/ Motoring, Travel & Leisure

OCU: how we’re cleaning up car hire in Spain

Cartoon car

Holidaymakers have long complained about some car hire companies in Spain using unfair fuel policies. Here’s the Spanish consumer org OCU on how they’ve worked with Which? to clean up car hire.

The cheap prices advertised by some car hire companies can come with a sting in the tail. These companies often have full-empty fuel policies, meaning you have to pay for a full tank of fuel you may never use. Any left over fuel is then sold on a second time to the next customer.

At OCU we saw the need to act shoulder to shoulder with Which? to stop these practices hurting the interests of UK and Spanish consumers.

OCU and Which? campaign on car hire

So we engaged in a constructive dialogue with car hire firms companies such as Goldcar, Firefly and InterRent. We also addressed the European Commission and MEPs to highlight the poor practices of some car hire companies. The Director General of Justice, Ms Michou, welcomed this joint initiative and supported the view that companies may be acting illegally.

We spoke to AECOSAN (the Spanish national consumer protection agency) and they agreed to put the issue on the agenda of the regional enforcement bodies. And Which? brought the issue to the attention of the Competition and Markets Authority.

Here’s how the car hire companies have responded:

• Alamo has dropped its full-empty policy in Portugal, the only place it operated the policy.
• Avis’s site wasn’t very clear, but it has made changes to clearly show that it offers a full-full fuel policy.
• Budget has changed its policy to full-full in mainland Spain, but still has full-empty in the Canaries.
• Firefly will make it clearer that mandatory fuel surcharges are payable on collection. It also plans to introduce a full-full fuel option for customers soon that could address all our concerns.
• InterRent is making improvements to its website with a promise to provide more details for customers about all applicable fuel surcharges, though we still think it could be clearer.
• Goldcar now states that a fuel surcharge is payable on collection. While this is a welcome step, we don’t think it’s as clear as it should be.

What next for our car hire campaign?

We’ll continue to monitor the market and the action of consumer protection agencies. If there aren’t substantial changes, we will submit formal complaints before the regional consumer protection agencies.

Beyond the results achieved by this campaign, we have learnt a powerful lesson: by acting together with Which? we have been seen by companies, public authorities and, more importantly, consumers, to have a stronger voice. We have combined our forces: OCU facilitated the liaison with the Spanish authorities and companies, Which? provided us with the sound evidence we needed to better substantiate the case. This is a very apparent example of how “l’union fait la force”!

What’s your experience been like with car hire companies? Have you been caught out by their fuel policies?

This is a guest post by David M. Ortega Peciña, Deputy Director of the Spanish consumer organisation Organización de consumidores y usuarios (OCU). What follows now is a Spanish translation for our friends in Spain.

OCU: cómo estamos limpiando el mercado de alquiler de coches en España

Los turistas se han quejado de que algunas empresas de alquiler de coches en España siguen políticas de combustibles injustas. La organización de consumidores española OCU nos cuenta cómo ha trabajado con Which? para limpiar el mercado alquiler de coches en ese país.

Los bajos precios anunciados por algunas empresas de alquiler de coches pueden venir con un aguijón en la cola. Estas empresas suelen tener políticas de combustible “lleno-vacío”, lo que significa que el consumidor tiene que pagar por el tanque lleno de combustible que puede que nunca use. Cualquier combustible sobrante se vende a continuación al cliente siguiente.

En OCU vimos la necesidad de actuar hombro con hombro con Which? para poner fin a estas prácticas perjudicando los intereses de los consumidores del Reino Unido y españoles.

Emprendimos un diálogo constructivo con las empresas de alquiler de coches como Goldcar, Firefly y InterRent. También abordamos la Comisión Europea y a eurodiputados para denuncias las malas prácticas de algunas empresas de alquiler de coches. El Director General de Justicia, la Sra Michou, dio la bienvenida a esta iniciativa conjunta y apoyó la opinión de que las empresas podrían estar actuando ilegalmente.

Hablamos con AECOSAN (la agencia española de protección al consumidor) y estuvieron de acuerdo para poner el tema en la agenda de los organismos regionales encargados de hacer cumplir las normas de protección de los consumidores. Which?, por su parte, denunció el asunto ante la autoridad británica equivalente, la Competition and Markets Authority.

