/ Motoring, Travel & Leisure

Have you been hit by extra car hire costs?

Man handing car keys to woman

Why is it that when it comes to car hire I automatically expect to pay more than the price I’ve been quoted? Shouldn’t car hire companies be upfront about all the extra costs that they’ll inevitably add on?

Is it just me, or does hiring a car always cost more than you think it will? My default setting is to cynically assume that whatever I pay for the car itself, I’m sure to end up paying a lot more once I get to the collection desk.

This could be due to the fact that I’ve never once hired a car where the amount I ended up paying was the amount I was initially quoted on the website – and this is despite not always purchasing the extra insurance.

We all expect to pay more

My cynicism is echoed by research carried out by the Which? Travel team in July of this year. We found that three quarters of Which? members expected to pay extra when they turned up at the car hire collection desk.

Half said that they were charged additional fees when collecting their car, citing extra insurance (25%), fuel charges (19%) and additional drivers (14%). Interestingly, around eight in ten of those asked said they’d prefer to pay a single price up front rather than having to face paying extra costs at the desk.

Since extra insurance usually costs the most in additional charges, Which? Travel decided to investigate how easy it was to pay for this upfront. It was almost impossible. In fact, it wasn’t even that easy to find out how much it would cost, let alone actually pay for it at the time of booking online.

You might ask why this is important. Well, personally, I don’t like being told that something will cost a certain amount, only then to find out it’s actually a lot, or even a little, more. And if I want to get the best deal by comparing different companies’ prices, I need to know the true price I could end up paying, not just the attractive headline price.

Too many added extras

Take the extra insurance for car hire as an example. Typically called Super Collision Damage Waiver (SCDW), our investigation found that adding SCDW could raise the cost of car hire by as much as 99%. But more importantly, only three – Budget, Hertz and Sixt – showed this cost upfront.

Although not everyone buys this, SCDW can reduce or eliminate your liability if you damage the hire car. If I was considering buying this, I’d certainly like to be told at the time of booking just how much it would cost me.

Budget had the cheapest headline quote of £119 for a week’s car hire at Edinburgh airport. But this increased to £207 when SCDW was added. If we just looked at the headline prices, the cost of hiring a car with Alamo (£137) seemed uncompetitive. But, when SCDW was added, Alamo was actually the cheapest option overall at £193.

Is it too much to ask for car hire companies to give prices of all the products they sell on their websites? Again, this could just be me, but I long for the day when I don’t feel like I need a masters degree in Applied Mathematics to work out how much my car hire will truly cost me.


I have never paid more than the price I was quoted online, when taking the car back.

It often helps if you can speak the local language a bit when they sign the car over to you and when you bring it back though. You dont need any of the additional insurances offered as you can buy a policy that protects you before you go – a bargain if you hire cars abroad more than once a year, but how many of us know about it/do it?; fill the car up with petrol and keep the receipt as proof; check the car over properly before and after and take a picture if theres a problem; drive carefully and treat the car as if it were your own.

mrs s nunes says:
25 July 2014

When i hired a car in Lisbon with goldcar we were under the impression it would be a Mercedes 7 seater and ended up with a transit van. Then at the desk i purchased this excess insurance in the uk to stop me getting charged but yet they said i still had to pay a sum of £720 on top of the purchase hire and was told to claim it back off the insurance policy i took out. I think its disgusting as i was told this policy for £40 would cover this costs.

I had a similar problem with Goldcar in Madeira. I hired the car through DoYouSpain and picked it up at the airport. I returned it two weeks later and dropped the car off at a drop-off point. So far everything fine and dandy. The when I got my next Visa bill, Goldcar had claimed £500. I wrote several emails to the intermediary, DoYouSpain, but they didn’t respond. So I contacted Sainsbury’s Visa, who refunded me the £500. I got the impression from Sainsbury’s Visa that I was not the first person this had happened to. DoYouSpain and Goldcar are scam merchants.

John Macnamara says:
3 January 2011

All car hire companies at Malaga operate arip-off on fuel.Their policy is to collect the car full of fuel and return it empty. The fuel is charged at premium rates. They will not allow the old policy of collecting the car full and returning it full.On a short time hire, which I do several times a year, this adds up to quite a bit as I never use anything like a full tank. The cars they rent out are almost falling apart with over 100,000 km on the clock.

