/ Money, Motoring

The hidden fuel charges that pump up car hire prices

No-frills airlines have their hidden card surcharges. In car hire, the hidden charge has become fuel. We’ve found that an unavoidable fuel charge can triple the price of a rental and turn a cheap deal into an expensive one.

Ever run out of petrol on a busy road? It’s not fun. It happened to me a couple of times when I was a young driver and somehow thought playing chicken with the fuel gauge was a good idea.

There’s no way I want to repeat the experience, so I find it bizarre that car hire companies are asking customers to do just that by asking them to return cars with empty fuel tanks at the end of their holiday.

Petrol charges fuel complaints

When we asked Which? members about car hire fuel policies, we received scores of complaints about companies charging people for a full tank of petrol when they picked up the car, telling them to return it empty, and saying there was no refund for any unused fuel.

They were not only aggrieved by being forced to pay for a full tank of petrol when they were unlikely to use so much fuel, but also because many had no idea they were going to be charged in this way when they booked the car.

Details of these charges tend to be hidden in car hire companies’ terms and conditions, so it’s possible to book a car in Europe thinking it will cost around €30 and then be forced to pay a non-refundable charge of twice that amount for fuel when you arrive.

Driving on empty

Most of the complaints concerned Spain, so we sent two researchers to Malaga and Alicante.

Each of them rented three cars, and both found that what appeared to be the best deal on booking tripled in price when the unavoidable, non-refundable fuel charge was added.

To get through all the fuel they’d bought, one of researchers worked out that they would have had to have driven 140 miles a day on a week’s holiday – not everyone’s idea of fun.

So you can play chicken with the fuel gauge to try to get your money’s worth, or you can hand back the car half full or more, knowing that you won’t get your money back. And what happens to that petrol once you’ve returned the car? I can only imagine that the next customer is charged for a full tank even though the car hire company didn’t have to pay for it again.

I don’t think drivers should be encouraged to drive on empty; I don’t think you should pay for fuel you don’t use; and I don’t think these charges should be hidden. If car firms are going to impose an unavoidable charge it should be in the price when you book.

Have you experienced this policy in Europe, or elsewhere? And how do you think car hire firms should charge for fuel?


>> Car hire checklist

When you collect your hire car, read the contract thoroughly before signing it and ask questions about anything you don’t understand
Be 100% clear about what is and isn’t included in the insurance provided by your rental company <<

Kevin says:
19 April 2013

With Goldcar at Malaga you don’t even get chance to read the contract in advance. The first thing they get you to do is put your signature on an electronic signature reader. This is a mandatory part of the rental process. Then they put it electronically on anything they like, so when the contract is printed it already has your signature on it. If you tear it up and say you don’t like it well they can just print another one.

Jo Kay says:
19 April 2013

We recently hired a car through broker “Doyouspain”. I looked very carefully at the cars that came up for selection on their page and chose one that said “Excess Waiver included” and “additional driver” included. I chose that car and on the next page it had very small print about extra insurance for wheel/windscreen/negligence damage and additional driver costs. I assumed they meant additional drivers that were to be in excess to the free additional driver.

when we got to the airport, Record Car told us that there was no additional driver included and that if we didn’t want to take the wheel/windscreen/negligence damage cover out then we would have to leave a 500euro deposit. So we paid for the lot and it DOUBLED our hire charge. We also have to pay for a full tank of fuel at 91 Euros, even though we knew we would only use half of it.

I complained to DoyouSpain who didn’t respond.
The excessive fuel charges have now persuaded us that it’s cheaper to use taxis in Spain.

Tipoa Car Hire says:
19 April 2013

What you have described is a common theme. Although the practices of these car hire companies in Spain is far from transparent a number of problems occur because the hirer, in this case “Jo” has not read all the details carefully when making the reservation on line. For example, to have the ” Excess Waiver Included and Additional Driver” is not unusual, but I would recommend you take a screen print of any offers made online, so that you can produce this should there ever be any dispute about what was offered exactly. When Record Car said there was no additional driver included, this was a clear mistake and on your confirmation voucher which you should have with you when you collect the vehicle, it would have clearly stated this. Excess Waiver is not the same as Zero Excess, which is also offered normally during the online booking process. Even when No Excess is taken, you will still need to leave a deposit, which is for security purposes more than any other reason, as many cars are never returned !

