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.