/ Motoring, Travel & Leisure

Car hire sites are taking you for a ride

Car windscreen

Car hire websites are taking customers for a ride by hitting them with sneaky charges not included in the headline price. Have you been hit by hidden car hire charges?

I love the freedom of renting a car on holiday. But I don’t like the way some car hire companies’ websites work.

When I book a car online, I often don’t know what I’m going to end up paying because there’s little or no transparency around extra fees for things like insurance and fuel. It means I can’t find out whether I’m getting the best deal and have to gamble on how much the extra charges will be.

I’m not alone – in our survey of Which? members, one fifth of the complaints made to car hire companies were about extra charges. And last year on Which? Conversation, there were many who were upset at the way car hire companies operate, including Stephen:

‘We all understand that we can’t hire a car for nothing, but we do expect to have full disclosure of all costs in advance so that we can make a rational choice.’

So, we decided to investigate how upfront car hire companies are being about the full cost of the rental.

Loaded with hidden charges

Our undercover researchers made a total of 120 visits to 10 of the major car hire company and broker websites to see if we could find out the full cost of a week long rental in Spain. We wanted to know how much it would cost us for full insurance cover and fuel, as well as optional extras like additional drivers.

We found that, even at the end of the booking process, more than half our researchers were not satisfied they knew the total car hire price. Of those who had a compulsory fuel charge to pay when they picked up the car, three quarters didn’t know how much it would be.

Around four in 10 didn’t know the cost of the optional excess waiver to reduce the amount they’d have to pay if the car was damaged. And more than half didn’t know if the waiver covered them for damage to tyres, the windscreen or underneath the car. Three in 10 didn’t know the cost of optional extras, including sat navs or an additional driver.

Car hire companies must improve

It’s a principle of European and UK law that essential information is clearly stated at the point of purchase. So, we want all car hire fees to be made clear at the start of the booking process, including the level of excess, the cost of the excess waiver, the cost of any compulsory fuel charge, and the cost of all other extras like sat navs.

Ultimately, if car hire companies aren’t being upfront about the total cost, it’s almost impossible for you to shop around for the best deal. It also means you’ll pay more than you planned to when you hire a car.

We will be sharing details of our investigation and satisfaction survey with the car hire companies to encourage them to make improvements. We have also written to three companies (Avis, Dollar and Enterprise) to remind them of their legal obligations.

Were you made fully aware of all the extra fees when you last hired a car? What hidden charges have you spotted?

rebecca dacosta says:
10 December 2015

Economy car hire should not be rated car rental of the year! they have just tried to rip me off with a car rental. how come the website allows you to get a good deal and also allows you to book saturday-sunday and then they you receive a phone call and email saying sorry we are closed on sundays however, you can incur more cost to keep the car for another day. Even after agreeing to pay extra you are also hit with that fact that the debit card has been debited, however if you do not have acredit card you cannt rent the car so I am left with no money today and at the mercey of the bank to return my money before the weekend of travel. why didnt the website reject the card or clearly state credit cards only? such companies should not be supported by WHICH.

andrzej says:
23 June 2016

Be aware Avis Lanzarote airport.

[Hello andrzej, we’ve edited your comment to align with our Community Guidelines. Thanks, mods]

Chris says:
19 December 2016

The problem I am having, is age related. I”m going to Alicante in Febuary 2017, and I will be 75, but a lot of the rental site,say their may be a surcharge because of my age, only one has mentioned it, but they dont say how much. I`m still trying to find out wats what! CHRIS T.

John Ette says:
14 August 2017

Has anyone used Green Motion Car Rental at Gatwick. They are very competitive on price even for over 70’s and have a low pollution policy. Is there a catch?

Richard says:
27 February 2018

Hi, I recently hired a car at Geneva airport (the France side) through Rentalcars.com . I received an invoice from Budget when I came home and noticed that an additional €60.33 had been charged to my credit card. I called Budget who told me that this was a mandatory surcharge and road fund licence and that I should have been informed about them by the broker (never mind that the numbers didn’t quite add up).
I contacted the broker, Rentalcars, who said that I’d ticked a box agreeing to additional local charges – the usual extras, like CDW insurance, car seats etc, but also this:
“extra costs involved in running a car hire counter at this location. When you pick your car up, the car hire company will charge you extra to cover some of their costs:
o Administration Charges
• If this applies to you, the cost is 35,00 € per day with a minimum fee of 35,00 € per rental, up to a maximum of 65,00 € per rental – including tax.”
Effectively, that’s potentially a hidden extra €65 on any rental.
I suppose the moral is, if it’s the cheapest, there’s probably a catch and read the small print very, very carefully.