/ Motoring, Travel & Leisure

Revealed: car hire complaints that drive you round the bend

Car on road

When it comes to hiring cars abroad, you’ve told us that fuel costs, insurance costs, unclear websites, extra charges and disputed damage are all factors that have given you cause for complaint.

When we asked Which? members about their complaints when hiring cars abroad, we found some common themes. We also found strong evidence that car hire companies are failing to put things right when customers make a complaint.

Of the respondents who complained about car hire, 27% of the complaints concerned extra charges imposed when or after they returned the car. A further 17% surrounded extra charges being imposed upon picking up the car. In addition, 14% of complaints concerned customer service, 11% covered the condition of the car, and 10% referenced fuel charges.

Complaints about complaining

Unfortunately, of those who complained, six in 10 weren’t satisfied with how their complaint was handled. When it comes to individual car rental companies, Avis received the worst rating of the companies we reported on. In fact, six in 10 said its response to complaints was poor or very poor, while only two in 10 gave it a positive rating.

Hertz received the best ratings, but more people rated its complaint handling negatively than positively. Europcar received a negative rating from six in 10 of its customers in our survey, while five in 10 gave Holiday Autos, the most used car hire broker, a negative rating.

Most common car hire complaints infographic
So why are customers so unhappy with how car hire companies and brokers are handling their complaints? Some Which? Convo commenters previously said it was too difficult to get hold of the car company after rental, while others said it was difficult getting redress.

I think a bad experience with car hire can have a big impact on the enjoyment of the trip, as Nick told us on our last car hire Convo:

‘There’s no doubt hiring a car can spoil a trip – during and afterwards – if you have to worry about fictitious damage, overpriced and unfair fuel polices and spurious charges.’

Make car hire more transparent

If you complain to your car hire company only to find you’re being ignored, it’s only going to leave you with a sour taste rather than happy memories.

The car hire industry is taking customers for a ride by hitting them with sneaky charges not included in the headline price. Which? is calling for car hire companies to make their pricing and booking processes clearer and more transparent.

Have you ever complained about car hire? If so, how was your complaint dealt with?


The most worrying trend is car hire firms’ insistence that you buy from them a full tank of fuel and that you won’t receive any credit for any fuel left in the tank when you return it. Often a customer will use much less than a full tank during their entire hire period.

Given that the car hire company is not the user of the fuel, this policy benefits them in no way except to facilitate a misleading indication of price of the car hire itself. The amount charged for the initial full tank of fuel is inflated significantly above cost (particularly where a previous customer leaves fuel in the tank) and this subsidises a misleadingly lower headline price of the car hire.

The travel industry seems particularly keen on using additional charges in order to legitimise misleading headline prices. Airlines have been targeted by the EU recently and it’s high time that the whole of the travel industry was prevented from using these unfair commercial practices.

Last time I hired a car in Spain it was deemed to have acquired a scratch on one of the bumpers to add to the many already in place. I don’t remember doing it, it probably got there while the car was parked somewhere. Anyway €250 came off my credit card which I duly claimed back without issue from my collision damage excess policy. Now if I had €250 for every scratch on their fleet of cars I could probably buy my own car hire firm. I can only imagine that the insurers turn a blind eye to all of this and know very well that they have no intention of using the money to repair the cars.

John says:
21 June 2013

Unfortunately you don’t have to go abroad to find car hire companies trying to ruin your holiday. I live in Northern Ireland and when I’m visiting family in England I fly over and then hire a car to get around. On one trip I hired a car from Budget as I thought the pricing from Hertz who I normally hired from seemed excessive.

