/ 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.

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).

John Smith says:
1 March 2014

Beware, if using a foreign-based broker like Holiday Autos, as they may not have offices in the UK. My recent experience with this Dublin-based Car Trawler owned company, after using them successfully for many years, was only brought to a happy conclusion by the back-up provided by my card company. A surprise charge to my credit card (after return to the UK) for non-existent damage on return of the car – which had actually been signed for by the rental company at Milan airport – was not cancelled after receipt of my documented complaint. In fact, the customer relations office in Gdansk (via an Indian call centre) simply refused to discuss the detail of my complaint, or even respond to the letter that I’d sent them immediately the issue arose. I felt powerless, with nowhere to go with my appeals – quite the reverse of previous years when the UK office had always been responsive to any queries.

Chris Elliott says:
1 March 2014

Argus Car Hire ran a fake 24 hour sale for a variety of foreign destinations in January 2014. I was already tracking prices for a holiday in Morocco and was content with £176 for 11 days for a Ford Ka or equivalent but, having received the mailshot saying 20% off during the 24 hour sale, I waited for sale day to book. Result? The price of £176 had been inflated to £220 and then discounted by 20% back to £176! The same applied to all the alternative suppliers that they quoted.
I booked anyway because I had lost nothing but I reported them to Trading Standards (who have done nothing presumably because Argus are registered in Ireland).
Having said the above I have used Argus several times before without problems (but of course they are only the agents).

The Hire Companies in this country are just as bad. Last June I needed to have a hire car for a week when I was waiting delivery of a new car (my current car had broken down). Europacar made a fraudulent claim for some extra non existent damage to the vehicle, which I had left with the main dealer when my new car was ready (as I had been instructed). For some inexplicable reason my insurer agreed to accept their claim! Moral of the story is I guess – TRUST NO ONE and return the vehicle to the Hire Company’s premises!

Michael Gross says:
1 March 2014

Hired from Hertz for a month on a USA holiday, Hertz gave us 5 star service, from the time we collected the car to when we dropped the car off at LA airport. as we handed back the keys I was ready to put the suitcases on a trolley to take the bus to the Airport, the Hertz operative stopped me and said ” I will drive you to the Airport” we were really surprised, wow thats service!!

Chris says:
9 April 2014

We did the same from San Diego and found Hertz to be an excellent company, they probably cost us more but we avoided the horror stories elsewhere on this thread. I think it pays to do your research, know the terms and conditions and read forums on the subject [tripadvisor, has some good threads on USA roadtrips]]

The “new” tyre scam. We recently rented from Dickmann’s in Alicante. All was well with the car and the rental contract form was signed off as OK when we returned the car. Our 480 euro deposit (which was actually taken from our account, not just held on deposit) was swiftly returned. However, the next day, the company took a further 200 euros from my credit card (an unauthorised transaction). I eventually found out that I had been accused of buying a new tyre for the car. this alleged new tyre was of a different type to that on the other axle. As this is illegal in Spain, the company has had to buy another new one at a charge of 200 euros.
this is a completely false accusation and I am fighting to get the money refunded.
This appears to be a new “scam” as those companies I have spoken with have not heard about it before. I shall be taking lots of photographs/video next time I rent as it is difficult to prove that I did no such thing.

After 3 months hassle, the company has finally agreed to refund this unauthorised transaction, thanks to the broker CarJet, Margaret Dibben at the Sunday Times, my credit card company and my Spanish solicitor. Interestingly the letter sent to my credit card company, when translated, now claimed that i had damaged one of the wheels of the car; no longer a tyre issue but a wheel issue. They have severely compromised their credibility and i strongly recommend avoiding Dickmann’s car hire company

C Mackie says:
1 March 2014

I hired a car through Hertz when on a break in Ireland. We ended up only driving the car 50 miles to my mums house and 50 miles back to the airport. It was on the driveway at my mums for 4 days. When we dropped it back to Waterford airport the man checked the car and said it was fine. I stupidly took him at his word and got on my flight. A few days later Hertz took £1600 off my credit card. I had received no letter or email from them stating why. I contacted them and they said the alloy wheel had been damaged in 2 places. The photos they eventually included showed damage that could only have been caused by kerbing it and I know for a fact that I did not do that. After confronting them over it they reduced the charge to £160! I am still annoyed however as I know I did not cause any damage. It is just a licence to print money! Beware and make sure you check everything with a fine tooth comb, take photos of everything and make sure you get the card signed off at drop off.

M Conway says:
1 March 2014

So many of us have had to fight against totally unjustified car hire charges, that we need clear guidance on how to protect our bank accounts.
If I buy a car or book a flight, I don’t have to worry about such charges or fight for months to get some of my money back.
So come on Which, help us with clear guidelines and let’s have a campaign to tighten up these car hire contracts.
Why can’t I be guaranteed to get the car I booked – not something they say that I must put up with, when I arrive.
Why can’t the hire companies be required to inspect cars on return and to sign to say they have done so.
And why do the hire contracts allow them impose charges for fuel that might be due, rather than for fuel actually used.
Which has no problem advising consumers about Best Buys and Don’t Buys of household appliances. Can we have the same for the car hire companies ?

