/ 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.


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.

Recently, in June, I had a similar experience to your recent Funchal one. In Toulouse, the Budget agent told me, contrary to my reservation, that there was no Group E car available, but that he could provide an upgrade (to a Group P car) and apply a discount, so that there was no extra to pay. When later I saw the invoice, there was a line ‘Requested optional extras: Upsell from Group E to P’. I had not requested any optional extras; I had been offered an upgrade due, I was told, to the unavailability of a Group E car which I had asked for. Despite applying the discount, Budget was still making extra money out of my reservation in an very underhand manner by ‘upselling’ the grade of car. If the car hire firm runs out of a particular car availability, that’s not the customer’s problem and the customer should not be billed for any upgrade. Clearly the agent I spoke with was telling a complete fabrication about unavailability.

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:



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.

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.

I used to book and pay for hire cars through well known holiday websites and on every occasion have found the advertised rates to be complete fantasy. Now I email the branch directly for a quote.
The popular holiday websites that act as a conduit for bookings, and no doubt earn a commission, should take more responsibility for ensuring that the prices advertised are realistic.

I used Europcar at Alicante. The check out rep pushed me the usual forms and the bodywork condition chart but was not interested in running over the vehicle with me . I took 1/2 hour going over the car and marking up and photographing all the dings and scrapes.(quite a few) Made the rep initial and date the form before driving away . You could tell they were not happy bunnies. Made mental note never to darken their doorstep again

In June 2019 I returned my Avis hire car to Pisa airport with three minor scratches along the side. The reception agent took less than 10 minutes to appraise the damage. He issued a damage repair estimate and an invoice. I had a plane to catch so I signed for these and departed. Back in the UK, I saw I had been debited EUR416.03. I submitted a claim for this amount to my car hire excess insurers. They pointed out the repair estimate was only EUR352.58 and reimbursed me for most of that. (The Avis processing fee was EUR79.30 (£68.50). The insurance company would only reimburse £50, presumably because anything higher was regarded as excessive.)
So apart from the damage Avis had charged me an extra EUR63.45
I could not understand the accompanying invoice. It had items like road fund licence and airport surcharge. Eventually I established that various items were surcharged because operating at an airport is more expensive. But they were included in my original hire payment. BUT Avis had also surcharged my damage bill! I asked them two questions: 1. Had the scratches been repaired, or had they just pocketed the money. 2. Where in the terms and conditions did they say they would surcharge damage repairs. They have not answered either question.
I believe they are in breach of consumer trading regulations 2008 & 2014.
It is a breach of the CPRs to:
1. omit material information
2. hide material information
3. provide material information in a manner that is unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely
4. fail to identify the commercial intent (unless this is apparent from the context)
I’m trying to pursue this case with Surrey trading standards dept. Any support you can provide would be welcome. I can’t take my complaint to ECRCS as I booked through British Airways.

RomW please do proceed to ECRCS who would love to hear I am sure!
I have just had a similar experience with damage to w vehicle but in the UK.
Europcar delivered me a car at 10:30pm which had been arranged to be delivered at 8:30pm! I checked around the car the following day once light and noticed a cracked windscreen. I contacted the appropriate number to report within 24hr period as advised. Once they collected and replaced the car they then billed me £275 for the damage! I have spent that last 2 months going backwards and forwards with letters each time they concluded that I was still responsible as ‘they record all their calls and there was no recording of me calling’. I had submitted my own evidence of my call but yet they would not lift the claim.
Yesterday I decided that it was enough as it was clear they were not paying any attention to the detail in my letters and I contacted the BVRLA – UK equivalent of the one you’ve mentioned and today they have sent my reply to say having investigated with Europcar the claim will be closed.
I will never use Europcar again, they have told so many mistruths throughout this complaint.
I really hope you proceed to follow yours through and get the outcome you should!

In conversation with a local garage owner who told me of a van hire trap concerning vans in this case. Customer uses van to make many small journeys to move house. Fault light comes on. DPF. Conditions of hire say customer liable for DPF ….. £2500? Is this a scam , story? Told only a reset needs to be done to trick engine into regeneration

If a DPF does require replacement it can be very expensive, so your figure might prove correct if you buy a replacement from the manufacturer rather than a third party. See: https://www.rac.co.uk/drive/advice/emissions/diesel-particulate-filters/ If the DPF warning light comes on, that will provide a warning that the vehicle should be allowed to complete automatic regeneration, which will start when the engine is warmed up and be completed if the vehicle is driven continuously at a reasonable speed until the warning light goes off. With my car, the instruction is to drive at 40 mph or above, but instructions will vary. If that fails, a garage may be able to force regeneration as long as the DPF does not become too blocked.

Here is what Enterprise, the last hire company I used, has to say about the problem: https://www.enterprisetrucks.com/truckrental/en_US/businessUse/maintenance/diesel-vehicles-information.html This confirms what you have been told.

If a customer ignores a DPF light and carries on driving short journeys, the DPF will have no chance to complete a cleaning cycle. It would hardly be fair for the hire company to have to pay for an expensive replacement DPF because a customer had ignored a warning light.

It would be helpful if vehicle manufacturers displayed a DPF status. so that drivers had advance notice that the DPF was becoming blocked and the vehicle should be driven a longer distance to clean the filter.

In eight years of driving a diesel car, often on shorter journeys, I have never once seen the DPF light come on.

Alan Hadfield says:
14 May 2022

In March this year 2022 ,my family and I rented a people carrier from a company called Green Motion close to Edinburgh Airport . On returning the vehicle the staff falsely claimed that we had caused a small amount of damage which we had not But they physically detained us for about 2 hours until my son in law reluctantly paid them about £1400 pounds , which was extortionate ,even if we had been responsible .
They could see that we had two very small children with us , who by that time had become distressed but they showed no concern about this and so we had no option but to pay up, to get them to open the barriers to let us leave in my own vehicle.
Letters to senior management and emails to their customer services have been ignored.
I have since found there are other complaints about being defrauded by Green Motion and they have been the subject of news paper articles and even a BBC documentary in 2919 about their dishonesty. I believe they are defrauding customers all the time. I feel we have at least a case for redress for this very stressful false imprisonment until money which we did not owe, was handed . But they do not respond to anything you send to them . I believe they saw us as fair game and were determined to rob us before we were allowed to leave their compound.

Trevor Buck says:
Today 11:06

Car rental in the UK has just gone mental. For a single 24hr hire at Edinburgh Airport, I’ve just been quoted over £200, up to £350 for even a small car. I know that car hire firms have had almost zero revenue for 2yrs but this is ridiculous. Is my experience general?