Arriving at the desk at Stansted I was met by the most ignorant person I’ve ever had the misfortune to deal with. I had bought collision damage excess cover online and I was told point blankly that I couldn’t hire the car unless I took Budgets excess cover as “the cover I bought was worthless”. If I didn’t take their cover I had to give him £1000 in cash (he would also accept major credit cards) to cover any damage to the car. I was also offered a ‘special upgrade price’ to get a better car, the better car being the type of car I’d ordered in the first place! I was very close to walking away without the car, but I eventually told him to take the cash on my CC. This turned out to be a complete pack of lies as the money was never even taken or even reserved on my CC. From arriving at the desk to going to collect my car took well over an hour. It made the whole first day of the holiday a real nightmare.

Needless to say I’ve never used Budget for car hire since.

Jean says:
22 June 2013

Looking on the chart for the companies I see that all negatives win over positives. Why hire a car? Stop and let them go out of business unless they clean their act up and make promises not to rip us off and clarity in what to expect when collecting the hired vehicle.

John, I don’t see Budget mentioned above. It would be interesting to see how they rated.

John says:
22 June 2013

It appears they don’t rate too highly Jean. Looking at the link above http://www.which.co.uk/home-and-garden/leisure/reviews-ns/car-hire-comparison/car-hire-company-comparison/ they rated second from bottom with a score of 53%.

Dear Sirs.
Perhaps you may like to read of my experience of a recent car hire made with rentalcars.
I made a contract with them to supply me a car to be picked up at Jerez airport in Spain for a total payable figure of £149.43.( it included insurance ) They told me to pick up the car from the Avis desk,and to hand in their PRE_PAID Voucher, show my Credit Card which i had paid Rentalcars with,along with my driving licence,which i did.
At the Avis desk,having handed in Rentalcars Pre-Paid Voucher,they asked me to sign for the car,which i did,not realising it was, as it turned out to be, a rental agreement. When i returned home,i was surprised to find that Avis had debited my credit card,( that i was required by Rentalcars to show Avis) without my permission a sum of £236.30. In total i have paid £385.73 for this 8 day car hire. Please warn our members.
I have all the correspondence,if you are interested.

Have you contested the transaction with your credit card company? If you didn’t knowingly authorise it or it’s a mistaken double payment they should sort it out.

Thanks Nick for your advice. I have a meeting soon with my credit card company,and will see what transpires.

Collis says:
3 July 2013

The one area of Car Hire that grates me is when you book at £xxx for a week, but on the booking there is no mention of a “security deposit” or how much this is.
Then when you collect the car, they lock your card for an extra £xxx (between £200 – £1000) for a security deposit, im my eyes, I paid for the hire at the initial price why do I need to pay MORE to collect the car?
Also, the charge to deliver the car to you is extreem, £14 per trip to use Fuel that YOUR charged for, really? ive seen the way these delivery drivers drive, they drive the car like it’s stolen meaning that when you get the car the MPG has been destroyed and already lost a good ammount of fuel.

Douglas says:
3 July 2013

Extra named driver should be free.
1. Safety. If you are travellling long distances you should be able to share the driving and not be tempted to stay at the wheel too long.
2. It should be costing them nothing as they have no extra exposure to risk.

Following my comments posted on the 26th of June at 12.53 pm,of my saga of renting a car in Jerez Spain. The company Rentalcars who i made the contract with for this car,have been in touch with me,and have said they will contact Avis ( the company they asked me to pick the car from ) on my behalf, to ask them why they mis-represented what i was asked to sign,telling me i was signing for the car,when in fact it was nothing of the sort.
The gentleman who is helping me at Rentalcars needs to be thanked for taking my case to Avis.
I will let you know what happens.

Chas says:
16 July 2013

We hired a car with Budget / Avis (same company now apparently) at Toulouse airport via eBookers a few weeks ago. Sure enough my credit card has been hit with an extra charge of £9.73 (approx 11 Euros) which wasn’t advised at the time. I’m guessing Avis/Budget are trying to play fast-and-loose with a fictitious fuel surcharge. This happened to me once before (EuropCar via HolidayAutos) so this time I not only kept the garage fuel receipt but also took a digital camera photo of the dash showing the full indicator as being ‘Full’… I’d recommend everyone do this!

