is the most serious reason the car company can call the police on you. This can occur if the car is returned late or never returned at all. Auto theft is a felony in North Carolina, which has stiff penalties.

Just because they claim you stole the car does not mean the car was not returned intentionally or maliciously. For example, medical emergencies, natural disasters and mechanical breakdowns happen. All of these scenarios would at least delay the return of the car. If this happens, let the car rental company know as soon as possible, but if you delay, you may find that the police have already been called.

If that is the case, and you already face charges, there are defenses. Primarily, you can show that you had no intention to deprive the rental company of the vehicle permanently. Though, you could also try to mitigate the charges by arguing the car’s value is lower than the prosecutor alleges.


Renting a car in North Carolina can be a convenient and affordable way to travel, but it also comes with certain risks and responsibilities. If you get into a conflict with your car rental company, they may call the police on you and accuse you of various crimes. However, you have rights and defenses that can help you avoid or minimize legal consequences.