/ 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?

Amanda says:
9 September 2012

I have just had this experience in Menorca. Booked through Rhino, BK car hire has no airport desk (unkown to me when booking) which means you are disadvantaged as you can just turn around and go to the next desk. I had also paid a deposit. I queried this policy as I hadn’t understood it when booking. Was told ‘don’t worry, I’ll refund the difference’ only to find it this wasn’t honoured when returning the car over half full. I worked out that in my 7 day stay in Menorca, would have to have driving length to lenght of the island 18.5 times to use the fuel. It was effectively a hidden surcharge, completely unavoildable, and not listed in the rental prices. Complained to Rhino, but they rejected it. IN addition, bought the insurance on the Rhino website, but then found also had to pay a 400 euro deposit (not specified when booking) to cover an excess. This insurance company was separate to BK and in the event of accident you would pay the excess of 400 and then claim back seperately. Again this was nto clear on the Rhino website. Also took me about 30 mins to find BK pick up point at the airport

Stephen C says:
21 September 2012

I have been caught twice by this scam in the last three months. Budget in Cork and Interrent (part of EuropCar I think) in Portugal. I have been told there is even talk of this practice becoming mandatory. Not only is it a Rip Off but it is dangerous as others have commented, it does nothing to encourage safer economical driving and it is discriminatory to disabled persons who may have to hire a car even for very short journeys. What are our politicians going to do about it? Is this practice even legal – what about the unfair contract terms legislation?

Where it happens then at least the charge should be made visible up front as it effectively becomes part of the hire charge – it is not discretionary.

Stephen C says:
15 October 2012

Is this response from Tipoa a cynical joke? It must be – Ha Ha!!!

ben casina says:
16 October 2012

gold car is worth avoiding, been bitten twice now when booking car through holiday autos as they don’t give name of car hirer co. until after your all booked up.

Tipoa Car Hire says:
16 October 2012

Sep 25, 2012
Fuel Policy Spain LATEST UPDATE

Finally it has taken ten years for the Spanish Rental Car suppliers to wake up to the fact that no one likes their Full/Empty Fuel policy on hire cars. So they have added another twist rather than simply apply the full/full policy across all vehicle types, they now offer this:-

Fuel Policy

Pick up full, return empty.

Fuel charges are payable at the rental counter.
Applicable to rentals of minimum 4 days

Your vehicle will be supplied with a full tank of fuel and must be returned empty. No refunds will be given for unused fuel. (Suppliers fuel policies change from time to time, please confirm at rental counter)

Pick up half full, return empty.

Fuel charges are payable at the rental counter.
Applicable to rentals of 1 to 3 days

Your vehicle will be supplied with half full tank of fuel and must be returned empty. No refunds will be given for unused fuel.

Fuel charges are payable at the rental desk unless otherwise stated in the top section of rate details.

This is highly irresponsible, since it encourages drivers to risk running out of fuel. That could cause an accident, possibly a fatality.

Stephen C says:
17 October 2012

Why has Tipoa Reposted this commment on 16 October – it was originally posted back in September? Are they just trying to have the last word? This isn’t a real choice it is just a variation on a rip off.

Ideally abolish the practice of fuel charging in advance (obviously it is acceptable to take a security deposit in case the car isn’t returned full). At the very least there has to be full disclosure of the practice and the charge that will be levied so that the customer can make an informed choice between different providers as to where to place his/her business at the time of booking. You can’t expect a traveller to have to start hunting around again on arrival on top of the hassle of getting the original booking charge refunded (no doubt with a heavy administration charge!)

Tipoa Car Hire says:
17 October 2012

No, we have re-posted because there has been a change by the Spanish Car Hire suppliers to now offer HALF TANK OUT / EMPTY return, for what it is worth.

Don’t shoot the messenger !

Tipoa Car Hire

It’s dangerous, for the reason I have explained. May I suggest doing a risk assessment.

sorrel badger says:
25 October 2012

I hired a small van this summer from Thrifty in Bristol. When I booked it (from Spain) I had no idea that there would be a charge for fuel not used! I only had it for 5 days, and didn’t even use half a tank… I think I ended up giving them about £60-worth of fuel !!! This is an unreasonable practice – surely there must be some regulating body to address this problem? Apparently, if I had made the booking for the van in the UK, I would not have been penalised in this way, and would have had a full-to-full agreement. I will NOT be using Thrifty again for this reason.

Tipoa Car Hire says:
25 October 2012

There is a governing body, that has just been set-up, I will pass this information on when I have it.

It would have made no difference had you booked it from within the UK ( online that is ) the fact that you are in Spain makes no difference.

At our website (and with many others) above the QUOTED PRICE during the booking process click on the link entitled “rate details” ; here it will say what the fuel policy is for the location and vehicle type you have chosen.

Stephen C says:
25 October 2012

For Tipoa’s benefit – No real intention to ‘shoot the messenger’ see above but messages need to flow both ways. We all understand that we can’t hire a car for nothing but we do expect to have full disclosure of all costs in advance so that we can make a rational choice. If the provider looks cheaper but is in reality more expensive because of backdoor rip off practices that sounds to me like something that might be called fraud in other contexts.