Whilst writing all this I’ve been on the phone on hold to EBookers who to be fair have tried several times to contact Avis/Budget, but the line has always been busy for some reason. I wonder why . . . will see what happens!

Hi. Re my car hire experience,with comments posted on. 26th June at 12.53pm, 27th June at 1.11am,and 6th July at 12.42am.
In the first place i sent a e-mail to Avis,complaining that they had taken from my Lloyds AX credit card £236.30 without my authorisation or permission. On the 14th of May,Avis replied they would respond asap.Today 17th of July,not a word of a reply has been received from them.
Would seem to suggest “The Which Report” is correct that Avis is the worst company to deal with,when it comes to dealing with complaints.
I have taken this matter up with Lloyds,and a meeting was arranged,which i turned up for,but the person from Lloyds did not.
I have since had a meeting with the Bank Manager who say`s he will contact Avis on my behalf.
However there is something funny going on. I have pointed out to the Bank a ” paragraph in the Avis document “,which i believe does not give them permission to debit my credit card. However this paragraph has been AIRBRUSHED – OUT of the agreement on a recent mailing received,to mis-represent the terms of the document. Not sure who has done this,but a criminal act i believe.
I agree with the lady who said “Stop and let them go out of business unless they clean their act up”.

Kirsty says:
1 September 2013

All, just a warning regarding safety of your hire car.
Last Saturday evening my husband picked up a hire care from Enterprise at Gatwick Ariport.
Not long into his journey heading north up the M23 the bonnet flew open and smashed the windscreen. His vision was totally blocked to the front, but thankfully the motorist he was overtaking spotted the situation and slowed down allowing him to pull over to the hard shoulder.

The situation could have been so much worse if he’d been in heavy traffic or driving on twisty country roads.
Enterprise were totally unhelpful advising him to call the AA and offered no apology for what was a life-threatening situation caused by a dreadful maintenance mistake.

Always check the bonnet is securely fastened…

David Turner says:
8 September 2013

I booked a rental car through Auto Europe to be provided by National in Stevenage. On the agreed day and time for pick-up last week, I arrived in Stevenage with both parts of my driving licence as required by Auto Europes terms and conditions. The receptionist took my driving licence and proceeded to imput my details into her computer terminal. Some 10 minutes later I was informed that she could not verify my address from the checks made and insisted I provide an original current finance agreement, current utility bill or current bank statement. ( Incidentally I have lived at the address printed on my driving licence for over 40 years.) The following day I returned with copies of a utility bill and bank statement, informing the same individual that I could not provide originals because I no longer receive hard copies of such documents, having opted for E.Mail correspondence. The copies were faxed to National Head Office who were apparently looking for a bar code which is normally found on the originals of such documents. My documents were therefore declined and I was informed that they were insufficient proof of my address and therefore the rental car could not be released to me. I immediately contacted Auto Europe with the facts and after a conversation between National and Auto Europe I was informed by the latter that they had no power to insist on the release of the vehicle. I therefore had to use two private cars to transport two American families around the home counties who we were hosting for a couple of days. Is this a common complaint or do I live in the outback here in Ware in Hertfordshire.

Properjob says:
22 October 2014

To the gentleman in Stevenage/Ware I had exactly the same experience at Milton Keynes rental place. I have recently moved though they want bills from the last three months.

Apparently a paper Council Tax bill with said barcode on it wasn’t acceptable either.

I needed the car as emergency replacement for my broken down regular car and a hire car seemed a good idea at the time. I haven’t had the misfortune of renting a car in the UK for a long time. Last time I did need one RAC attended the breakdown so all I needed was a driving licence.

