/ Motoring, Travel & Leisure

Car hire sites are taking you for a ride

Car windscreen

Car hire websites are taking customers for a ride by hitting them with sneaky charges not included in the headline price. Have you been hit by hidden car hire charges?

I love the freedom of renting a car on holiday. But I don’t like the way some car hire companies’ websites work.

When I book a car online, I often don’t know what I’m going to end up paying because there’s little or no transparency around extra fees for things like insurance and fuel. It means I can’t find out whether I’m getting the best deal and have to gamble on how much the extra charges will be.

I’m not alone – in our survey of Which? members, one fifth of the complaints made to car hire companies were about extra charges. And last year on Which? Conversation, there were many who were upset at the way car hire companies operate, including Stephen:

‘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.’

So, we decided to investigate how upfront car hire companies are being about the full cost of the rental.

Loaded with hidden charges

Our undercover researchers made a total of 120 visits to 10 of the major car hire company and broker websites to see if we could find out the full cost of a week long rental in Spain. We wanted to know how much it would cost us for full insurance cover and fuel, as well as optional extras like additional drivers.

We found that, even at the end of the booking process, more than half our researchers were not satisfied they knew the total car hire price. Of those who had a compulsory fuel charge to pay when they picked up the car, three quarters didn’t know how much it would be.

Around four in 10 didn’t know the cost of the optional excess waiver to reduce the amount they’d have to pay if the car was damaged. And more than half didn’t know if the waiver covered them for damage to tyres, the windscreen or underneath the car. Three in 10 didn’t know the cost of optional extras, including sat navs or an additional driver.

Car hire companies must improve

It’s a principle of European and UK law that essential information is clearly stated at the point of purchase. So, we want all car hire fees to be made clear at the start of the booking process, including the level of excess, the cost of the excess waiver, the cost of any compulsory fuel charge, and the cost of all other extras like sat navs.

Ultimately, if car hire companies aren’t being upfront about the total cost, it’s almost impossible for you to shop around for the best deal. It also means you’ll pay more than you planned to when you hire a car.

We will be sharing details of our investigation and satisfaction survey with the car hire companies to encourage them to make improvements. We have also written to three companies (Avis, Dollar and Enterprise) to remind them of their legal obligations.

Were you made fully aware of all the extra fees when you last hired a car? What hidden charges have you spotted?


>> Web : http://www.carjet.com
Email : customer.services@carjet.com

Regarding the booking detailed above I would ask for your explanations please

1. I was charged 152.28 euros at the airport when your quote was 118,73 euros. Pay up or no car!!!

2. I wasn’t offered a chance to check the car for damage. “Sign here & here” then the girl got in her car and raced away before I had a chance to inspect the car! It did have some damage so I went to their Los Alcazares office and the guy said it was ok. <<

George Miles says:
19 April 2013

One of their rip-offs is to give you a car with an empty tank, and ask you to return it empty – who drives a car with less than a quarter of a tank to get you to your airport destination?

Then there is their system of charging you for damage to the car, however insignificant – a tiny dent caused by opening the door of a neighbouring car in the car park will cost you well over £100, and the car is never repaired until the end of the season, by which time they will have collected much of the car’s value in “repair charges”.

Why is it not possible for us to arrange our own insurance cover for a hire car instead of being ripped off by the hire company?

I’m not surprised. It’s another one of the consequences of the credit card economy. Effectively, there is no other way to hire a car and extortionate advantage is being taken of the customer’s inescapable position.

I should add the above hire was on 28 Feb 2013 and I still await recompense. The firm in Spain was Dickmans and the UK agent Carjet.

John Reynolds says:
18 April 2013

In recent years the broker car sites seem much more apt to mislead on prices and whats included and whats not. A few years back I found it much more straightforward than it is now. A key thing that consumers need to know is what is the excess.

