/ 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…

ROB says:
11 June 2014

I go to Tenerife every year. In the past I have used Auto Reisen who are great on details such as petrol but the cars are not in a great state (hence they don’t worry about a few dents or scratches.

I used Gold Cars once and got done on paying for a full tank of overpriced petrol. They also charged me in Sterling rather than Euros. I filled out their compliant book but nothing happened.

I now use Cigar who are great and let you bring the car back with same amount of petrol that was in it when you started your hire period. Also they have people who will check your car going out and are happy to mark up on the pick up forms any damage you spot that they have missed.

ROB says:
11 June 2014

I have used Alamo in the US a number of times and they are very good. However you should book via the UK website since they include all the extras you need. The only thing they can sell you when you arrive in the US is breakdown cover.

Rob Gillespie says:
12 June 2014

Hi Guys, I work at Indigo car hire and we have seen lots of issues with fuel policies and additional insurance products. Especially in Spain.

Most suppliers now are going down the route of ‘pay for a tank of fuel and get a refund on whats left’ sounds better but, you pay above pump prices for the tank in the first place and then the refund is less an ‘administration fee’ of which the amount is not noted.

Someone mentioned before that its not always best to go with the cheaper upfront quote and I back that 100%. always go with the supplier that offers what you are looking for, wether it be better fuel options, lower insurance, smaller queues at the desk, pay with a debit card or even if you are over 75 or under 25, there are companies out there that play ball, you just have to know which ones to go to.

I assume that most people hiring a car are aware that they can save money by filling up prior to return of the vehicle. I have hired cars from a variety of companies and can only remember once when someone had the courtesy to warn me of the high refuelling charges when collecting a hire car.

Rob Gillespie says:
12 June 2014

Hi Wavechange, some companies only work on the ‘full to empty’ basis so filling up the tank will just cost you even more money. My suggestion is just to know what you are getting into when booking a car. Full to empty may work for some people but in my experience, full to full or half to half with a refundable deposit works better.

Thanks Rob. I have only hired in the UK and my experience is rather dated.

I have mentioned my concerns about the possible dangers of a full to empty policy. As someone who used to hire cars mainly for short distances (my employer was not keen on staff using their own cars) I soon became aware that full does not necessarily mean full, thanks to inaccurate fuel gauges. 🙁

Rob Gillespie says:
12 June 2014

Oh yes thats another issue. we have a customer that leaves the hire depot and heads straight for the petrol station, and although the gauge says full he can squeeze about another 10 euros in, he keeps the receipt and he has always been given a refund for it by this pariticular supplier. Goes to show that not all suppliers are out to con you, but you should always be on your guard.

George says:
16 June 2014

I have hired a car in at Sofia Airport the car was clean full of fuel and delivered on time. Ideas for how to save money. Always prepay the excess in the uk there are many companies that are on line which will cover the excess this saves the insurance costs if something happens. I rented with Savoy car rents In Sofia, although the cars may be older than the new cars always confirm the damage before taking the car get the rep to sign the receipt stating the damage before you drive off. Confirm the fuel level and very important check the Spare to make sure there is one and it is legal.
Deal with the company direct not through a broker. Confirm the fuel level too. Take time this saves you money. I used to work for Avis in both the UK and the States, Never go for an upgrade always book an economy car. Pay with Cash too if that is possibe check on line first.

This last 12 months there has emerged a fresh scam, which appears to be prevalent when refusing the hire firm’s rip off excess insurance cover. (I have my own at £40 a year).

I’m talking about Dickmanns who operate from a van in Murcia airport car park. Several people I know have returned cars exactly as presented at collection, only to see their 600 euro deposit taken from their Visa on account of “damage”. One in particular had 300 stopped because the car had “no wipers”. Photos proved otherwise, but in any case Visa kicked that one into touch.

Dickmanns frequently have no operative to accept and check the returned car (put keys in van slot), which opens it to potential damage AFTER you return the car and take the now necessary photos.

I regularly hire cars at Murcia airport and have experienced problems with Dickmanns and Firefly. Obviously I avoid them like the plague now, but continue to hear from many property owners I know in the region that their deception and theft continue.