Finally we offer the option of a full/full fuel policy in Spain, and this is what you should have taken out before arriving, to avoid the 91 EURO charge.

Jo Kay says:
19 April 2013

Thanks for your response. It was very helpful. Appreciate you taking the time to respond.

dave says:
27 January 2015

A full/full deal isn’t all sweetness and light. You see it’s what you didn’t say that’s important.

Solmar (and possibly some others) at Murcia airport will charge 40 euros more on the hire cost for a full/full deal, presumably because by offering this they’re losing their usual extortionate on cost of a tank of fuel on the full/empty deal.

I can’t fathom why hire firms persist in the fuel robbery tactic and expect clients to be happy. Only reason must be to diddle those who haven’t hired before and are not familiar with the fuel scam.

I understand some may be distressed when asked to pay extras at the desk.
I agree that by and large, terms are (generally) set out in the small print when booking online.
I know the hire companies require a hefty deposit should I not take their heavily inflated extra cover. For this reason I have my own annual cover for that.
I know it is usually much cheaper to book through an agent. No idea why, since commission is a factor!

I’ve been renting cars in Spain for years, many times each year, so I’m familiar with tactics and the arrogance or indifference displayed by some desk staff.

Now I would ask Which to extend their study to cover rip offs and bad service that were not covered. How about it Which? Maybe you can change the bad practices!

Recent experiences:
Hire 1. Through Doyouspain (one of the biggest agents) with Solmar.
The solmar guy never showed at the airport arrivals designated meeting point. The office number was on ansafone – it was lunchtime!!
DYS have not given me an explanation. They do not respond to emails.

Hire 2. Through Carjet (another of the big agents) with Dickmans. 28/2/13
The rep in their van in Murcia airport car park demanded 34 euros over the quote because carjet had “made a mistake.” Carjet have not been able to affect a refund and do not respond to subsequent emails.

I will now complete complaint forms when next in Spain. For anyone who doesn’t know the process, google it. It is a serious matter for the companies when you do that.

Kevin says:
22 April 2013

Last year in Spain I had zero excess insurance as part of the package booked online (with Auto-Europe), however as usual there was no cover for tyres, windows, etc, which I knew when I booked. At the desk I chose not to buy Goldcar’s expensive 7 EUR/day relax insurance to cover the rest. I had no problems but I spent the rest of the holiday worrying about it to a degree, so this year I investigated buying cover in the UK. Initially this seemed very attractive and would work out much cheaper for full cover, however after reading many reviews of the various companies servicing Malaga airport it became apparent that if you don’t pay for the extra cover locally they are far more likely to try to rip you off by saying you caused damage that was caused by some previous hirer. If they do this to you then you are very unlikely to be able to obtain the documents needed to be able to claim on whatever policy you bought in the UK, and they can charge what they like to your card without asking. Even if you could obtain documents to meet the requirements of your UK insurer then it is likely to require significant stress! Also you might end up in a lengthy battle with the insurer to get the money back. Basically you have no defence against the scam if you choose this option. On the other hand if you buy their ‘extra’ insurance locally then as a result they probably won’t try it on with you because they know you bought the insurance.

The safest option is to find the cost of the paid locally ‘extra’ insurance before you book, and just consider it part of the hire charge. Also if the fuel policy is full to empty then just assume you’re going to get ripped off with this at 100 to 120 EUR per tank that you may or may not use, and consider this as part of the overall hire charge. Assume as well that whatever they say they will charge your card in EUR will be converted automatically by their computer into GBP at a bad exchange rate. You know all this is going to happen in advance so there won’t be any surprises when you get there and it will be a less stressful experience!