Just yesterday I embarked on trying to arrange car hire for a weeks holiday in Cyprus. Holidayautos seemed on the face of it competitive but you had to dig deep within the site to try and find out what the damage excess was. It said “350 to 1000 euros” – this range of an excess for a specific car is of no use whatsoever – consumers want to know what the excess actually is. Holidayautos also mention optional excess protection cover at £4.99 per day. Add this to the original competitive price this cover can add 30% to a weeks car hire.

My advice for anyone renting a vehicle overseas is to buy an annual excess protection policy then you do not need to worry about rip-off excesses and crazy extra charges.

Gold Car says:
23 April 2013

Where can I buy this policy from?

Dickmans said Carjet made a mistake, but it was pay upo or no car. Beggars belief that they would rather have no money than take what Carjet quoted, but hey – this is Spain and they know how to run business, don’t they!

I’m well aware of extras and excesses, being a veteran renter,but never before has the “mistake” card been played on me.

The annual excess insurance is around £40. Weighed against the cost on site it is far better to have it. Then there’s the worry that your hire car is damaged after you drop the keys through the van (office in Murcia airport car park) slot when it isn’t manned! So we sweat for our 300 euro deposit for a few days!!!

Rosie Hatton says:
18 April 2013

I’m currently in dispute with Europcar for adding charges to my pre-paid agreement. Although they’re stated in the contract (written in French – no translation provided) which I signed at Marseille airport when I picked up the car – and therefore I don’t have a legal leg to stand on – they were not drawn to my attention before signature (as something else I agreed to was). If these particular extra charges had been highlighted to me at the point of signing, I would have refused them and amended my booking accordingly. Now that I’m trying to talk to someone about my complaint, it’s taking weeks between correspondence – this has to be done by email as they don’t give you a number to call. Lesson learnt: never use Europcar/don’t trust an international brand car hire company.

Johnb says:
18 April 2013

I experienced what I thought was a bit of a con when I rented a one-way vehicle hire from the North-west to Southampton.
I had paid extra to reduce my excess in the event of damage.
I had possession of the vehicle for less than 24 hours and returned it to the office in Southampton.
After an inspection I was told there was tyre damage and I would be charged the maximum £100.
I disputed this and without signing for any damafge or actually being shown the damage I left the vehicle with the Company and expected my deposited to be refunded to my card. On return from my holiday, I discovered that the £100 (excess charge) had been deducted from my refund.
I immediately contacted the Company (Enterprise) who followed up on my complaint and ultimately the £100 was refunded to my card. My view is that if I hadn’t checked on this they would have banked the money and left me out of pocket. I am certain there was no tyre damage, I was not invited to look at the “damage” and left the returns office having agreed with the staff there that it would be ok.
Watch out it’s another easy way of duping customers, could it be standard practice??.

Martin Turner says:
18 April 2013

Car hire companies seem only to exist in order to maximise the suffering of their customers through underhand tactics as mentioned by your contributors and researchers.So much so that I stopped using them, except for one company, which alas only operates in The Canaries, the afore mentioned Auto-Reisen.
They only charge what the headline price states, never try to add extras, and have return like-for-like fuel tank policy. Oh, and they are the cheapest!

Just how much insurance is paid against each hire car in a year. Why do we pay collision damage waiver insurance as part of the hire costs and then we are strongly urged to take out excess waiver insurance at the point of hire. This is a real earner for car hire companies and not just recovery of actual insurance costs. Since 2006, I have always taken out the excess waiver insurance at the point of hire. I saw someone returning a slightly damaged big car and they were given an estimate of £1200 for repair with the actual amount to be taken from their credit card.

How easy is it to recover costs on an annual excess waiver insurance policy?

I have made two claims on Insurance excess policies over 15 years. Both settled without any argument within one week.