Doyouspain (broker) are still pushing Dickmanns, despite knowing full well about their antics. I can only draw one conclusion!
Firefly charged me 103 euros last year for 60 litres diesel and then added 21% IVA on top! The bottom line finished way over the Doyouspain quote, but like Dickmanns, they would rather lose a rental entirely than release the car if you refuse to pay the small unquoted amount. I know!

Last time out I hired from Centauro. Although the tank of fuel cost above pump it wasn’t nearly as bad as most others, but the operative refused to leave the desk to check and record the car’s damage. As I mentioned it wasn’t acceptable to take an unchecked car, she then began to note it on the form. I said that I’d be back in 10 minutes if I find different. She said she’d add any other damage I find to the form.

On inspecting the car and photographing ALL angles I found the clerk’s notes were astonishingly 100% accurate!

Conclusion: It’s a lottery and keeping ahead (or predicting) scams is not so easy, but those of us who hire several times a yearf, all over Europe have learned to be extremely suspicious and distrusting.

Chris Patmore says:
8 July 2014

I have supported many of the campaigns raised by Which, but reading through some of the horror stories about the rip off tactics and defective cars supplied by car hire companies, isn’t this a matter that Which could take up and perhaps persuade the EU to take on board?
After all, you are generally tired when you arrive at a foreign airport and why should you then have to deal with rip off merchants like these?

Dave says:
21 July 2014

Hired a Fiat Panda car from Europcar at Faro airport in June, 2014 on basis collect full tank of fuel and return empty.
On return, was charged Euro 80 for fuel on my pre-authorised credit card. Queried this amount for a small car and was told it was for 47 litres at Euro 1.74 per litre. During our drive around Portugal, no price over Euro 1.70 was noted (NB = Euro 78.30), but had to accept this amount.
However, on return home, contact with Fiat revealed Panda fuel tank is only 37 litre.
I am not trying to reclaim unused fuel but Europcar were economical with truth and will now try to obtain a rebate from them.
I hope this provides further ammunition for campaign for start full tank/return full.

As a young family with one child in an extended rear-facing car seat and usually travelling with a couple of suitcases and pushchair as well as taking our own car seats with us (hire costs for these are prohibitive and the seat quality seems to be variable at best) space in both the boot and rear seat are critical. We know that we can fit everything comfortably in a medium-sized family hatchback, but that anything smaller becomes very difficult.

Therefore, when booking a hire car, we always book a car described as a VW Golf / Vauxhall Astra / Ford Focus “or similar” as we know that pretty much anything in this class will be able to accommodate our family and luggage. However, hire car firms seem to have a very odd idea as to what constitutes ‘similar’ and on the last five rentals when arriving at the airport and proceeding to collect our hire car we have been presented with a Nissan Juke, a Hyundai ix20, a Renault Captur, a Citroen C3 Picasso and Renault Clio estate. None of these cars are in the same class as those specified at the time of booking and none is remotely similar either in terms of size or performance.

On each occasion when challenging the representative – usually in a foreign language or limited English – we have been assured that we have been given a similar car to that which we have paid for because it has been put in the same ‘group’ by the hire company. They always dig out their group lists and highlight them as proof that they haven’t done anything wrong. It’s not the poor reps’ fault, but the people higher up who are deciding what cars go in which group. They don’t seem to bare any resemblance to conventional classes of car and there seems to be no comeback to the statement that the hire company has put them in the same group so they must be comparable, even though these lists are rarely available at the time of booking.

On several occasions I have written and complained to the UK customer services once returning home, but with no greater success – they merely repeat the same arguments. I once spent half an hour on the telephone talking to a customer services person with apparently very little knowledge of individual car models and their sizes arguing that a Hyundai ix20 1.3 was in no way ‘similar’ to a VW Golf 1.6 and that whilst a Hyundai i30 would have been a valid alternative, an ix20 has more in common with a VW Polo-sized i20. But because the car hire firm put them in the same group, i must be mistaken.

When we questioned the provision of a Nissan Juke, we were told that we should be grateful as this represented an ‘upgrade’ to booked car, despite being significantly smaller in both boot space and rear seat room. We had a long argument over the Hyundai ix20 but to no avail and had to make several long journeys with luggage on the back seat which wouldn’t fit in the small boot. On the most recent occasion we spent over an hour arguing with a rep over the Renault Clio estate which he was adamant was a bigger car than a Golf, despite the fact that we couldn’t physically fit the rear facing child seat behind the driver or front passenger. Being an estate there was plenty of room in the boot, but the cabin was the same (smaller) size as a regular Clio supermini – a whole class size below the car we booked. Eventually he relented and gave us an Alfa Romeo Gulietta which he swore was smaller, even after we’d successfully loaded in all of our luggage and car seats.

