/ Motoring

Have you experienced a car hire rip off?

We’re investigating problems with car hire. Have you got a story to share? Our guest Nick Trend of the Telegraph explains more.

This is a guest post by Nick Trend. All views expressed are Nick’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

Choice–in theory–is the consumer’s friend. It  means that not only should we have a much better chance of finding something which suits our needs, but in the competition to win our custom products should improve, services get better, prices drop.

That’s the theory. But that is not necessarily what happens in practice. In fact, in some areas there is now so much choice available that, instead of focussing on better consumer service, some companies have resorted to a different tactic.

They deliberately create confusion and make it much harder for the consumer to compare products and services. In particular they focus on manipulating prices – generating, for example, ludicrously cheap headline rates only to find other, less transparent ways of recouping revenue further down the line.

Too good to be true?

And nowhere in travel – the area I report on – has confusing, misleading pricing become more of an issue than in car rental. A hire car for £1 a day? We’ve all seen the ads.

A moment’s thought would tell us that such a deal too good to be true. But many people are sucked in, and they end up paying a very different price once a raft of expensive extras have been added, or imposed on them at the pick up point.

In fact, what should be a straightforward process of hiring a car while on holiday has become a bear pit of disreputable sales techniques. I’ve seen more complaints from Telegraph readers about misleading prices, aggressive sales, appalling customer service and rampant overcharging in this industry than in any other.

The Telegraph has been reporting on the issue for years. We have exposed for example, Europcar for systemically inflating the cost of repairs through secret rebates with suppliers when billing customers for accidental damage to their hire cars.

Finding an effective solution

But the situation so complex – there are so many companies operating in so many jurisdictions advertising car hire in so many ways – that finding an effective solution has proved extremely challenging.

That’s why we have teamed up with the Consumers’ Association – where I first learned my trade as a journalist 30 years ago.

Which? Travel also has a strong record in exposing malpractice in the car hire industry and by pooling our investigative resources, we think we have a much better chance of reforming an industry that has lost the confidence of many of its customers.

This was a guest post by Nick Trend of The Telegraph. All views expressed were Nick’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

If you’ve been hit with car hire problems, discuss it with us in the comments below or share privately in the story share tool above.

Comments
Norman Rimmell says:
4 May 2019

I’ve hired a car on three occasions via an offer by EasyJet, each time leading to a booking with Europcar, with a problem every time. The first time was at Nantes Airport. I could not refill the petrol tank as agreed when returning the car because of a strike by tanker drivers. Europcar charged me twice the going rate to refill the tank. I complained to my credit card company who refunded half of what had been charged. The second time was at Funchal in Madeira. I arrived at the Europcar office and the clerk told me the car I had booked was unsuitable for the island’s mountain roads but he could offer a better one at a higher charge. I declined the offer and later found the car was perfectly suitable, so this was a deception. Having failed on this one, the clerk said the reason the hire-charge I had paid was so low was because the insurance cover included was insufficient, implying I would have to pay an extra amount. He proceeded to outline three alternatives, again implying I would have choose one of these. Again I declined and had to insist on being given the car without paying more, which the clerk did, reluctantly, commenting that I was very tight with my money. The third occasion was a year later at Funchal Airport. When I arrived at the Europcar desk to collect my car which had already been paid for, the clerk told me it was not available but could provide another at a higher price. Being tired after the flight I stupidly agreed. When the extra charge appeared on my credit card statement I discovered that it was in addition to what I had already paid, not instead of as I had been led to believe. My credit card company have refunded the difference, although the issue has not yet been finally resolved as Europcar are challenging the refund.