Tony Sharpe says:
18 April 2013

We’ve just returned from Andalucia, Spain, where we hired a little Fiat Picanto for 2 weeks (picked up from malaga Airport from a company called Marbesol through a broker we’d arranged it through Argus Car Hire? before we left the UK. We were happy in relation to the basic hire cost for the 2 weeks…..but when we got to the hire desk there on arrival with our credit card to pay up front, we were told that we’d need to pay for the full tank of petrol there and then and return the car empty of fuel. Sounded fine until they said that the fuel charge would be an additional 90 euros! We were staggered by this cost but were told, in effect, either agree to it or go elsewhere to look for another car. After a week we needed to fill the car up with fuel (which I’d allowed to get to as near ’empty’ as I dare)……..and found that it cost us just 52 euros to fill to the brim! This gave them a ‘profit of around 40 euros for each tank! We had so little time to challenge this when we returned the vehicle but I’m at aloss as to how we might avoid this in future. previously I know we’ve taken vehicles out ’empty’ and returned them ’empty’………or out ‘full’ and returned ‘full’, which seems a tranparent, fair way of doing this. Can I ask a broker in advance to find out what the car hire companies do in relation to this, to avoid in future? Complete rip off!

RoyC says:
19 April 2013

Exactly the same happened to us when hiring through Argus at Faro airport and the difference in fuel costs about the same.

We also had to jump through hoops to get our deposit back paid by credit card in Euros and lost out twice with currency surcharges. Once when charged and once when refunded. Argus were useless and they are off my list forever. Thisis also the first time my cc has actually been charged rather than an authorisation sought but held. There is no need to charge the card.

Barry Lipscomb says:
21 April 2013

Suggest, as with many of these cases illustrated, that you always benefit from shopping around, not just for price but for service. We have used a company called Helle Hollis at Malaga Airport for many years and have NEVER been less than 100 satisfied (and I am finicky!). The price is always amazingly competitive, vehicles very recent and spotlessly maintained and service impeccable.

Insurance? We have an annual policy with Insurance4CarHire to insure out punitive excesses but I always insist on checking the vehicle, as any reputable company will do.

Finally, why not think about joining Avis Preferred? I only use Avis when the price is competitive, which it quite often is, especially with Preferred discount but my Preferred status always ensures good service.

Yes, I do have some gripes, many of which centre on the vacillating comparison – even within the same company – between hire costs at Dublin and Belfast airports, which are equi-distant from my destination. Sometimes I feel I have a bargain, other times I feel ripped off.

Tulip Bicycle says:
18 April 2013

We hired a car from Hertz Canarias last November as part of our holiday booking with James Villas. The car was in a very dark parking garage at the airport and when we could look at it in daylight at our villa, there were several scratches on the car that were not noted on the paper we were given at the airport. We went to the local office in Playa Blanca, where we were told that most of the marks were minor and given a new paper marking all the significant ones.
We returned the car at the end of our holiday, but there was nobody at the desk, so we had to just drop off the keys.
A couple of days later a charge for about £90 (c108 euros) appeared on the credit card dated the day we returned the car. We immediately emailed to ask what it was for, and for an invoice so that we could claim on our excess policy. After 2 weeks without a reply, we asked the card company to do a charge back, which they duly did.
After another few weeks Hertz sent us a reply and a garage invoice dated just after our holiday for 148 euros for “peintura”.
We sent copies of all the paperwork back to Hertz, letting them know that the car had been returned in the condition supplied.
We then got a message from the credit card company to say that Hertz’s bank claimed that the charge related to damage to the rear windscreen wiper. We copied the Hertz reply to the bank and refused to allow the charge to be reinstated.
In January, Hertz refunded the money to the card without any explanation.
It’s an obvious rip-off – put through a charge because the customer was unable to gave the car inspected on return and hope they’ll just pay up.

Tulip Bicycle says:
18 April 2013

Forgot to say – we have since booked another holiday in Lanzarote with James Villas and the Hertz car hire in the package now includes (without the hire cost rising significantly) all damage other than that to the underneath of the car (i.e. go offroad at your own risk).

I may be jumping to conclusions, but maybe the villa company was getting lots of complaints about spurious charges for damage.

John Reynolds says:
18 April 2013

Reading these comments it underlines the need to take out separate annual excess protection insurance.

