/ Motoring, Travel & Leisure

Do car hire tricks drive you mad?

Car hire

Do you hire cars when you go on holiday? And have you had a problem with the car companies you’ve hired through? We reveal the top pitfalls to avoid when booking a hire car.

Most of us are fortunate enough to not have a problem with hire cars – our research shows that nine out of 10 of you haven’t had a problem in the last year. But a significant minority of people are getting a raw deal when hiring cars abroad.

Here we expose the top three tricks of the car hire trade to avoid – and thanks to Which? Conversation commenters for bringing some of these to our attention.

Trick 1 – Damage charges

Customers have found they are either charged when they return a car, or when they get home, for damage they haven’t caused. On returning vehicles, we’ve heard about staff magically gravitating towards something they seem to know about already.

Avoid this by making sure that any damage is noted correctly by staff on pick-up. Take photos or a video of the car, which will prove its condition at that time. On drop-off, get a member of staff to sign a receipt saying that the car is OK. If this isn’t possible, take more photos to go with the ones you took at pick-up.

Trick 2 – Excess waiver fees

You’ll be told that if the car’s damaged you’ll have to pay an excess fee towards repairs. You’ll then be asked to pay a daily fee for a waiver that will reduce the excess charge, often to zero. The total cost could be as much as the original hire cost.

Avoid this by taking out a third-party excess policy in advance and bring the details with you. Annual policies for Europe start from £40; single trip cover is around £25.

Trick 3 – Fuel options

The biggest fuel trick to watch out for is the requirement for you to pick up the car full and return it empty. As David Croker told us:

‘My biggest gripe is having to pay for a full tank at collection and having to return it empty or lose out. I’m not going to drive 700km in a week in Mallorca and I usually return a half-full tank. I won’t accept this anymore.’

Avoid this by calling the hire company before paying to check what the fuel policy is. If you’re booking through a broker, ask them for a supplier with the fuel policy you want.

It’s also a good idea to protect yourself by taking photos of the fuel gauge when you pick up and return the car. And fill the car up close to the airport to make sure the tank’s full on return.

Other car hire tricks

Automatic toll collecting equipment can be costly with a hefty hire charge per day to pay, so check whether this is a legal requirement and whether it can be turned off. And if unexpected or unauthorised payments appear on your statements, raise this with your card company or bank.

Watch out for the hidden costs of car upgrades – often the extra cost of fuel, especially on a full-empty deal, will outweigh the benefit of driving a nicer car. And be aware of the cost of sat nav hire – it could be cheaper to buy foreign maps for your sat nav rather than hiring one with the car.

Have you experienced one of these car hire tricks? And if you’ve been faced with other tricks that we haven’t featured so far, let us know.

R Williams says:
28 February 2014

I was cheated by Budget at their branch next to Burbank Airport in Los Angeles last May. I signed a document confirming my hire of a car, not knowing that it contained a sentence in its body stating that Budget would make the conversion to sterling. The first I knew of this was when I got my receipt for the return of the car. I protested immediately (the rate was highly disadvantageous) and continued to protest. I got no help or satisfactory response from Budget. Since I had handed in the car on my departure taking further action became very difficult and so Budget got away with it.

Chris says:
28 February 2014

On a number of occasions I have had no choice but to accept vehicles which are of a different class / size to the one I ordered. In Italy I was told that I was being given an ‘free upgrade’, but this involved accepting a very large vehicle quite unsuited to driving in narrow Italian streets. I protested, as I had ordered a compact car several weeks previously, but effectively I was told to ‘take it or leave it’ as they had no other vehicles available. At 11 p.m. no other car rental offices were open so I had no choice but to accept this totally unsuitable vehicle.
Similar events have happened to me when hiring cars in the USA and in South Africa, but the companies involved don’t care about causing inconvenience, knowing that they have already received payment.
It would be nice to know what are our rights in these circumstances, as I feel that in accepting a booking giving several weeks notice, these companies have entered into a contract to provide specifically what was ordered.
Is there anyone in the ‘Which’ organisation who can advise what our rights are when hiring cars abroad?

Karen says:
1 March 2014

I have yet to get the car preordered from a car hire company abroad in USA, New Zealand and South Africa. The most ridiculous was ending up with a huge people carrier TWICE in South Africa -instead of the 4x4s ordered – one where the rear doors slide open and the rear windows don’t wind down. Spent days in various national parks with the side doors wide open in order for rear passenger to take photographs … Nerve wracking at times!

Chris KT says:
28 February 2014

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.

I now check insurance and fuel policies very carefully before hiring.

C McFarlane says:
1 March 2014

If you use sites like holidayautos or travelsupermarket to find the cheapest deal, beware of companies like Goldcar who quote low basic prices so as to come top of the search list, then hit you with the pick-up-full-return-empty scam. It should be mentioned that this also involves charging you well over the going rate for the tank of fuel they sell you, so even if you could somehow return empty you would lose out. This policy seems to be spreading, alas, so check fuel policy on the website before signing up. As frequent hirers we have an annual insurance policy with Insurance4carhire which works out a lot cheaper.

alex says:
7 November 2014

Holiday Autos have also appear to have started to “forget” to include CDW to get boosted up the rankings.

Mr Eric Stewart says:
1 March 2014

I rented a car on the net directly from Budget Car Rentals at Stanstead airport at a quoted cost of £88.00 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?)
They then gave me the choice of a damage waiver charge of another £38, or I had to leave a credit card deposit of £850, yes Eight Hundred and fifty pounds !!!!!!!!!!!
I had no choice because they already had my initial fee of £88, and ended up paying £226.00 for the 7 days hire. I will never go near these vultures again, and will advise my family and friends and anybody reading this to do likewise.

cleverdick says:
1 March 2014

A few years ago whilst in the US, we hired a 5-year-old Crown Vic from an outfit called Rent-a-Wreck. The main benefit is that the inevitable dings/scratches will not identify you as a tourist – and the more the better!

On returning the vehicle, we were hit with an unexpected excess mileage charge, but a bit of haggling got this waived.

It was a fabulous car at a highly favourable rate, and they even paid for a punctured tyre to be repaired (which wasn’t their fault).