Absolutely agree with you, we need Which to seriously look at these hire companies.
Recently went Iceland and made our way to the hire desk, got the usual ‘excess damage waiver’
spiel, which i agreed to. (inclement weather and all that!)
Was given the key and told where to find the car in an outside car park under 6 inches of snow!
(the car was white as well) Then had to walk back in to the airport and find the lone representative
and demand that we be escorted to find the vehicle, sweep off the snow (its around -6 degrees by this point and dark) to check the vehicles’ condition.
On returning the vehicle there were no problems and the staff were fab.
That may have been because i demanded the vehicle be checked thoroughly so as to
tie up with photos that i had taken before, and at the end of the hire period !

howIwish says:
2 March 2014

Would it be possible to produce a reasonable example of a suitable and fair car rental document, that listed clearly what was a reasonable contract.
When making a reservation we could attach this statement of what we wanted, If they cannot provide it we will take our business elsewhere.
We could rapidly draw the attention of the various companies to this threat to their scams if “Which ” could make a ‘download’ sample available on the net and ask members to make an inquiry for a possible booking and attach the suggested rental document.
Many failures of of possible bookings might bring some attention to their irksome scams

Denis Williams says:
2 March 2014

I hired a car from Hertz in Canada last year and ordered an intermediate size vehicle .I got a compact size instead We didnt realise this untill our friends pointed this out to us.I contacted the manufacturer who confirmed it was a compact classification. I contacted Hertz and showed them a picture of the car and the manufacterers comments.They insisted THEY classed it as a compact.
I know we should have queried it at the pick up but adter a long flight it doesnt always register.So check your vehicle class against what you actually get.
We also learned after the battery failed on our one year old car that people very often swap batteries on newer cars so check the battery for corrosion before setting off.We had to buy a battery and fit ourselves .We were refunded the cost but had I checked It would not have happend.I would not hire from Hertz again .

Chris says:
9 April 2014

Their car classes are in all their literature and freely available on their leaflets and the web, maybe time to upgrade?

We recently hired a car in Melbourne, Australia, from APEX Car Rentals. They have a full to full fuel policy and offer three levels of hire: Budget, Standard and The Works. The Works includes a complete damage waiver with no excess and no strings attached over tyres etc. It also includes a SatNav, which we considered essential and was cheaper than getting maps from Garmin for our own device.
Nobody else offers this kind of package and we were highly delighted with the service and the car.
BUT – (there’s always a BUT) beware of the range allowed. Not mileage, but range. This is not stated on their web site booking form, but is made clear on a small map that is included in the hire agreement that you sign on pick-up. We were not allowed further north than Mildura on our agreement.
If this is an impotant feature for you – CHECK ON BOOKING! Send an email before you commit to booking.
TOP TIP: If you do unwittingly stray outside of the allowed area, you will not be insured, so make sure that you wipe the SatNav’s memory clean before handing back the car!

Sandy Wake says:
2 March 2014

We have recently returned from Spain (Alicante airport) where we hire a car from Gold Car.
Not only were we forced into taking out additional insurance for tyres / glass but we were not given the chance to pay in Euros but were charged at a punative rate of exchange. The cost would have paid for six months comprehensive insurance of our Fiesta at home.
I tried to point out a multitude of scrapes and scratches before driving the car but was told not to bother the rep. Had I optes to leave the 600 Euro deposit I am sure that all the damage would have held to have occurred while I had the car as it would appear that they do not carry out repairs. do they just bank the premiums?
Gold Car did say that they would refund the cost of any unused fuel but the amount credited was far less than the value of the remaining fuel.
I talked to others whom had hired from other dealers who told similar tales. All hire cars now seem to come with high mileages and damaged.

Linda Shuttleworth says:
2 March 2014

We hired a car from Thrifty, to pick up at Munich airport, in Oct 2012, through a third party website. When we arrived the car rental company was TERSTAPPEN who I now know to be a Dollar Thrifty Sublicensee. There was no one to inspect the car when we returned. In Jan 2013 they took 889.90eur off my credit card for false damage. If I had told the credit card company that the card had been misused they would have paid me and Terstappen would have kept the money. My credit card company did a charge back and Terstappen withdrew the invoice. I did some research on the internet and this also happened to an American who had booked through Dollar a company he trusted. He also managed to get his money back.

john m says:
3 March 2014

I hired a car for a week in Bulgaria. When I returned the car, the hire office at the airport was closed so I posted the keys through the postbox. When I returned to uk I got a call telling me that I had not left the wallet containing insurance documents.They were correct as I did not realise they had to be returned. I offered to send them back by next day courier but this was not acceptable to them. They charged £130 for the replacement documents which was about the same price as the car hire.

James Osmond says:
3 March 2014

My wife and I recently spent a week in Tenerife at the Roca Navaria hotel on the south west of the island , we hired a car at the hotel, garaged in the basement,we paid in cash for the hire and paid a returnable deposit in cash. They did’nt check the car when we fetched it back,we took our receipt to the office and got our deposit back no hassle , no credit cards. wonderful.