/ 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?


I use Nice airport 8-10 per year and hire a car every time currently through Avis. I’ve explored all other convenient transport options (to get to a holiday home around 70 mins away) and I do believe car hire still represents the best value. my observations are thus; Nice is a ‘premium’ airport, car hire companies charge you more for the pleasure of hiring from this airport than say Marseille or Toulon – if you don’t need to, don’t fly into Nice. take pictures if you have a phone with that function of all scratches and dents before you depart. watch out for the fuel premium if you don’t return it with a full tank. if you do fill up try not to keep filling until the dispenser cuts out – you’ll end up putting more in than you need to. think about the extra insurance – they’ve sort of got you by the goolies however think about the last time you had an accident anywhere at any time? Its a calculated risk and over 12 years i’ve gone basic and not had to make a claim – lucky maybe? I don’t think so. Do sign up for (in this instance) Avis ‘Preferred’, anyone can and you get your own desk avoiding terrible summer queues (that’s why I ditched Europcar – just about the most incompetent car hire company on the planet), 10% discount and occasional upgrades. Do look out for deals via airlines – BA especially offer great rates via the partnership they have with Avis – last deal I got was £16 for 3 days, smallest car option. the post event invoice is another matter – a complete mess in my experience however when I have had enough time to refuel before delivering back I have made sure they haven’t tried to double charge by including the fuel charge on the invoice. I check all the time now because i’ve ‘caught them’ and got them to
reimburse. I swear they do it on purpose.


JM appears to confirm the terrible conducts that need to be avoided – time served – costs saved – not for any other innocents with enterprising as ever hire scams?

Mike Birchall says:
24 April 2013

I used Argus Car Hire from the airport at Barcelona. They don’t actually have an office there, you have to pick your car up in the main carpark near to the flag posts, a bit odd i thought but i hadn’t paid anything up front so i wasn’t to worried at that point. About 4 blokes arrived all at the same time with cars for new arrival. They were all sharing the same payment machine from the back of a van that a 5th bloke had arrived in, it had a laptop, printer & payment machine. I had printed out my proposal offer and had it with me. The guy who dealt with me spoke good English & tried adding on some other items, i refused to pay for these other items showing him my offer and telling him that was all i was going to pay. He tried it on saying i had to have these extra’s or he couldn’t release the car i told him fine i’ll go and hire one from inside the terminal and started to walk away. He called me back saying i could have the car at the price on the proposal but keep it to myself. I only called his bluff because i was on my own and had all day to get where i was going I was in no rush. I must admit the price i got the car for was about £20 less than the next best offer hence the reason why i gave it a go……

Quentin says:
27 April 2013

I worked in car rental for many years and can point out a couple of things that may help with getting good service:

Rental desk staff work huge hours and are very badly paid – talk to them and empathise a bit with the stress that they are under – they are all human and will bend over backwards for a friendly nice customer, rates are flexible and your chances of an upgrade increase massively.

Management operate an airline booking system that relies on squeezing as many people into as few cars as possible (utilisation targets used to be about 90%) – this is massively stressful as I have known many occasions when I was expecting a customer and had no clue what vehicle I was going to put them in, so when a customer was flexible and nice in that situation I was putty in their hands.

If they are struggling for cars – offer to take a “workshop car” – it might only have very light damage but it could really help the staff out and may get you one or two free upgrade levels – management are obsessed with utilisation of fleet so often choke off the supply of cars – this is incredibly stressful for staff when you are trying to get 15 customers into 11 cars!

Specialist cars are always extremely rare – if you don’t need an estate car but have one booked, offer to take something smaller – you will often see the stress falling away from a rental receptionist who is now your best mate.

Offer to take a van instead of a car at peak times – such as Christmas – they may well have a yard full of them as businesses get quiet and give you a stunning deal – remember rental companies have the same number of cars pretty much all year round so prices may well soar as supply gets tight

Try offering to take an dirty car – again when the reception staff and car checkers are stressed out, they may well bite your hand off and knock something off in gratitude.

With both of the above make sure that any existing damage is noted or that “car collected dirty” is noted, especially on a one way rental.

Car rental companies are given really strict rules by their insurers – imagine how much a policy costs for one car nowadays and multiply that by a fleet of up to 35000 – the rental staff do not enjoy conflict any more than you do – if they ask for ID, credit cards and have exemptions (eg overhead damage) it’s not the rental firms policy – it’s the insurance policy.

Always ask to be shown the controls on a car even if you’ve driven it before – this is particularly hard at airports but gives you the opportunity to check the car for damage – get them to note ALL damage down as any un identified is always investigated and staff are disciplined if they can’t explain which customer caused the damage.

Most rental cars are supplied by car manufacturers under leasing and buy back deals at a low cost to the rental firms but they get hammered for any damage (scuffed wheels, missing wheel trims, minor scratches, even missing cigarette lighters) – the rental companies have to pay for all this, which is why they jump on customers that they think have caused it, so check for damage when collecting a car very thoroughly – I once collected a car from Dublin – checked it and found the mirror was hanging off – only to be told when reporting it – that it was wear and tear!!!

Remember that hiring a car is a form of loan essentially – you are borrowing an asset worth thousands of pounds with little or no credit checking for a few hundred pounds, so don’t be surprised when rental companies want a bit of security.

If you possibly can – always return a car when the office is open and get your receipt/invoice copy before leaving if the car is damaged after you leave it – you remain responsible until the office reopens – and remember rental staff get lied to all the time by customers about how damage occurred so they do end up pretty cynical.


Thanks for some constructive comments, Quentin.

We should certainly treat the company’s staff with respect, though the hours they work and how much they are paid is not really the concern of the customer.

A booked car may not be available because it has been in an accident, broken down, or simply not been returned in time. I’m happy to be flexible occasionally but if I was not given the type of car I have booked on a regular basis I would be discussing breach of contract. Hertz once thought they were being kind giving me an upmarket 4WD instead of a small car, because they could not find my booking, but that meant a rather high fuel bill.

My biggest concern with hire cars is that they have often not been checked over. There is never an excuse for providing cars that are not fit to be on the road.


Car hire companies have some challenging customers. Several years ago, before we booked everything on websites, I planned a brief trip to Dublin. I called several car hire companies to get prices and terms. I made a note of them all and over a coffee made a choice of hire company. I rang up, confirmed the details and made the booking. I arrived at the airport, went to the hire desk, supplied my details and to my shock they did not have a record of my booking. I told them how inefficient etc. they were, and they stepped in quickly to say they of course would supply me with an upgrade, at no extra cost, as they had caused the problem. I accepted their offer, left the airport, had my few days in Dublin area, returned the car at the end of the trip and flew home to London.

After returning home, I decided to file my record of hire and dump the notes I made of the other hire companies. It was then I realised that I had actually prebooked the car with Argus car hire but had presented myself at the Atlas car hire desk. Not surprising they had no record. I had to then phone Argus to explain and apologise and ask for my deposit to be refunded. which they did, without hassle. I also had to phone Atlas and explain that I had been at fault.
I wonder if anybody else has made a similar error.


What evolved after ordering a chinese takeaway from our local indian restaurant was quite amusing!