Peter Quill says:
1 November 2012

I have just been doing a little research on car hire from Malaga Airport, having had an experience last year in Seville with Gold Car who charged for a full tank of petrol when I only used half (no refund).This added an extra 50% cost on the hire fee for unused fuel.
I have discovered a company called Economy Car Hire who offer a Fair Fuel policy option ie you only pay for the fuel you use and top up the tank when you return the car.
The hire for a week in November is £61 for a week inclusive of all insurance apart from the underneath (tyres and exhaust etc) which if wanted is 2 euros a day.
The link is.

I will report on how it goes when I get back home to the UK.

I did a search as you suggested and this is the fuel policy for EconomyCarHire for Alicante taken directly from their website, and appears to NOT be the same as you have described above. In fact its the same as all the others, if not worse:-

Fuel Policy: Clients must pay for a full tank of fuel on collection and return the vehicle empty. It is only possible to get a refund when returning with a full tank of fuel when the rental duration is 3 days or less. The charge for a full tank of fuel varies depending upon the vehicle type. Please note: Due to refuelling logistics you will be charged at a higher rate per litre compared to the normal pump price.

Peter Quill says:
2 November 2012

Hi Jon
Sorry if their is any confusion in my comment. I was referring to Malaga airport for my hiring of the car.

Peter Quill says:
15 November 2012

A quick report on my car hire from Malaga Airport.
Great service collected from hall by rep to courtesy vehicle which took less than 5 mins to car pick up point. The car was a Diesel Corsa almost new with about a quarter of a tank of diesel.
I had the car for 8 days and returned the car with the same amount of diesel ie topped back up to quarter full in the tank.

Total cost of hire £61.00 which included the insurance charge. The only extra, if I wanted it was 2 Euro a day for tyres and underneath of car. All main collision and damage to other vehicles insurance was included in the hire fee.

Marymac says:
5 January 2013

We just returned from Ireland, hired a Europcar car for a week, we were charged 93 euros for a full tank of gas, and told to return it empty.

We only hired the car to drive to and from the airport, but found ourselves going out on ‘day trips’ just to use up some of the fuel. This is totally un-green and it actively encourages people to use the car more I think.

I think its a dirty trick to get even more money out of consumers. I will NEVER hire from Europcar again, just because of this greedy policy.

Soren Hansen says:
9 January 2013

I have found Helle Hollis at Malaga airport to have a fair fuel policy. You pay upfront the fuel and are refunded the unused part at the end of the rental. Their website is http://www.hellehollis.com.

Stephen C says:
18 January 2013

Just to highlight the nature of this beast, trying to book a car this year I have been approaching the companies to find out if they offer a full to full option. Some do, but what a surprise to find that the wonderful attractive web price is replaced by another one about 30 – 35 % higher. So this highlights the fact that the real issue here is about transparency. On a Full to Empty Option they quite openly say that that the price charged will by higher than the local pump price (re-fuelling logistics! – odd given that on many if not most occasions they will not be having to purchase a full tank of fuel)
When is someone going to sort out this mess. Several of the agents that I spoke to at UK intermediary firms told me that this issue is one of their largest sources of complaints.

Stuart says:
21 January 2013

I have often gone to Spain and hired cars until I started using public transport. This was possible since we have relatives who would pick us up from the nearest train station.
The journey was slower but we all got to see the country we went through. It was more relaxing and became part of the adventure.
I had to hire a car once and was hit by the fuel charge. I made as many journeys to see new parts of Spain and used the fuel up. We were on red when I returned it.
If we use the cars a lot we can use up the fuel and they will cover more distance and could reduce any resale value quite considerably. The move is a short-sighted one by the car hire companies.

For Alicante public transport see the Alicante-Spain website.

Francis says:
4 February 2013

When I have hired a vehicle in the past (including from Europecar, in Spain and in Italy (twice) it has come with a full fuel tank and I have been expected to return it with a full tank, so that I only paid for whatever I used. I recently hired a van from Europcar in Exeter and was offered a full tank of diesel, costing £116.64 inclusive of VAT, on a ‘return on empty’ basis (i.e. I would not have to top up the tank on returning the vehicle). This seemed attractive because the cost was only £1.29 per litre. I was not told the fuel tank capacity but when I told the Europcar employee the journey I was going to make he said he thought I would use at least a tank full. In the event I only used about 2/3 of a tank.The usual return full option (without a charge for fuel) would have cost about £33 less, i.e. it would have cost me £33 less to top up the tank than I had to pay for a full tank. I would have had to return the vehicle with the tank less than 14% full to at least ‘break even’ under the option I accepted.

Lisa cruse says:
25 February 2013

Gold car still at it 127 euros charged for diesel this week in a car that would have cost a maximum of 90 euros. They charged me over 2 euros a litre when even at the nearest airport garage it’s only 1.51. What a con, won’t be hiring from them again.

Tipoa Car Hire says:
26 February 2013

[Hi Tipoa Car Hire – we’ve removed your comment as we don’t allow advertising. Thanks, Mods]

The Which advice is we must read all the contract before signing it!
How many of us are experts at reading Spanish contract terms???
How many Spanish hire desk clerks speak English well enough to explain the fine print?

Come on Which, you should know better!