Another thing to be aware of a Malaga airport is fraud on the credit card. Earlier this year I rented a car from one of the big players at the airport.In the confusion (over 1 hour wait to register) the clerk did not return my credit card. Before I could cancel it, 1500 euros had been frauduelently taken from it.

On the question of insurance, I take out CWD on line in the UK.At Malaga airport they want 4 euros a day insurance to cover tyres and windows, otherwise there is a 500 euro surcharge on any damage.

It would be good to see some EU legislation to control these companies.

Jenny Barnes says:
24 August 2011

I was ripped off by Europcar & Carhire3000 recently. They claimed I had done over 800 km, when I had in fact only done about 400. As I had no signed documentation of odometer readings, I have no proof – but I am so tired of car hire scams. Do I really have to take digital pictures of the car on pickup from all angles, including the instruments, get people to sign for every tiny scratch – or risk being ripped off? In this case it was £30, but it could have been any amount.

Anne Porter says:
22 October 2011

I hired a car for four days from Budget, picking up at Belfast International airport. I was quoted £103 with an additional charge of £25 for an airport pick up. I was amazed at the actual charge of £225.50. I have requested a full breakdown of the additional cost from Budget but have received no reply. The whole on-line quotation system is farce.

Yannick says:
10 January 2012

I was caught speeding while driving a Hertz car, and have just been charged £42 just for the”service” provided by Hertz in making my details available to the authorities. The T&Cs state that “if Hertz is required to pay and/or process road tolls, fines, charges or associated costs, we may charge you an administration charge for doing so. The amount charged from Hertz Corporation is not in regard to the amount of the fine, but just an administrative expense to work on the files”.
Is £42 a reasonable amount to enter a registration number in a database, get a name an address an send it out? Has this practice ever been challenged?

Jane says:
20 January 2012

We’ve also been ripped off by carhire3000. Although the car hire was fully paid for in the uk, we had to purchase a full tank of overpriced fuel once at the car hire office.The car hire was supposed to be at the airport but it was offsite in an industrial unit- we had no choice at that point. The car we hired broke down on the last day. It would only travel at 5mph. We had to leave it at the hotel. The hotel tried phoning the company in Spain but there was no answer. We took a taxi to the town to visit the office but it was closed. We phoned carhire3000 as soon as we walked through the door in the uk. Then we emailed the next day. I have now been charged £500 on my credit card for two extra days hire (they say the car was ‘missing’), a car key and the tow truck! We are trying to dispute this but carhire3000 say it’s not their problem, take it up with the company in Spain. I used my credit card to buy the fuel but the car was hired in my husband’s name… do they have the right to do this?

Peter says:
23 March 2012

I agree with Jem that you don’t need to take out the car hire company’s expensive per day Excess Waiver or SCDW policies. Use icarhireinsurance at http://www.icarhireinsurance.com a London based insurance company who specialise in annual and day policies for anywhere in the world. £2.99 per day in Europe for extensive extra cover for any hire car. Would like users of icarhireinsurance to give feedback to Which? magazine on any difficulties experienced, if any.

Pallettive says:
3 October 2013

On holiday from Canada,I need a one- way rental from Edinburgh to London.
Ordered car on-line from Budget Car Rentals,Edinburgh Airport.On arrival at Budget ,salesman suggested an upgrade for better driving comfort ,at greatly reduced price(35 pounds versus 67) Signed a rental contract that was difficult to understand,especially the actual cost of the upgrade per day.The estimated total cost was higher than expected,but not able to question it after departure because not given copy of the contract . Just given a small document ,which was even more vague regarding what exactly the estimated cost comprised of.
Returned car at Gatwick Airport,where there was no one from Budget ,who could address my concerns.
After contacting customer service head office ,on return to Canada,it took them one month to respond,which basically amounted to; sorry but you agreed to every charge,as evidenced by rental contract signature .
On reviewing the rental contract,it appears that all the charges were circled beside my initials after my departure.Had I been given a copy of the contract at the start,I would have challenged the salesman immediately.The facts are: 1. I did not ask for an upgrade.2. I did not ask for windshield insurance,and 3. I did not as for theft insurance.
I essence,I ended up paying over 900 pounds ,when I should have been billed half as much.

geoff smith says:
3 September 2014

i.hired a car from europcar hire car on line for 1 week at bournmouth uk airport.i paid upfront.113 pounds when i collected it i was asked for a total of 304 pounds which is a 200% increase on original price a total ripoff .geoff.

