/ Motoring

Do car hire companies drive you round the bend?

Car hire

A holiday should be a relaxing time away from the stresses of everyday life. But for some their holiday starts with unexpected stress and expense at the hire car collection desk. Sound familiar?

We’ve written before about the tricks of the car hire trade: damage charges, excess waiver fees and fuel options; and you didn’t hold back with your stories of being ripped off. Eric told us:

‘I rented a car on the net at a quoted cost of £88 for 7 days. When I got to the airport they loaded me with another charge of £100 for a full tank of petrol in case I returned the car empty (which would of course be impossible?)’

Chris said:

‘A couple of years ago I booked a car with “Zero Excess”. On picking up the car I was told that “Zero Excess” did not cover tires or the windscreen and if I wanted to cover those there was a 60 Euro additional insurance that I needed to pay.

‘Like many people with tired/excited children who just want to get out of the airport and on the way to the pool my ability to push-back was limited so I ended up paying for the peace of mind.’

Your car hire stories

Spain is the most popular foreign destination for British holidaymakers, with 13 million people flocking to the Spanish sun each year. So we’ve been working with our colleagues in Madrid at the Spanish consumer body Organización de Consumidores y Usuarios (OCU) to plan what we can do to stop British holidaymakers getting ripped off when they should be relaxing.

OCU are particularly concerned by full-empty fuel policies where you have to return the car empty or face wasting fuel you had to pay for upfront. M agrees:

‘Why do the hire contracts allow them to impose charges for fuel that might be due, rather than for fuel actually used?’

Have you been caught out by this car hire trick or any others? Tell us what happened and your story might help us with a new campaign…

Dibdob says:
3 June 2014

Check the standard excess on their insurance carefully – it can be 1000 Euros! And then they will try to sell you excess insurance to cover that for £20 a day. Before you go, for about £25 total, you can take out a policy (not with the car hire people) that covers that excess. Worth doing, just for peace of mind. And I once got caught by upselling – “upgrade your car – we’ve got a lovely Audi”. It was the size of a tank and was not exactly suitable for small lanes or packed car parks. I stick to the smaller cars now and resist their siren calls to get a posher vehicle.

Useful to know – can you say who sells the £25k excess insurance?

Dibdob says:
3 June 2014

They are called Questor – it was actually just under £21 now I’ve checked and covered you up to £5000 excess. I never had to claim, so I can’t vouch for their customer service. There seem to be others available (such as icarhireinsurance) via comparison sites, so might be worth looking for a name you’re familiar with and checking reviews.

Sue says:
29 June 2014

Just hired a car from Gold Car at Malaga airport. We too took out the excess insurance in the UK after seeing Martin Lewis recommend it on TV. The guy at the Gold Car desk was quite aggressive when we refused to buy theirs and told us this meant we wouldn’t get any roadside assistance. As it turns out the Opel Muriva we hired had faulty and had very dangerous steering. On calling their helpline I was told that they would collect the car but if we wanted another one we would either have to drive the car to the airport or make our own way by taxi because we hadn’t taken out their extra insurance. It is totally wrong and should be illegal for them to deny us roadside assistance and refuse to bring us another car when the car we hired was faulty but they have you by the short and curly’s. I daresay that the insurance we took out would have reimbursed us but if we had been in an accident I doubt that would be much comfort. I don’t see why we should be browbeaten into taking out this ludicrously priced insurance and then denied what should be our legal rights when we don’t. Roadside assistance should be included as statutory.

George Kirton says:
6 June 2014

I hired cars on the last two years’ holidays in Mallorca, from Budget. The cars and service were excellent, however payment for a full tank was obligatory. Using a full tank in a week would have involved driving all over the island every day – not likely on a family holiday! The next holiday was for two weeks and despite driving almost 500 miles in a diesel Passat there was still a significant amount in the tank, again to Budget’s benefit. I have hired cars in other places from USA to Australia and usually on a “return almost empty” basis. More power to the Pay as you Drive campaign!

Glad you got a good car from Budget. Hopefully they have improved over the years.

We have rented from Budget in Norway and Madeira at least 10 years ago with bad experiences on both occasions.

The first car offered in Madeira had no brakes, bald tyres, no door handle and was a complete wreck. Having paid up front, we settled for a car with brakes but totally unsatisfactory.

The Norwegian car (mid-size) made the passenger feel car sick so tried to swap it in Bergen after picking it up in Oslo. You wouldn’t think it would be a problem when the holiday season hadn’t really started but they would only let us have the smallest size car or we had to drive back to Oslo for a replacement.

Both times Budget gave us vouchers towards next hire when we complained. The second time we refused and did get some monetary refund eventually.