All of this makes what is often an already tiring and frustrating experience only more so and there seems to be no easy way around it other than to hire the class of car bigger than we really need, incurring further expense.

I recently hired a car at Green Motion Gatwick. On arrival I found out it was a car with an electronic handbrake. After driving for 24 years I had never seen one before let alone used one. I just assumed it would work similar to a conventional one. Big mistake, and 3 days later I was faced with a bill of 500 pounds for rolling down the hill with the faulty handbrake.
Now my point is surely with an appliance so rare as an electronic handbrake the company should at the very least have someone on site to explain the process, They didn’t have anyone on site who could explain the workings of it and, even worse did not see the need to do so. as at least 70% of their fleet has an EB I think they are being disingenuous at best, downright disregard to customer’s ( or in my case ex customer ) needs at worst.

Andrew Whitehouse says:
28 October 2014

I hired a Fiat Panda in Menorca, from Hiper – who were very good – however despite assurances on returning the vehicle that everything was ok and my card now “couldn’t” be charged, after a few days an amount of 24 Euros appeared on my card.

I queried this and was told that a top-up of fuel was required, before the car could be re-hired. The amount stated was 7.61 litres so I emailed a photo showing the tank full on return, pointing out that a tank capacity of 35 to 37 litres, would be unlikely to show full if down by about 20%.

I have my refund and – taking normal precautions – would use Hiper again.

i hired a car on the 04/10/14 from torrenova rent a car magaluf for one day,the tank was half full they siad to bring it back half full,i used a quarter of a tank, and the attendant filled it up so had to pay 29.50 euro i tried to get a refund but noway would they do this so i think this is a ripoff

James Culbert says:
27 November 2014

Hertz car hired from Weeze for two days last weekend. £166+ taken from my car for ally wheel damage that we definitely didn’t do.Damage was severe enough to be unmistakable if I had kerbed the car. It was never near a kerb and the photo showed no tyre rub or damage.
Previously the so called full tank wasn’t and I was enroute and late for a relatives funeral so I couldn’t go back. This was also Hertz at Weeze. The fight begins now.

martin says:
19 July 2015

I also rented from Hertz Weeze and they claimed the tank was full but the meter showed less. They said the meter (of this quite new car) malfunctioned. When refilling the meter showed nicely it was full. But if it indeed was full then the car used a ridiculous amount of fuel – in other words, the tank was not full when I picked it up. About 10 liters of fuel must have been missing. I complained about it when returning the car and they did not care. Send an email to Herz and they did not even bother responding. First and last time Hertz. I’ve used many rental companies and never had this before.

I have just read 3 links. are there any companies or locations where they have had a satisfactory car hire experience, or dare I ask, an excellent experience? I am interested in arriving in Barcelona or Valencia. I already noticed that minimum rental costs are twice as much in Valencia City, as opposed to the airport.

My experience with Goldcar company in Lisbon, Portugal. Goldcar seems to be on a verge of a FRAUDLENT activity. If you think you have found a bargain because of cheap car rental referred by various rent-a-car search engines, then you are totally fooled. Just an example for 5 day rental and a small car: your base price is 35 euro. Then you will learn, if you are not very lucky, after about 3-4 hours of waiting, that you have to pay the fuel (about 90 euro) and 87 euro of insurance. No insurance? OK, we will block you 1200 euro on your cc. No toll road device – let us better listen, we can persuade you to take it with you (and pay). This is still nothing.

You returned a car and you think your nightmare with this company is over. But no – they suddenly charge your credit card for some hundreds of euro and… nobody answers phone calls, nobody replies to e-mails, they tell you to wait for the explanation on their FB profile. And yes, they hide a real car condition before the customer (like damages you are not able to spot during your inspection)!!! This is insane but they act like this.

To give you the complete picture, I can tell you my story.