Ricky Anderson says:
17 July 2015

Yes.! Sometime due lack of knowledge about car service, you have to pay extra bugs.

Has anyone ever claimed on a Collision Damage Waiver indemnity policy taken out in the UK? If so, was your claim met without hassle and, if so, by which insurer?

The invariable car hire scam of imposing hefty premiums for CDW cover at the car hire desk does seem to be a total rip off. A couple of years ago my charges were almost doubled at Venice as a result, so that I now only buy CDW cover in the UK at a fraction of the cost. Some car hire companies or holiday providers offer CDW as part of a package, but this can provide only limited indemnity, e.g. BA in Portugal include CDW but with a limit of £1,400. This would not cover major damage to a hire car.

Karen Fry says:
3 May 2016

When enquiring about car hire included in our Thomson Villa Holiday in Portugal for 3 adults and 2 children we were informed the price was for 2 x 4 seater cars and if we wanted a 5+ seater it would cost over £200 (the original car has only 4 seatbelts and not enough room for luggage for 5). Has anyone else had this issue or been able to resolve it in a sensible way? Two of the adults in our party do not want to drive abroad.

Laura says:
8 May 2017

Car hire prices in the UK (particularly at UK airports) are a consumer rip off and in 2017 impossible to accurately compare. This is yet another financial rip off with little control run on the same lines as most insurance company car insurance premium calculations. The car hire company small print hide a multitude of pitfalls, descriptions and charges that are not easily understandable up front and reasonable. Studying Mandarin is a better option. Damage excesses of £1250? Premium location fees – airports? Tyre, windscreen, clutch failure or damage ‘get outs’ and additional excesses are all sensible but not shown in on screen quotes (Unless of course you like & prefer Russian roulette?) Full excesses for all cover with maximum driver protection ie SCDW & mechanical damage etc should be present in all quotes as a mandatory requirement at the start of any quote, for all comparisons. Consumers can then agree to reduce their hire costs as they wish, rather than find a quoted £19 day car hire is nearer £65. Consumers should not be pressured into additional fees and be confronted by hidden costs from car hire companies in a stressful time starved state at the airport arrivals. Beware too the con tricks of a fuel tank out ‘full’ – In the ‘hurry’ to check over the exterior of the car in the hirer queue. Few hirers bother to check the fuel gauge circled by the hire staff as ‘FULL’ at start up before driving away. If you find it 3/4 full as you are on your way down the motorway – it can be an expensive hire if you already down on fuel by a quarter of a tank (at a cost of £20 upwards) with a full tank or worse expect the hire company to refuel your car at exorbitant fuel prices. I hope this isn’t yet another ‘con trick’ to reap profits?

Brendan says:
1 June 2018

I find when I am looking for quotes now, that most of the rental companies are offering Collision Waiver Damage for “free”. I think they have switched on to the fact that a lot of people are savvy enough to arrange their own Car Hire Excess Insurance. Consequently how can you ask them to deduct the cost of something which is “free”? It would be good to see a response from Which? on this.

Thank you for these useful article and tips.
I just rented a car in Barcelona to explore the city and to drive along Spain. I have Visa Gold which specifically covers Spain, and a letter to show this. The agent at the car rental desk didn’t care to see it. He just put a EUR 900 hold on the card and we were on our way.
The insurance excess on this car was EUR 900 and the guy at the desk offered me excess waiver at EUR 17/day, which total EUR 153 for the entire rental period.
Unfortunately icarhireinsurance don’t offer the product to non EU residents. Someone introduced me to https://www.carinsurent.com which covers the “excess” insurance at a low annual fee and offers car hire excess waiver insurance to non EU residents. Anyone needing to buy cover in Spain might contemplate this, but you need to understand the system, as this is not “complete” cover, just the last part of it