Dave Gibson says:
6 June 2014

Just returned from a week driving around Andalucia. Picked up a car I hired on Avios from AVIS and they urned it into a hard sell, unpleasant experience. First was the upgrade “offer” of an Audi A4 instead of a SEAT LEON , but at 44 euros a day they have to be joking. Then the excess waver to cope with the risk of 1000 euros, which I was not aware of at time of booking ( could have been in the small print) . I declined based on having not had an accident since my youth, but still felt uncomfortable with it. Then the full tank of petrol trick…… just give me the car please.

Are there any companies that don’t go through all of this BS ?

Sue says:
29 June 2014

not in my experience

Car hire is not a simple process. Insurance is not straightforward and too many companies try to rip you off one way or another.

There needs to be a register maybe with Abta that car rental companies can apply to be a member of providing they adhere to a strict code of practice.

Holiday companies have reps in many destinations and could promote it to the car hire companies. It could improve standards if companies lost out to their competitors.

Watty says:
6 June 2014

Pay a bit more per day and reduce the angst. Hertz ask for car back full of gas in the traditional manner.

Beware of ALAMO at Heathrow. Demanded my credit card details even though I had paid cash.
Later discovered my details had been sold on to third parties. Informed the Information Commissioner who ruled they had breached the data protection act and imposed a fine. Watch out for this scam.

Mike Penny says:
6 June 2014

We frequently hire cars in Spain and twice found ourselves caught by the bring it back empty scam. You can protect yourself against that by always going to the detailed conditions of the company actually renting the car and checking whether they offer the prepaid or bring it back full options. If they don’t then avoid them. Avis and Hertz may be slightly more expensive than say Goldcar but they do offer fuel options. In March we used a new [to us] company called Firefly who were not only cheap but also offered fuel options. I know most people probably rent through brokers like Auto Europe or Holiday Autos but remember the cars come from traditional rental companies and you need to go to the latter’s conditions to find the fuel and excess policies. On the latter we have an annual excess insurance which costs about £40.

I used to travel to Munich on business on a regular basis. Avis occupied probably the darkest corner of the multi-storey car park as their rental car pick-up area, a fair walk from the desk – however their car return area was extremely well lit with 20/20 vision staff able to spot the smallest blemish and bill accordingly. We quickly got used to taking a torch with us as it was the only way to inspect the car for damage prior to driving off, followed by the long walk back to the queue at the desk to get the ‘no damage’ statement updated, which they were always pleased to do, but it took considerable extra time and many of my colleagues didn’t bother. My company was eventually able to catch them out because they billed the same person for the same windscreen chip on the same car hired on two separate occasions. On another occasion, the Hertz rental desk at Athens Airport told me that the car I was collecting and signing for (unseen) was brand new with only 5,000 km on the clock – when we got to the car park, every single panel on the vehicle, including the roof was dented or badly scratched and, like Avis the contract said that any unreported damage would be charged. I wonder how many people got stung for that one! It took over an hour to find someone from the rental company to amend the paperwork, but was obviously worth it. Moral of the storey, always check the car carefully and photograph any damage, and join the queue back at the desk to get the paperwork updated, otherwise it could cost you dearly! Unexpected post hire additional bills for damage have stopped since I started taking photos of the cars in full view of the return staff on handover. And then there’s the ‘return with an empty tank’ policy – just don’t start me on that one . . . . .

I hired a car for the weekend from Europcar Marble Arch branch. It was a condition that it be returned before 6pm on Sunday evening. They did not tell me they closed at midday on Sunday and shut the garage. I had to park it on the ramp and keep my fingers crossed. They then charged me for Monday so I wrote to their HQ after researching the name of their UK CEO to get a refund of the extra charge. I am sure that it was only the fact that I used a corporate scheme from my employer that got me the refund.

Jyacinth says:
7 June 2014

We’ve used Econorent through Hire Cars in Spain at Alicante airport for last 3 years. Have full to full option. Office is off site but they pick you up outside terminal and they have always been waiting for us so we miss the queues.
Go round car with you checking for dents etc
Would def recommend.

Chris says:
7 June 2014

I hired a car from Firefly at Reus airport earlier this year. I had prebooked via a comparison website. I know they rip off customers with excess insurance so I took out independent cover before leaving the UK. The latest scam is if you do this you still have to pay for breakdown insurance in case THEIR car breaks down and has to be recovered. I also had to pay for a “full” tank of petrol. They obviously rip you off with the cost of fuel because at normal pump prices I was charged more than the car can hold.

David Prosser says:
7 June 2014

I recently hired a car from Doyouspain, paid for the car and full comprehensive insurance through the internet they then farmed my order to Centauro Car Hire Co. Seven days prior to me leaving the U K Doyouspain contacted me again offering me an improved insurance covering any under car damage, damage to wheel and tyres, replacement glass and lost keys which I paid a further £48. When I arrived at the Centauro office to collect the car, They would NOT accept Doyouspain’s insurance so I had to pay extra for their insurance, I am now in the process trying to reclaim the insurance money I paid to Doyouspain from 4 E Mails I have had 1 reply saying I should have claimed on the day I collected the car, I rang 2 different telephone numbers that day with out a reply so I sent my first E Mail a day later. Which legal team are dealing with this for me but I do not hold up any hope of seeing my money back ………ANOTHER SCAM.