Plan B next time my car is unavailable won’t involve renting one…

M Conway says:
24 November 2013

It seems that many car hire companies are thieves or else they employ thieves. How else can they explain the varied bids to extort higher prices than they offered, the scams about fuel, or drop-off times, or cars supplied that don’t match what was originally offered.
Why are they allowed to attack a customer’s bank account, after the car has been returned. Why does the law not require them to pursue genuine claims through the courts, like legitimate companies in legitimate industries.
If the law does not protect customers, why can’t the credit card companies refuse to allow car hire companies to take a second sum, without agreement ?
And why are they allowed to dream up wildly extravagant prices for replacement parts, like windscreens. I have no problem with paying for any damage caused, but not twice the price.
Come on Which, we need help on this.

Tolu says:
7 October 2014

Major complaint regarding Avis Gatwick.

After trying for days to book a particular vehicle (falls within Avis’s select and Prestige group of vehicle) with Avis Gatwick; I was finally able to get a reservation with a 2 weeks pick-up date for the vehicle in question.

I was assured by the operative that made the booking that the vehicle I was reserving was “guaranteed” as it falls within Avis’s select/prestige group of vehicles.

Based on this information; I travelled all the way to Gatwick on Thursday 02/10/2014; only to be told at Avis Gatwick customer service desk that the guaranteed car was unavailable.

No reasonable explanation was provided and the only thing the customer service operator could do was to give me the contact details of the” manager” who was unavailable at the time and promise that she would get her to call me first thing the next morning to try find a solution. She gave me her business card with her contact details as well.

The next day; after not receiving any calls from the said” manager”; I decided to call her & left a message for her to call me. I also emailed her as well.

I have still not received any response whatsoever from the” manager” up till now!

I have since called their customer service line and spoken to one of their customer service operators; in Budapest.

I was however shocked when after explaining my case to the operator, all he could say was that I should have read the terms and conditions written in small print on the invoice I received.

Apparently, somewhere in that invoice; it should state in small print; that I might be offered a substitute vehicle if the particular vehicle I booked for is unavailable and the only thing he could do was offer me compensation in the amount of £50 to close the case!

£50 for what am guessing equates to my travel costs & over 4 hours of my time plus the waste of a day’s holiday for the day of the hire and My plans for the day ruined as well.

I tried asking if there was any chance of Avis being able to get me the particular vehicle for some time that weekend but he made it clear that I would have to go through the whole process of rebooking over the phone or online again. I found this quite unacceptable and refused his compensation offer.

I asked to talk to a supervisor or manager but he totally refused and instead gave me an email address to forward my complaint to.

I have since gone back to have a read through the invoice I was given by Avis (small print included). It clearly states the vehicle I paid for was guaranteed as it falls within their prestige/select group.

Nowhere does it say anything about the possibility of being offered a substitute vehicle.

Avis charged and deducted money from my account two weeks prior to the date I was meant to pick up a guaranteed vehicle.

They have however not provided the service you have been paid for.

I have since gone ahead and rebooked the same car for 16/10/2014. However, the price of this hire is nearly £50 more than my original booking.

This is also not acceptable. I am very unhappy with the level of customer service, the inconvenience Avis have caused me.

And I am yet to receive any response to the email or phone messages I have left with their employees!!

old Herbs says:
7 July 2015

why do hire car compnies in Guernsey C.I insidt that youuse their insurance? It is overpriced and appears a closed shop with all the car hire companies on the Island ganging up on visitors.

It is a monopoly and should be investigated. They wont accept any preheld European car hire insurance.

sean campbell says:
6 August 2015

I have tried finding an email address for hertz in order to make the following complaint Can you help?

I booked a car through Economy Car Hire (Ref BDC2KT) and Hertz which subsequently had to be collected at Lisbon Airport on the 13th July. I wanted a medium sized car and when Economy had a Polo on the booking form I hoped despite some reservations that it would be suitable for my family’s needs as my wife is in a wheelchair and often has severe back pain. When I arrived in Lisbon we were forced to wait for three hours in a queue at the airport to get the car.. This was an absolute disgrace and caused great difficultly to us. My wife’s back was sorely affected by the long wait in an uncomfortable airport, I myself am an insulin dependant diabetic and found the queueing very difficult. At no point was an apology or other assistance offered.