What I’ve said sounds very much like it’s just ‘giving in’ to the dodgy practices they have over there. Normally I wouldn’t condone such views and would want to put up some sort of fight, but it is clear certainly with car hire in Spain that there is nothing that can be done. With the current economic situation these companies are so desparate that they’ll do anything to get your money, and they are all guilty of it to some degree.

Taxis could work out cheaper overall if you’re not doing much, but then of course they can rip you off too.

Jo Kay says:
22 April 2013

I think that from the above threads it looks like, where these charges are applied, most people would prefer to be quoted an “all in” fee inclusive of zero excess insurance and a tank of fuel rather than having to resort to analysis of small print. I know that is certainly my preference. I’d like my quote to include the tank of fuel and to state what my charge is with zero excess, and what my charge is if I am prepared to leave a hefty deposit.

I would much rather have booked my last car hire in spain and seen upfront that it was going to cost me £320, than to have thought it was costing me £190 plus an unspecified fuel charge and zero excess waiver fee buried in the terms and conditions that amounted to another £130 on arrival.

I would then have been able to determine a)whether it was worth it, and b) whether this was the cheapest quote because i’d have been able to compare everyone else on the same criteria.

We aren’t asking for cheaper car hire, we are asking for transparency and certainty.


After reading your comment regarding “difficulty obtaining the documents needed to be able to claim on whatever policy you bought in the UK” I thought is may be useful to copy and paste below the claim requirements from my current annual policy.

If the annual insurance carries obstacles to any claim then Which may care to canvass subscribers about that and present its findings.

In the event of loss please contact The Claims Department within 60 days of the loss.
You will be asked to confirm details of the incident for which You are making a claim – please have Your policy number to hand.
We may ask You to complete a claim form which We will send to You, if required.
We will ask You to submit certain documentation to support Your claim (please see list below). It is important that You submit all documentation requested, as we will be unable to process your claim until received. Any payments made for claims will be paid to You by cheque.
1. A copy of Your Vehicle Rental Agreement
2. A copy of Your iCarhireinsurance Certificate of Insurance issued to You when You purchased this policy
3. Charge Receipt for the rental (if separate from the Vehicle Rental Agreement)
4. Copies of any invoices, receipts, or other documents confirming any amount You have paid in respect of the incident for which You are claiming
5. A front and back copy of the driving licence of the person driving the rental vehicle involved in the accident (the driver). You may also be asked for other forms of identification

oops, there’s more:

We may also require the following additional documents:
6. if the incident by law requires the attendance of the Police, We require an original copy of the Police Report (a police report will be required if You are claiming for any theft, either of the vehicle or personal belongings)
7. A copy of the Rental Company’s accident damage report
8. A copy of the Your credit card statement showing payment of the damages claimed

Kevin says:
22 April 2013

Thanks for this davarn. (6) and (7) would be what I’d worry about getting. How much would you have to pay the police for such a report, and would they even do it anyway? If the rental company are trying to scam you then there definitely won’t be a police report and the company are very unlikely to give you a damage report. Most likely they’ll just charge your card and tell you to go away, or not tell you and charge it after you’ve gone!

JSK998 says:
28 April 2013

Completed the hiring of a car back in March through rentalcars.com for collection at Goldcar rental at Malaga Airport on 20.4.13.
Stupidly thought the Manchester based firm would be honest and tell you everything you would need to know, prior to arrival at the car hire desk. The rentalcars.com document stated the figure of £134 covered the cost of the hire of the vehicle, except fuel and included insurance, taxes, surcharge, location fee and additional driver. No mention of the infamous “Segura Relax” scam, oops, maybe its just a hard sell policy they have at Malaga. Goldcar took an extra £148.50 for fuel, and the tax. If “Carburante” is the fuel, what is “Vehiculo Diesel”? An extra charge?
Our flight arrived at the airport 20 minutes early, and we were at the Goldcar rental desk at Malaga airport by 1130 local time. There were enough people in the queue to fill a 747 at their desk. At 1429 hours I eventually paid for the car and the infamous tax and left in a very good vehicle.
This comment is not about the figures involved other than the “extra” insurance, but the fact that companies like rentalcars.com, holiday autos etc, are aware of these practices, and have the upper hand in directing customers away from the likes of Goldcar Rental (unless they are getting a percentage from the hire company) to more open and honest vehicle hirers, such as Avis, Hertz etc. If Goldcar Rental start to get a reduction in bookings then they might stop the hard sell and customers could return.
Relatives had flown in on a different flight, just behind us, cleared the Avis desk in 10 minutes and paid less for vehicle hire. They then had to wait around at the airport until we were ready to go their house.