I have just booked rental in Cyprus via Avis. Excess is almost £800. Daily cover for a week will typically cost about £5 a day. So for a week the add on cost would be £35.

I have bought annual worldwide excess protection cover for £44. Even cheaper if you limit to EU only. You can get the policy start date to start the day of your car hire.

For information, I had an Australian visitor in the UK one year. He hired a car to tour the UK and Ireland. I urged him to buy annual excess cover. Thankfully he did as he had 3 mishaps in as many weeks!

Mr John says:
18 April 2013

I frequently holiday abroad and have used many car hire companies with varying degrees of satisfaction.,

However, a friend has told me of a used care dealership that hires out cars below the hire car market rate, without complicated extras.

The dealership is not registered or authorized to hire out cars, I am a careful driver and attracted by the rates, however, I feel a little uneasy, is there anything I should be aware of in using a none registered or unauthorized car hire facility?

Joe Weiss says:
18 April 2013

Hey, all those gripes – what about another viewpoint then?

For the past twenty-two years I have been hiring cars abroad for both business and pleasure, averaging 3 or 4 transactions per year. I have never been ripped off, nor sold duff extra insurance nor paid for fantasy damages. Why?

I rigorously follow these simple rules:

* Get a confirmation certificate in advance from your hirer, through the website or e-mailed directly
* Never pay for a full tank of fuel, always do the deal where you return the car full
* Always have your own excess damage insurance and point this out when signing up by crossing out all those little boxes for your initials
* Never pay for an”upgrade” because your booked car type is unavailable. It is their breach of contract. Hertz actually reduced my hire charge when I bitched about the bigger car they offered costing me more in fuel.
* Never drop the keys off (even though I have Gold Status with rental companies) always get the car checked back in and take a NAME of the employee
* Despite the jet-lag and tiredness always give the car a walk-round inspection BEFORE leaving the hire location. Take digital pictures if there seems any chance of mis-interpretation. Send them in asap if you think there might be an issue. This locks in the date of your inspection.
* Thank the hire-desk clerk on return. It is amazing what this can achieve if you have any potential issues. I once hired a car in Vienna and took it across the border to Slovakia in ignorance of the rules and having got a parking ticket could not then deny the incident. However, sharing the two bottles of slivoviyz, smoothed any complications away.

It is not such a jungle out there as a few unfortunates would have us believe.

Tony Sharpe says:
18 April 2013

Hi Joe,
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some good experiences as well…….as I mentioned in my email; when operators operate a transparent & fair policy such as ‘take it empty/full, return it empty/full’ but not ‘take it full, return it empty’ and then charge you nearly double what it ACTUALLY costs to fill the car. That’s almost fraud. In every other way the car hire was great and very competitive in value terms…….but surely expecting that standard should be the default position, not the surprise outcome? If you hire as often as you clearly do then you soon become aware of possible pitfalls – which is good for you – what this forum is surely trying to do is make others, who hire very infrequently, aware of the pitfalls to steer clear of…..and your advice adds to that. I didn’t see my comment as a ‘gripe’ merely a ‘hirer beware’ comment so as to inform and not scare.
Best wishes,


What seems to have been missed is the many covert arrangements operating via cartel type arrangements throughout the UK with ever enterprising motor insurers and national car hire sharks.

Many motor insurers make unsolicited contacts with injured and vulnerable consumers following their insured causing a collision. While the calls often breach every regulatory protection put in place in law they actually mislead consumers into accepting services from tied in associates of insurers such as replacement car hire operators.

While the insurers get prices below any other price to any other businesses, it seems to be that the insurers use the victim as an introduction to the hire company of an upsell opportunity.

The law makes it clear that until such a consumer is fully compensated for their loss of their vehicle by way of a proper full payment and receipt of cleared funds, the insurers direct the hire companies to take the replacement car away often 2 weeks before the consumer has received cleared funds. To keep the car the consumer is advised they can pay the hire company at a good rate for the car although many consumers do not realise that the ‘swipe only’ taken of their credit/debit card is used by the hire company to take many payments that the insurers should pay for such as safety deposits, Collision Damage Waiver, Collision Insurance and the many other scam type charges many consumers feel they have been misadvised upon.