When we finally went to collect the car we were given a mini. I argued with the staff of Hertz that this was totally unsuitable for my wife as she could not access the front passenger seat because it had raised sides. This meant that she had to use the rear doors and sit in the back of the car which was very cramped and also had restricted access It took her five minutes to enter and exit the car. This often prompted stares from passersby which she found humiliating. I tried to explain this to Hertz, but they were both dismissive and rude. The customer service assistant ( a man in his twenties who appeared to have perfect mobility) abruptly informed my wife that the car was perfectly suitable for her and then walked away with no further comment. For a 65 year old woman who has lived with her disability for 20 years to be told that by a fit and healthy man was both insulting and disrespectful.
Given the behaviour of the staff at Hertz and my own need to manage my condition promptly, we felt forced to take the car
Struggling with the car caused my wife great physical discomfort and embarrassment. It completely ruined our holiday and destroyed what should have been a much needed relaxing break. Given the legal rights of disabled people within the EU, the behaviour of Hertz I feel was also discriminatory.
Sean Campbell

I cannot find an email address, just a web form: https://www.hertz.co.uk/rentacar/customersupport/index.jsp?targetPage=faqsRightNow.jsp

Many companies use these forms rather than email addresses, which make it difficult to keep a track of correspondence and impossible to send photos or other attachments.

Here is a page from a list of CEO email addresses, and this gives an email address that might work: http://www.ceoemail.com/s.php?id=b-9700&c=Hertz%20UK

Best of luck.

I’ve had similar experiences as the people on here regarding hidden costs on insurance and petrol admin fees but to add to this I just received two letters from Firefly (who appear to be a Hertz Spain company) stating I have been charged 40 euros each for two traffic violations and enclosed are two photos of the car on the motorway stating the date, time and speed on two separate days. But get this! On both black and white, dodgy looking photos, the background is absolutely identical – pylons, bushes, trees and buildings but the foreground on the motor way with the car is different. Moreover, I can prove from photographs on my phone that I was not in the car on either of these times! The first date and time, I attended a Flamenco evening and was sitting at a bar at 16:30. The photo of the car on the motorway states, 16:49 and the second occasion I had returned the car at the airport and took photos of it at 19:07. The violation states I was on the motorway at 19:34. Thankfully my bank has refunded these amounts but I’m absolutely appalled that these major companies can get away with such scams especially when they are members of the European Car Rental Conciliation Service (ECRCS). From searching online, and reading about other people’s experiences, I see this sort of thing has been going on for years and yet no law is protecting the consumer properly.
As far as the hidden insurance scam – its difficult to say no when that hire car is the only way to your destination at 11pm tired and hungry with children. And they know this!

Andrew Shand says:
30 June 2017

This is the text of a complaint I sent to “Europcar”:

“Comments: I paid for a “Skoda Octavia or equivalent” but what I got was a Vauxhall Mokka. There were four of us with two suitcases and three small rucksacks. That luggage would, easily, fit in an Octavia or a Mondeo, Insignia, Passat, Maxda 6, IE a family hatchback/saloon. The Mokka is, according to “Which?”, a “compact SUV” – in no way equivalent to large hatchback. It made our holiday difficult; we had to repack and unload to get at anything. This was not what we paid a high price for. In addition, the engine could not cope with for a full load; neither of us had ever driven such a gutless car. At one point we were falling behind an articulated lorry going up a hill!. In short you did not supply what we paid for and it spoiled our holiday. I hope that someone made a mistake in the booking because what you did was wrong. All four of us await your reply with interest.”

The company replied to say that “it is equivalent”. I struggle to imagine how anyone can see a “small SUV” as equivalent to any “family hatchback” let alone an Octavia with its enormous boot!