Mike Reid says:
4 May 2019

I used RecordGo at Malaga airport. Their pricing is not straightforward but the final price was reasonable. However, I did not opt for Priority Serbice and ended up waiting 2 hours.
The car broke down (Could not select any gear). When I phoned for assistance I discovered I only had emergency breakdown cover and I would be charged for recovery back to Malaga, about 2 hours away. Luckily the breakdown guy pumped the clutch and restored gear selection.
But when I received my next credit card statement there was an unexplained charge of £110.
After 3 months and 3 emails no response from RecordGo.
I then contacted my card issuer (Allied Irish Bank) who agreed to pursue on my behalf, but did say they had to give them 45 days to respond. After 45 days AIB refunded me in full

Rj says:
5 May 2019

I took my car in to kwik fit garage for a mot . within 20mins of leaving the garage I was informed someone had come into the garage claiming to be sent by me …so the manager handed over the keys …hence the car was recovered 3yrs later in the river. Kwik fit have not been kwik to compensate me…it’s almost 5yrs! Still no apology or money

Tina Irving says:
7 May 2019

Millets sold me a GPS which is not registerable with Garmin. I paid £88.00. All they want me to do is spend more money on an upgrade and refuse to refund my money. I have lost two jobs because of this. Resolver are doing nothing.

Hi Tina,

You may find the following pages helpful:

which.co.uk/consumer-rights/regulation/consumer-rights-act

which.co.uk/consumer-rights/l/returns-and-refunds

I’d say that, if your GPS won’t register for updates as advertised, then it is not of adequate quality, giving you fair grounds for refund/replace/repair.

My former Which? best buy Garmin StreetPilot c510 recently started to play up after 11 years of faithful service, so I bought a nice cheap Binatone U435 as a replacement.

As an aside, I bet that the U435 would rate as as Which? don’t buy because its screen is not very bright and because it is a bit fiddly to use. I’ve managed to set mine up so as to overcome those limitations and I’m now getting used to using it. (When the c510 started to play up, I discovered that I really, really do like having a working satnav in my car.)

My U435 is quite an old design, so getting it to register for updates involved quite a lot of messing about to get it to connect properly to any of my Windows PC’s. Getting this particular satnav to connect required the following steps:

1) I had to use the USB cable that came with the U435, as opposed to (almost) any other cable. I don’t know why – with most devices, usually just any old USB cable will do.

2) Getting the PC driver software working. For XP, the Microsoft ActiveSync software had to be installed. For later Windows versions, Windows Mobile Device Centre is needed. Microsoft only support that for Windows Vista, but it can be made to work on Windows 10, it just takes a couple of tweaks to the registry and to service settings. I found details of those on the internet.

Given my experience with the U435, I think anyone who failed to get one updating as required would be entitled to take it back, because the instructions that come with it don’t provide an adequate explanation of how to connect it for updating.

FMC says:
27 June 2019

I have had an “Avis Club Senior “card for many years and renewed my subscription in September 2018 via the Avis web-site, using my Eurocard/MasterCard.
Over the years, I have hired cars from Avis in France (our home country), Italy, Germany, England, Canada and the USA, with no problem.
My wife and I hired a car from Avis in March this year, paid for in advance by American Express. Pickup at Edinburgh airport on March 26, return same place March 28.
We came to pick up the car. There was no check of the car’s condition. We asked about that and were waved through, assured by Avis staff that the car was in perfect condition. On finding the car, we found there were dried water marks on the body (it must have been in the rain and not washed since) but it seemed fine otherwise so we simply drove off.
On the 28th, we had barely stopped the engine before we were approached by a young man with a portable phone who told us he was going to check the state of the car and proceeded to do so with a fine-toothed comb. Within literally seconds, he had found damage on the passenger side, in the area under the door (inches from the ground) and farther up, in the back. None of the “damage” found seemed to exceed the bounds of normal wear and tear but we were presented with a form to sign and told it would cost us 403.99 £. (The total cost of the rental was only 290.39 £). We refused to sign the proffered form on the spot, and tried to argue at the main Avis office inside the terminal without any success. The only justification we were given was “It is our procedure!”
I suppose an elderly foreign couple with a flight to catch makes an easy mark for what was felt by us to be an extortion attempt.
Where it gets even more dubious is that, after we had refused the charge on American Express, I found the 403.99 £ debit on my Eurocard/MasterCard statement : I had NOT given my card number (or code or PIN) nor had I signed any authorization for that card, since the subscription fee in September 2018.
After consulting Que Choisir (I am a subscriber to the French equivalent to Which?), I wrote to my bank who refunded me, (they had to, given that the contested charge for “damages” was plainly illegal). I have therefore suffered no monetary loss but would like this incident to serve as a warning to other consumers.