7 June 2014

For good value and peace of mind

Go to http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/travel/cheap-car-hire

Alan says:
7 June 2014

If only I could find a car hire company who will rent one to me for a few days in Shetland (or for that matter anywhere in the UK). I have many many years experience and a spotlessly clean driving licence and the highest available NCB for my own car. BUT I am of a “certain age”and no firm seems to keen to take my money – not even if I am prepared to accept a higher excess clause. It takes me far too much time and effort to drive there myself via Aberdeen and the overnight ferries, and although the airfares to Sunburgh are pretty extortionate, that is the only way to go if only a hire car was available. Has can anyone help me?

Peter says:
6 July 2015

Try indigocarhire.co.uk tel.+44 (0)113 28 99 279
I think that they will solve your problem 🙂

good luck Alan

David Stalker says:
7 June 2014

I hired a car with Green Motion at Heathrow through Holiday Autos. After booking and paying for the car, I received from Holiday Autos an offer to insure the excess insurance for the hire period with a policy from Allianz Global Assistance. I took up the offer and paid the premium. On returning the car a minute dent was ‘found’ on the bonnet, which I feel sure had likely been there when I picked up the car. However, I was deducted £500 pounds excess and was eventually, after several emails, reimbursed £341.60, leaving me with a claim for £158.40. I duly claimed and provided the many documents requested to verify the claim. No mention was made in the requested documents about accommodation but I was told that the claim would not be met as I had not booked two nights accommodation in the UK. I was not aware that this was a condition of the insurance and there was nothing to suggest that this was a requirement. I spent the week at my house in the UK and consider that to offer car hire excess to anyone renting a car, should if it is a requirement to also hire accommodation, make that clear. I am taking the matter up with The Allianz appeal procedure and also notifying Holiday Autos.

mike says:
8 June 2014

Hired a car from Malaga Airport in March on Monarch Website via a company called Cartrawler paid in full via card prior to arrival to find on arrival and contacting local agent in airport for Delpaso that my car hire agreement had been cancelled. On querying this was told to contact the agent in Uk whos number was not on the paperwork. I had to hire another car locally at a much higher rate and on return tried to claim back my cancelled rental charges. This sparked a response that i was liable for three days rental allthough i did not cancel the rental, on asking how that was possible was told i did not meet the local car hire rep at the airport. I replied this was not true but got no further reply to any e mails sent.
Please avoid this rental agent Monarch take no reponsibility for there dealings via there website.

Alan says:
8 June 2014

Hired a car from Record (pre-booked via AutoEurope) at Alicante airport in February. Hire charges seemed reasonable, but we got caught by the full-to-empty trap. This ploy results in 3 additional costs. First there’s the unreasonably high charge per litre for the full tank. Second there’s the cost of the unused fuel left in the tank, and the third is the bank charge on my UK credit card for currency conversion. (They wouldn’t accept my preloaded euro currency card.) Needless to say, I’ll be more careful next time!

Richard Hughson says:
9 June 2014

I’ve not been impressed by the slightly threatening tone of the sales pitch for excess insurance at most UK firms. They imply for example that a scratch on the car or a puncture would cost £600 to put right which is clearly unreasonable. I’ve taken out a third party policy to cover car hire excess charges which costs £40 a year – you could easily pay that amount for one hire. Hire firms are ripping customers off trying to justify ridiculous charges with “peace of mind” arguments. Don’t fall for it.

Helen Watkins says:
9 June 2014

We hired a car from Avis at Innsbruck airport, Austria. We got a free upgrade to a Mercedes when we arrived. We were super careful with it! When we returned it to the airport there was a notice on the desk to post the key through the letterbox. We then noticed another driver returning a car taking photos of it, and we decided to do the same with ours, taking close-ups all round both in and out of the car, as there was no-one to check it over with us. It was in perfect condition. Two days after we returned home we received notification that our card had been charged 300 Euros for damage to the car. We asked for evidence and received only a diagram with ‘X marks the spot’. So we sent them the appropriate photo showing no damage but they insisted it was badly scratched and had to be sent to Vienna for repairs. We were suspicious of a scam. After several more letters we sent the whole lot to the credit card company – who refunded the money immediately, and we never heard another word from Avis.

Any car hire scheme that invites people to return a car with an empty fuel tank seems very unwise because it encourages drivers to risk running out of fuel. Obviously this could be hazardous if the engine stops unexpectedly. I wonder if this has led to any accidents.

As I see it, Sam, it is the customer’s fault if they run out of fuel and miss their flight, though obviously the daft policy of the car hire company has caused the problem. What concerns me is the possibility that someone could have an accident because a car has unexpectedly lost power. I am thinking of minor accidents, but motorway pile-ups can be the result of a vehicle stopping.