Así es como las empresas de alquiler de coches han respondido:

• Alamo ha abandonado su política de lleno-vacío en Portugal, el único lugar en que aún mantenía esta política.
• La web de Avis no era muy clara, pero se han hecho cambios para mostrar de forma más clara que ofrece una política de combustible “lleno-lleno”.
• Budget ha cambiado su política “lleno-lleno” en España peninsular, pero todavía mantiene el “lleno-vacío” en Canarias.
• Firefly informa ahora de manera más clara que se cobran recargos por combustible obligatorios a pagar al recoger el vehículo. También planea introducir una opción “lleno-lleno” que, en principio, satisfacer todas nuestras inquietudes.
• InterRent está haciendo mejoras en su sitio web con el fin de proporcionar a los clientes más detalles acerca de todos los recargos por combustible aplicables, aunque seguimos pensando que podría ser más claro.
• Ahora Goldcar informa de que debe pagarse un recargo por combustible a la retirada del vehículo. Si bien este es un paso positivo, no creemos que sea tan claro como debería ser.

¿Qué es lo siguiente en nuestra campaña de alquiler de coches?

Vamos a seguir vigilando el mercado y la acción de los organismos de protección de los consumidores. Si no hay cambios sustanciales, vamos a presentar quejas formales ante las agencias regionales de protección de los consumidores.

Más allá de los resultados obtenidos por esta campaña, hemos aprendido una gran lección: la actuación conjunta con Which? nos ha permitido ser percibidos por las empresas, las autoridades públicas y, lo más importante, por los consumidores, como actores capaces de lograr un mayor impacto. Hemos combinado nuestras fuerzas de manera simbiótica: OCU facilitó el contacto con las autoridades y empresas españolas, mientras que Which? nos proporcionó las sólidas evidencias que necesitábamos para fundamentar mejor el caso. Esta es un muy claro ejemplo de cómo “la unión hace la fuerza”!

¿Cuál es tu experiencia con las empresas de alquiler de coches? ¿Te has visto atrapado alguna vez en sus políticas de combustible?

Comments
Guest

This is good news. The next problem to tackle is the CDW excess scam. Last time in Madrid I was accused of putting a scratch on a bumper to go along with all the others on it and was charged a huge sum on my credit card which I had to claim back from my third party insurer. They had no intention of using the money to repair the scratch – or they would have fixed all the others – it’s just a means of rooking the insurers – or the naive uninsured – for more money, often more than the actual hire charge.

Guest

This is an area where the European Commission should legislate. Car hire companies should be banned from operating full-empty policies and instead have to operate full-full or empty-empty. A full-empty policy serves only to facilitate a misleading indication of price. The misleadingly low headline hire price is funded by the car hire firm disingenuously reselling fuel which it did not pay for and for which it had already charged the previous customer.

Guest

Full-to-full is fine but full-to-empty or empty-to-empty schemes could encourage motorists to take the risk of running out of fuel, which could cause an accident.

Guest

By empty-empty, I mean that car is returned and picked up with whatever fuel happens to be in it at the time. Car hire companies could of course stipulate that the low fuel warning light is not triggered when the car is returned. Although empty-empty is not the ideal policy, in some limited circumstances it might be more practical than full-full, which is why it should be an option if full-empty is outlawed.

Guest

I suppose full-full would be difficult if you’re returning a car late at night where there’s no petrol station open for miles around. But the same could be said for empty-empty if you haven’t got enough petrol to go anywhere till the petrol station opens. However I suspect either set of circumstances occurs extremely rarely’ I would have thought ‘return it with the petrol you found it with’ is reasonable enough; that tends to be what happens with courtesy cars and so on.

Guest

I don’t see a problem if the fuel warning light is not illuminated, but the hire companies would need a better description than ’empty’.

Guest

Agree Wavechange- as long as the fuel warning light is not on then fuel charges shouldnt feature at all.
Its up to you how much effort you put into managing the fuel purchases to not waste any fuel, or go for peace of mind and not worry about returning the car with a 1/2 full tank.