Quote from your earlier post:

“but I would recommend you take a screen print of any offers made online, so that you can produce this should there ever be any dispute about what was offered exactly.”

This doesn’t work!

Despite showing my screen print and reservation voucher, both clearly showing the contracted hire charge to the Dickmans rep at Murcia airport, she insisted the broker (Carjet) quote was a mistake and I need to pay their hire charge which was 34 euros more. In simple words I pay or I don’t get the car. Protesting proved fruitless. She held the keys and was obviously under orders and not able to see sense.

Next time I will reserve with two brokers. One for backup. I’ve had enough of being scammed

Roy Howitt says:
19 June 2015

When the turbo blew up on my car yesterday I had to rent at short notice so went to the brokers car rentals and found the right car and price, for a collection at Murcia Airport, from InterRent who are connected to Europcar, what a mistake that was

First problem, before I got to the car, charges, I am an experienced renter and should have checked the terms so their policy, full to empty but a €27 service fee for the convenience of them doing this, as explained to me and based on the capacity of the car, a cost per litre of €1.62 where the street price is nearer €1.26, nice little profit there, no credit for return with full tank

Next insurance, I rent a lot so have a policy but if you don’t take the policy they block €1250 on your credit card and make you 100% responsible, for the value of the car if it is stolen. When I asked what about their own insurance and the fact that lots of people have had keys, they just shrugged and said this is the policy, take it or leave it

When I eventually saw the car I was appalled, lots of damage to the front doors and bumpers and internally dirty and stinking of cigarettes so I wasn’t accepting the car, back off to the desk

Back at the desk response from manager, tough luck, we have no other cars to offer and his quote, for InterRent cars we only do a basic clean, there is no non-smoking policy in cars and all of the InterRent cars are in the same damaged condition, in fact while I was there 2 more customers came to complain about car condition

Called the rental company who contacted the company and I witnessed the call, again they repeated that for InterRent they only do a basic clean, smoking in cars is permitted, no alternate vehicle and tough they will allow cancellation

When the manager put the phone down he shrugged and proceeded to complain about me to another worker, in Spanish not knowing that i understood what he was saying about me, not nice and also tried to tell me that all rental companies allowed smoking in cars, not true

So fortunately the rental agency switched me to Firefly, a Hertz Group company, still have a fuel policy but if you return full they refund but they make a €20 admin fee. Only take a €200 deposit fee, fully insured for theft, the car was cheaper and better, a no smoking clean undamaged car and you could hear that their service seemed very good

So after 2 hours at the airport, 38 minutes on the phone I got a decent car, I am sure that a young family arriving form the UK just wouldn’t have the fight, then another 40 minutes while I waited too cancel the contract because the manager

So apart from ranting and posting on here and posting on more forums what happens next, I have formally complained to the agency, InterRent and their parent Europcar, also I ran out of time but will be going back to complete a Spanish OMIC complaints form

I also plan when at the airport to take some photos of their fleet and publish them because there is a a lot of damaged cars in their bays

Now I am certain that some people will have good experiences with this company, perhaps he was having bad day, but if you want to be sworn at in Spanish, overcharged fuel, uninsured for theft and get a damaged car and inhale the remnants of smoke, because the car wasn’t cleaned go to InterRent Murcia, a Europa Group Company who made me laugh where I saw their mission statement on their website

We are transparent : no sneaky prices, the price you see is the price you pay !

◦We are friendly : we’ll always be happy to see you !

◦We are generous : you‘ll always get a great price from us.

◦We are incredibly easy to use: hiring a car has never been so simpler !

This message was last edited by inspectahomespain