Of course, many enterprising car hire companies seek to ask why you need a hire car? If you say yours has been damaged in a collision, the hire companies will often try to get the consumer to let them recover the charges from the insurers for them.

Despite such conduct as seeking to recover monies related to a claim has since 2005 been strictly restricted to only firms holding the appropriate authority from the FCA (formerly FSA) to conduct the hire companies continue to misadvise and take money in claims they are not lawfully allowed to do!

Other scams of course by insurers are well known such as promising to have your car repaired at their repairers at no costs to you. The sad reality is most of the insurers repairers are considered by many professionals in the Body Repairer Markets to do some of the most dangerous repairs as they seek to do whatever cheapest repairs the insurers want,

Our investigations have found 100% of the vehicles checked after repairs organised by insurers at their own appointed repairers to have made the vehicles legally unroadworthy. Also, the replacement cars provided were in other matters about to be driven uninsured as the insurers agents failed to arrange appropriate insurance to cover the customer driving the so-called courtesy/hire vehicle!
It does seem the whole car hire market is operated by secretive traders making false representations either for and on their own behalf or for the insurer types who consider only what profit they can make from injured and vulnerable consumers? Two of a kind(less) type!

Dadvert says:
22 April 2013

Absolute scaremongering rubbish. It is clear that you do not have a depth of real world knowledge in the motor claims or repair process nor do you give an objective view. You quote 100% failure in your tests but don’t back it up with any numbers. The truth is there are really good professional organisations in Rental, Insurance and repair and the motor industry as a whole and the vast majority of consumers are happy with the services they receive. Of course like any industry you get bad ones and profit focused ones so be informed before you buy.

Having been in the market to hire a car for 35 days and time to spare by hiring 4 mores in advance I noticed certain car hire companies are claiming the rates have just been reduced. When checking this is an incorrect statement. The rates are the same.

The car hire companies shown not be allowed to advertise facts that are incorrect. They have become as bad as the airlines for misleading statement. Perhaps the airlines are teaching them.

Nothing will ever change unless these companies are brought before the courts. The organisations who are suppose to monitor these things are really not interested.

John Dover says:
18 April 2013

I have only ever hired a car on three occasions, all in Italy. I have followed what appears to be the best advice from the cognoscenti on your site and purchased excess waiver insurance separately at very much lower cost. I appear to have been very lucky and found a hirer with good local agents who have supplied me with a full tank of fuel and allowed me to return it in the same condition thereby avoiding that particular problem. I used 6T through their internet site and was very impressed with their service.

How do you return a car with an empty tank, you always make sure you have more than enough to get to the return point. I have returned cars with over a quarter full tank because I was unsure of how much I would use in the last couple of days and did not want to run dry before I got to the return point. That is extra money for the car hire companies. In Portugal a few years ago, the car hire company worked on a quarter tank system and that was fairer to both the hire company and the customer.

When I hire a car the exact return details are not usually specified until I pick up the car. If I return the car outside normal hours the desk is not always manned nor is there anybody there to inspect the car with you. Do you take photos of all areas of the car to prove it was returned undamaged?

Dave says:
19 April 2013

I travel to Spain about 8 times a year & hire a car each time. In the last year the “rip off” has become worse. I have even used the same company, a month apart, and been made to pay different charges.
The most recent rip off is to have to pay large deposits, up to 600 euros, this must be on a credit card. It is put through at one rate then refunded at another with up to 35 euros being charged on conversion. I have even been “threatened” with unless I take special insurance I will be charged 500 euros if the car breaks down!
I have spoken to many of the Booking Agencies in the UK and they know what happens when you pick up a car but say they can( or will not) do anything about it.
Another example, I hired a car, was charged 89 euros for petrol, I let it go totally to empty, I filled totally, guess what only got 58 euros of petrol in it!
My experience is all from Malaga in Spain.