Guest

I booked Goldcar in 2013. When we arrived at Palma airport from UK there was a huge queue of about 2 to 3 hours just to get to the rental counter. But you could jump the queue for 45 Euros (premium customer fee) which at 7 pm we felt we had no choice but to do.

Then the reason for the queue became clear. The staff were using hard sell to make customers buy more insurance, road rescue, personal accident etc extras, which took a long time. I refused to buy any of these, as almost all of it was covered by the agents I booked through.

So angry were Goldcar about this, that on return, they charged 60 Euros to my credit card for ‘cleaning’, despite there being no unusual dirt on or in the car.

The credit card company refunded it and charged it back to Goldcar.

Never again! Worst car rental company ever!

Guest
Lynne says:
18 March 2015

We have just experienced a similar thing in Tenerife. 2 hrs wait only to find the hard sell for excess, which we didn’t need because we had already purchased in the UK. One young German woman was in tears as she didn’t have E1200 available on her CC. When home discovered they had charged for upgrade (auto-europe have refunded) we are now fighting over the add driver which I believed was free (E60).

[This comment has been tweaked to align with our community guidelines. Thanks, mods.]

Guest
Mat says:
1 June 2015

Booked a Seat Leon with Goldcar 2 weeks ago in Valencia, for 3 days. Price paid at the moment of reservation: 39 euros. Without full insurance (basic insurance is included), and without their flexfuel-service.

During pick up of the car they threaten you with a list of accidents that can happen and how much it will cost you if you don’t take the full insurance. Finally conceded to take an insurance for 45 euros (instead of 65 euros posted on internet, thought I’d negotiated great 🙂 ). Next they tell you that they will charge you a full tank and pay back the fuel you used afterwards. No more explanation, seemed perfect to me.

Afterwards we noticed they charged me 157 euros on my VISA. Their explanation: 45 euros insurance; 26 euros for the flexfuel-service; 20 euros because it’s diesel; 66 euros for a full tank. We used 3/8 of a full tank; so they refunded me (66/8*5=42euros). The 26 + 20 euros were never explained to me at the moment of pick-up, nor written nor verbally.

So: you book a car at 39 euros, and you end up paying 85 euros (excl insurance), without any approval nor explanation. Actually: if they would explain it to you, you would never book it!

I will never use Golcar again, and always strongly advise against them!

Guest

Booked a Fiat Panda (via internet AutoEurope/Easy Terra Car rental) at La Palma airport about a month ago. On arrival there was a terribly long queue of more than 1,5 hours just to get to the rental counter. The staff (Juan Carlos) offered me (upon arrival at the desk) a FREE upgrade to a Ford Fiesta because of the long wait. Of course I accepted.
He then handed me a contract in Spanish with no further verbal explanation and no question about any optional extra insurance or whatever else. Also the contract that I received when I booked the car via internet said that I needed to pay € 0,00 upon arrival and I had to fill up the tank when I returned the car. On the contract it said ” liquidacion” with an amount of € 164,00, I diidn’t suspect anything but maybe a tank of fuel (if not filled up in the end) and maybe a small deposit for the car or something. Also there still was a queue behind me so if I would have translated the entire contract there on the spot it would have been a real pain.
I trusted the staff to follow the rules as mentioned to me via the rental company when I booked the car and signed the contract.
Once at home they charged me those € 164,00 on my VISA, they credited € 87,00 for the full tank of fuel but the rest (€ 77,00) was not refunded!!
This was explained as a cost of € 2,00 for the (NOT) “free” upgrade???!!! And the rest (€75,00) was this “copertura super relax” that they never mentioned to me at the desk….
They told me that I had I had ” chosen an extra insurance called “Relax”, never heard of and UNWANTED!!
They never asked me anything and I certainly would not have taken an extra insurance since everything was paid for and covered as I wanted already.
Also they said that I a client does not take this Relax-insurance, (” copertura super relax”) he is forced to have at least € 950,00 blocked on their creditcard in case of damage.

THey never informed me about this at the desk and certainly this must happen all the time with other customers as well, whom I hereby want to warn for this rental company!

It is fraudulent what Goldcar does, NEVER AGAIN will I hire a car with them!!