/ 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.


Last summer my wife and I hired a “Firefly” car at Pisa Airport.
After 14 days use but only travelling reasonably short journeys around decent roads in Tuscany when I got home I got a bill of 64 euros for washing the car!
I complained twice and had to wait about 3 months before they eventually refunded the money.
Undoubtedly this was a scam to make a quick 64 euros as the car was in pristine condition when returned – thank goodness my wife checked our Credit Card bill !!


I have full hire care insurance from my American Express Platinum Card. I can therefore decline all optional insurance that a hire car company tries to sell me and American Express’s insurers will pick up the bill for any losses from alleged damage. It’s therefore no loss to me if a hire car company tries one of these dirty tricks, but I am sure that American Express’s insurers are wise to this and would fight it vigorously.


The other scam is car seats for children. Invariably old, dirty and knackered, we’ve been quoted the same price for the car seats as for the car itself. And you can only ‘request’ them when you book, and you’re at the mercy of the rental office as to whether they’ve actually got the right size in stock. By the time you’re at the airport, it’s too late to choose someone else. Given that the car seats cost less to buy than the price that you pay to hire them, it’s morally fraud, even if it’s legal.

DavidC. says:
17 March 2014

Can anyone recommend a good insurance company to provide the 3rd party excess cover at home and abroad?
My own company – Lloyds Motor Insurance/BISL -said they did not provide 3rd party excess cover.

Chris says:
17 March 2014

Hi David, I have used ‘insurance4carhire.com’ for several years. The cover on offer seems to cover most eventualities and I find them a very efficient company to do business with.

Happily, I have not faced the situation where I have needed to use their service, but it is a great comfort to know that the facility is there if required. I always choose the ‘worldwide’ service but be aware that ‘worldwide’ is not sufficient if you intend to drive in the USA or Canada. I understand that this is because car hire in these 2 countries don’t include any insurance cover for CDW / 3rd party risks, so you need to cover for these risks as well as covering for any excess.

Several other companies also offer insurance for excess charges – do an internet search.

DavidC. says:
17 March 2014

Hi Chris: Many Thanks. Very helpful

Michael Fishwick says:
29 May 2014

I was conned by Dickmanns out of £407.84p for damage I DID NOT DO! it makes me Seth, Avoid Dickmanns at all costs, they are conning people daily, and nothing is done about it.

That guy who owns Dickmanns as no morals whatsoever, I hope that he gets his just rewards for all that theft, and ends up eating porridge for a long, long time, and all of his assets be taken away as proceeds of crime!!


I am a frequent car renter and have an insurance4carhire policy so as to avoid the much higher charges companies offer. Recently I rented a car via carrentals.co.uk (whom I always use) from Green Motion at Stansted airport. At the outset we walked round the car and the (minimal) bodywork damage was noted on a form. When I returned the car I was told there was an additional small (under a centimetre in diameter) chip on the wheel arch. I wasn’t present when the car was inspected but I returned to the car to view the damage and took photos to support the first claim on my insurance4carhire policy I’ve ever made. There was indeed a tiny break in the paintwork. How it had come about I have no idea. Nothing similar has ever happened to me before, and I couldn’t help feeling I was being punished for not having taken out their excess insurance. I was toke it was probably a stone flying up from the road surface. The lessons to me are don’t allow the vehicle to be inspected without being present, and don’t rent from Green motion again.


One of the problems that I have faced by hiring a car from San Francisco airport is as a result of the Golden Gate Bridge no longer having toll booths. The toll is collected by other means, such as the “FasTrak” device fitted to vehicles, including hire cars. This is fine, but hire companies charge by the day for this facility, so that if you only use the bridge southbound once to take the car back to the airport, as I do, you pay for every day you hire the car, and not each time you need to pay a toll. This can amount to a reasonable sum, say 50 dollars for a 10 day hire, depending on the hire company. Also, it can be difficult to ascertain the charge until you reach the airport desk to collect the car.

Another unfair charge is the levy for breakdown assistance. Pressure is applied at the airport desk to take out this insurance, but my feeling is that you are paying to hire a car that works, and if it does not, for any reason, it should be the responsibility of the hire company to ensure that you get one.