In my case, during the car return the “damage” to the door lock was noticed by a service man – but I was advised to go to the office to check if it was not registered earlier. I went to the office and presented my contract. At the top of the contract there is a statement “check broken lock”. The lady at the office checked and reported to me that this damage HAD BEEN registered EARLIER and said that “everything is all right and I do not need to worry”. I had no chance to spot it during the car inspection at the check-out since that “damage” is in fact a slight dent near the car lock (the lock itself was working properly all the time). Despite that fact Goldcar took 350 euros from my credit card just a day later. I had to wait 15 days for their “comment” on the reason of charging and the reason was a “broken lock”.

In other words, they charged me for the pre-existing damage and most possibly, they will not hesitate to repeat the “trick” with the next customer if he/she does not buy their expensive insurance.

Horrible and unbelievable? Just read the others opinions!!! My advice: if you, by chance, have made a reservation with them, just cancel it even losing some money. It will be much less than you will lose if you go with them! I repeat: AVOID THEM AT ALL COST !!!

mike says:
8 November 2015

I plan on starting a peaceful protest outside Dickmanns rent a car in Murcia, keen on joining me.
We need to sort out car hire, government’s wont do a thing about it, why, tax money off course.

In August I picked up a Europcar vehicle from Limoges airport when I was told that if I didn’t return the car with a full tank of petrol, they would fill it at normal forecourt prices. I thought OK. and said yes. I hadn’t realised until later that at the time they had then charged me for a full tank, and that although I only used half on return I wasn’t entitled to a refund. I’m sure they will point to terms and conditions, but my issue is that the lady at the desk never explained these to me – basically she pulled the wool over my eyes. I will never use Europcar again. Thieves.

tom says:
19 June 2016

I have booked a hire car with broker DoyouSpain and they advertised free extra driver and a choice of fuel policy if i booked with them. I feel that the actual hire company OKRentacar will contest this at the time i pickup the car though. How can I get confirmation that this is included when the DYS website doesnt have a contact point? Any help much appreciated.

Hired a car from Dickmans in Alicante, returned 13th April , had to pay 950 euros as a bond because l didn’t take out their insurance cover, car past ok when l returned got the paper work to show so, the 950euros was still taken and every time l email to ask why, they just say it as been past to customer service , its now 29th May, l am 950 euros lost from my bank account, l have asked my Spanish law firm to sort it out.
Why is there just talk and no action from the powers that, this practice from the car hire companies tantamounts to extortion and theft

Well. I think we were had by staff in Malaga Airport. After a 2 hour wait, my wife because the electronic system was up the creek my wife who was the named driver went to the ‘premium’ queue and pointed out me in a wheelchair and two small kids. Things began to move. The estate car we had booked and paid for was unavailable so in theory we were ‘upgraded’ to an Audi – on arrival to the car park the key we had been given opened what i think was a Vauxhall Corsa parked where we were told to go.

So we went to the office in the car park and after another long wait we were offered the keys to a VW Touran 7 seater. Not being fluent in spanish it appears she had now also accidentally agreed to pay for the fuel in the tank in full thinking she was agreeing to return the car with a full tank. On return to England and checking paperwork it also appears we have paid for the upgrade!

It was dark, it was getting late we were all very tired, thirsty and hungry (best part of 4 hours after landing at Malaga now) and in all the fluster we did not scan every inch of the car for damage but on inspection it looked o.k. On return, the receiver within 20 seconds had found the most minor of scratches on the front bumper (like he almost knew where it was going to be) that was obviously old damage but we had no way to prove it – at least we had bought insurance back in the UK that I hope will cover the Euro 255 charge for damage that I will bet never gets repaired, as it is barely noticeable.

On return to the UK we received photo’s by e-mail – He had taken a photo of the fuel gauge – which must have been with the engine power off to make it look empty – it was off the bottom of the red line! (We had just filled the tank to the brim). Incompetent at best, criminally corrupt at worst. We will no doubt have little recourse with Avis as we have little proof of the whole thing, but next time will pay more with Hertz or anyone else to avoid this company.

Avoid EASYRENT Bulgaria at Sofia airport. No desk, all paperwork done in car, try to get you to have their excess insurance by taking it from your credit card without asking. If you don’t agree they argue and try to charge an admin fee to refund it. On return, they get you to put your pin no. into their card terminal, but then pretend to process it, as the terminal doesn’t produce a receipt and surprise surprise your 209 euro deposit doesn’t go back into your account. Numerous similar complaints.

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