/ 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?

Jo Kay says:
24 September 2013

We just used Firefly at Alicante Airport. We were quoted 80 euros for 10 days peak season so we knew that we would be hit with hidden charges when we got there. We expected to pay double that once insurance and fuel were added on. When we actually arrived there was a queue of 50 people and we were told that we could jump the queue and be given priority if we agreed to pay EUR 10 per day for their excess insurance. We paid it as we didn’t want to wait for 2 hours. They also charged us 35% tax on the full tank of fuel and we don’t believe that this is taxable.

So we ended up paying just over EUR 200 to drive the car away. I still think it’s cheap for 10 days and included our fuel, which we used up. But i’d really rather know upfront what i’m paying.

Perhaps it’s time for the EU to step in and regulate car hire throughout the EU. I have hired cars for holidays throughout Europe and luckily the only difficulty I had was returning an empty tank of petrol. I have not hired abroad recently but I am disturbed at the stories I have read here. I was planning on going to the Canaries just before Christmas and hiring a car for 10-14 days. Now, I’m not sure I want to bother with the hassle.

The main problems appear to be the misinformation used to obtain credit/debit card details.

One Enterprising Vehicle Hire company now appears to make contact with injured and vulnerable consumers involved in crashes to seek to provide a vehicle which they will claims the charges for from another insurer.
Yet despite the activity being a regulated one (MoJ & FCA) it seems none of the protections for consumr required by law are ever put in place. Hence, it seems for some £hundreds are taken from the card details which were only a ‘security check’!

While regulations already exist throughout the EU it seems very weak regulatiory enforcement keeps the vast sums rolling in for what many feel are very bad wrongdoers.

What exactly do our MEP’s do in Europe. I contacted one for my area a few months ago – for the very first time – about an issue effecting many people in Europe. I was told by her that I should contact my Westminster MP instead. What the hell (polite) are they doing in the European Parliament if not representing us throughout Europe. This would seem an ideal issue for all MEP’s to get stuck into.

What do our MEP’s do for us in the European Parliament, apart from continue to feed off the gravy train.

Essexlol says:
2 June 2014

I have hired cars from Munich Airport, (in advance on the internet) on many occasions, with the purpose of driving to Austria.
For the first time ever I was charged 20 Euros by “Dollar” for this priviledge.
I made the mistake of not realising this was a possibilty.When I retrospectively checked my conditions of rental it stated that “Restrictions and charges may apply (Please check with the car rental agent on arrival)”.
So even if I had checked in advance I still would not have known.

geminca says:
10 July 2014

I hired a car from Alamo for a 3 day break in Ireland. Prior to booking I phoned customer services to get information on deposits, additional driver and one way rentals. I was told the information so I booked on line direct with Alamo.
I was quoted £59 to pay up front and a further £75 at the counter and a £250 deposit on my credit card which I was happy with.
On arrival at airport it was not Alamo but Europcar.
I gave in my voucher but I was told then that the deposit would be £1200 on my card. Also they wanted a further £220 for the extras.
After 3 hours and many premium rate phone calls I had 2 options given to me.
One. Pay up as requested and get the hire car.
Two. Cancel with Alamo and request a refund.
As I was in Ireland with a disabled passenger in a wheel chair I had no option but to pay up.
3 day car hire cost me £240 in total plus a mobile phone bill and a great deal of stress

Errol says:
10 July 2014

That is outrageous!!!!
The only thing that’s ever going to stop this kind of highway robbery is proper legislation with teeth that will cost these rip-off merchants enough money in fines to dissuade them from these practices.
If you live in the UK why don’t you contact Watchdog on BBC TV or the Trading Standards Office?.. or even your local MP?…. there are plenty of disability charities who might help you lobby for recompense from these characters…. Disability Action perhaps?…. my blood is boiling having read this comment of yours!

I know it’s years ago but we rented from Budget at Shannon airport in 2014. A new Vauxhall Astra diesel which did about 60mpg. Agent scanned my credit card despite it being paid online. Explained that there would be a refund. There was, £87 which meant I only paid about a tenner for the week. Filled up once near Cork and the bill never appeared on my credit card. Must be an Irish thing. I love ’em.

Dave North Wales says:
1 September 2014

Hired a car through a website Holiday Autos .com in the uk.Asked about all charges upfront so i could pick up the car from Goldcar Lanzarote last Nov,2013.I’d been stung twice before so i thoght this time get it right before we go.
I paid all insurances includind CDW with insurance@alliance.co.uk. and was told to refuse any more insurances at Goldcar.Got to the desk and you guessed it they wanted extra insurance and they would not give me the car without it.What can you do its holidays the check in is busy and no one speaks good English. Ok lets take a chance and argue back in the UK. On returning to the UK I contacted Holiday Autos who said not their problem but they would contact Alliance. The answer:- Sorry you wre told to refuse any more insurances at the desk and they could’t help. Great stuff so no one wants to help and I’m £92 down on my credit card as an extra ‘GREAT’
To any one out there be careful and then be prepared for the worse.
Just checked Which and Google Car hire reviews so its Auto Reisen this time for a try. Wish me luck. Dave from North Wales.
[This comment has been edited due to breaking our commenting guidelines, many thanks Mods].

Guest says:
28 May 2015

Autoreisen in Lanzarote are the best I’ve found, all the other seem to be well over priced or mass hidden charges, Autoreisen thankfully have a fair fuel policy where you just give it back with what it had in. Personally I top it up a bit over what I got it with as when you get treated fair I want to return the favor. Insurance is ok too, few exceptions but fully covered for the most part.
While I’ve only used them in Lanzarote I’d hope they do the same other places.

Would be nice if they had a loyalty scheme tho

Hired a car through Holiday Autos to Malaga, Spain. Complete rip-off. Paid in full before holiday. Arrived in Malaga to be taken to Marbesol Car Hire to pick up car. They informed me that Holiday Autos Insurance was ‘invalid’ and demanded a further 250 euros for their insurance cover and refused to release a car until this was paid. We had no choice. Contacted Holiday Autos day later and they told us to get in touch when we returned from our holiday to pursue this further. We did this and now more than 2 months later have not received a refund. We sent a recorded delivery letter to Holiday Autos address, after numerous emails that were ingnored completely by them, as were my telephone calls. Still no success to date!!

I hired a car through Avis, everything went well, I did everything properly but when I came to return the car, which had to be there for 10am they were closed! The staff turned up late so I then did not receive my £78 deposit back as they say it was returned late! £78 because their staff can’t get out of bed on a Sunday morning!

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]

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.

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?

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.