/ Motoring, Travel & Leisure

Does car hire abroad drive you round the Benidorm?

Car hire sign

No-frills flight, accommodation booked direct, and car hire. They’re the three essential elements of my holidays. And of the three, there’s one I have come to approach with a heavy heart…

Picking up a rental car at your destination airport is frequently an ordeal far worse than the trial of getting through security on departure.

By the time you arrive tired and disorientated after the flight all you want to do is jump into the car and go.

But you know that you’ll invariably face long queues while each customer gets to grips with the unexpected when they pick up their car.

On my last trip to France we waited nearly an hour while customers argued over being given a different sized vehicle to what they were expecting, negotiated over extra insurance payments and debated the finer points of sat nav.

We try to minimise this problem by paying for as much as we can in advance, but there’s always uncertainty around a number of issues. What car will you be given, regardless of what you’ve ordered? What will the insurance excess be if you return a damaged car? And will the child seat you requested be available.

Confusing car hire fuel charges

And then there are the fuel policies. Generally you’re given a car with a full tank and then you’re expected to return it full, or pay extra for the car hire firm to fill it up.

So naturally enough you leave it as late as possible to fill up the tank before returning the car, which is fine as long as there’s a petrol station near the airport.

Sadly that’s not always the case, and we once came perilously close to missing a flight due to searching in vain for a garage. In the end we cut our losses, returned it less than full, and had to accept whatever charge the car hire firm chose to make.

A map showing where local garages were would have helped immensely – and in our survey of car hirers, 60% said they’d like to see rental companies provide such a thing.

Your car rental woes

In the past few months, Which? members have told us about car hire companies, mainly in Spain, charging lots for a full tank of petrol and then demanding it’s returned empty – clearly impossible unless you decide to siphon off whatever petrol’s left once you get to the car park. And in some small islands it will be difficult to use a full tank – meaning the rental company can charge two customers for the same petrol.

Fuel charges and insurance excesses were at the top of a list of complaints from the people we surveyed. But what are your biggest car hire gripes?

suggesh says:
4 October 2011

Earlier this year I took a 4 day hire at bergerac airport. as its small there was no issue in getting the car and that was quite swift. What enraged me was that on the return journey to deop off the tyre i got a puncture and had to put on the spare tyre. I notified europcar of this and they said they’d get back to me with the charge for the new tyre. The charge was 230 Euro!! And it was a small Fiat 500 tyre. i have a car in the UK that’s of a similar size and a new tyre is £40!! as a result i will never use Europcar again – a disgrace. Since then I have used SIXT and thisnk their service is excellent.

I have hired cars on holidays abroad over the last 20 years or so. In most cases I book in the UK before leaving. In my experience it pays to have excess insurance from one of the companies like 4 car hire, as I have had disputes in countries like Portugal over damaged tyres. There is no general rule as to how you are going to be treated by the company, Some go over the car with a fine tooth comb when returning it, and others are much more lax. Names mean nothing as most are just franchiseses. One Hertz depot can be OK another a nightmare. If you are asked to pay for something that you consider unfair pay “under protest” and take it up with your credit card company on your return. I still feel releived a few weeks after if no mysterious items appear on my credit card statement and I just don’t know why it has to be this way when returning the car.

For me it the extra insurance charges that you are asked to pay after you have booked online that annoy me. You think you have got a good deal but then told at pick up you are liable for the first 3000Eu of damages to the car and end up paying an extra XXEu/day. Is there some insurance cover you can take out yourself to cover this? – I would imagine if you hire a car a few times a year it would be better value. Appreciate if you can post ideas.

steve says:
6 September 2016

My gripes are:

Advertising a BMW at a great price and then presenting you with a Skoda when you arrive. Yes, they claim the price is for the class of car but of course the cars are not the same – they certainly don’t cost the same. It’s time this practice was stopped.

Refuelling: Introduce a sensible fixed service charge for refuelling on top of the prevailing fuel price in the neighbourhood to end this blatant profiteering