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?