/ Motoring, Travel & Leisure

Have you had a car hire nightmare?

Car hire sign

Hiring a car on holiday should be stress free and easy, and for most of us it is. But all too often unexpected charges when we pick the car up or drop it off at the airport can turn this into a nightmare.

This happened to my sister-in-law last month. She returned her car in the same state that she’d hired it in, apart from a miniscule pockmark on the wing caused by the road surface which she explained to the hire company.

On returning home, she was faced with a £300 charge for the damage. After disputing this with her credit card company, she managed to get the money back. But it would’ve been much better if she hadn’t been charged in the first place.

Car hire scams and rip-offs

Whether they’re scams or not, car hire firms have plenty of ways to extract extra money from us once we’re at the point of picking up our hire car.

Which? members have told us about the unauthorised and unexplained payments in the hundreds of pounds appearing on their statements once they return home. We’ve also heard from people who’ve been forced to buy extra insurance or breakdown cover even though they’re already covered.

We’ve had stories sent to us about the fictional damage people have been unexpectedly charged for when the car was already covered in scratches when it was picked up.

We’ve seen 25% mark-ups in the price of fuel, when compared to the local price. And we all know about the expensive nightmare of the ‘pick it up full’ and ‘drop it off empty’ fuel policy.

Tell us about your car hire nightmares

We’ll be featuring car hire in the March edition of Which? Travel, so do tell us about the car hire nightmares you’ve had.

Have you been hit by dubious practices and money making rip offs by car hire companies? How have you avoided being scammed out of your money? And if you were faced with unauthorised charges, what did you do to get your money back?

Felice says:
8 October 2014

I have been renting cars very often all over Europe and USA but I have never had the following problem.
I have rented a car using Vueling airliner website, the usual process, after you book your flight there is an option to book a car. I secured a booking with Goldcar Rentals, superb deal and I added the extra insurances online. When I managed to get to Goldcar Rentals desk nearly 3 hours after my flight, as I had to take the shuttle on the peripheries of the airport (Barcelona) and wait for the long queue, I was told that I had to take an extra insurances at a cost of 150 Euros plus a full tank of petrol at cost of 92 Euros, I could not return the tank full, I would be refunded for the petrol left in the tank. I refused to pay for the extra insurance as I already paid for it online and I wanted to return the tank of petrol in full, I agreed to block 850 euros in case of damages. The salesman did not like it and refused me to rent the car. I was left stranded in the middle of nowhere, I had to take a taxi to my final destination at a cost of 150 Euro, I am still happy that I did not give in, but my question will my record be tainted in the future for renting cars?,

avis/budget damage at lyon airport says:
9 March 2015

I picked up a car at 10 pm at lyon airport in france; first no drawing on the contract showing the damages, instead a vague list featuring almost all parts of the car: “left front fender, rear left door, rear right door, rear bumper, rear left fender, trunk: scratches; all hub cap: damaged”; then the car was parked at the far end of the parking with no light, I could not see any damage; the next morning after a quick turn around, I could not see much either, just small scratches I would not notice on my own car; the only one I noticed was a small scratch on the front wheel passage, which I mapped to the “left front fender”; then when I returned the car (parked one week indoor at a ski resort), the guy said the scratch on the wheel passage was not in this system, and that it is on the front bumper, not on the fender… I was in a hurry to catch my plane, so I did not think to ask him to show me where was the fender scratch and where were all the other scratch I could not find… he billed me 210 euro for the damage, vs 150 euro for the car rental… and I am pretty sure they did not do any repair, I have asked for a repair bill but they never replied… so upset with avis/budget

jon james says:
29 August 2015

I rented a car from northampton europcar in the uk, they took a preauthorised £200 payment as deposit for the vehicle.

Once i’d driven the car to work i’d noticed damage that i hadn’t seen in their dimly lit carpark which i immediately called their customer service and the branch operative about to report, it was a small dent wheres someone had oppened a door against the driver side door.

When i returned the car the man i returned it to answered my “how much will the dent cost me?”

His reply was don’t worry about it,probably not much. This was a relief and i thought nothing more of it.

I then find out that in the next few days they remove £200 from my account and then £165.68 right after.

Firstly how have they taken all that money when id only pre authorised an amount of £200 and also when your told don’t worry about it it won’t cost much how has the dent cost me £365.68 when it’s only around 30mm in size and they say its fine in their policy if there’s a dent of 20mm or smaller. that extra 10-15mm of dent isn’t worth £365.68 surely.

Does anyone have any advise for this situation?


Stephen Baxter says:
29 August 2015

These many cases illustrate that it would be better for
Consumers to take a deposit FROM hire companies to
be returned if they deliver on their promises.

We have seen this type of process evolve on Ebay where
Sellers really do stick to their promises.

Let’s rewrite the terms and conditions!

Patrick says:
11 September 2015

I also need to vent my frustration given my recent car hire experience in Menorca.

I booked through an aggregator (AtlasChoice) who found me a deal with Europcar which sounded too good to be true. It was, as I got an email the day before we travelled to say the selected car/tariff was not available but they’d found me a slightly worse deal with OK Cars. I didn’t have much choice at that point so accepted.

When we arrived at Menorca, we discovered that OK Cars was not in fact based at the airport like we’d be led to believe, we would have to find the ‘meeting point’ in the airport carpark and wait for half an hour with our young child for a minibus to transfer us their depot a few miles away.

At the depot, there were 10 families in front of us in the queue with 3 staff processing the paperwork without a hint of urgency. It took 2 hours for us to get the keys, longer than the flight!
After 2 hours you’ll sign anything. They told us about their full-empty policy and charged us 87 euros for a full tank (which was in fact 9/10ths full but I was too exhausted to argue by then). Menorca is 30 miles across and even though we drove every day there was no way we would use a whole tank of petrol in one week with a fuel efficient car. We gave it back with half a tank and told we would get a refund at some point for the value of fuel but they would keep the tax. Still waiting!

Finally, when we checked the car back in they immediately noticed that the aerial antenna was missing. I hadn’t notice if there was an antenna when I was checking the car for scratches (who would!?) so I had no choice by to pay 50 euros for a new one. We may have just been unlucky but I have never lost the antenna on a car and I am convinced that it was either not there when we checked the car out or it had been deliberately removed during the vacation. I tried to argue that, if it had fallen off while we were driving then it must have been faulty and therefore not my fault, but then the guy mysteriously forgot how to speak English and just pointed to the £750 excess figure to suggest that we either pay for a new aerial now or pay the excess.

Andrew McGettigan says:
25 September 2015

I hired a car from Europcar in Bergerac a few years ago I was asked to sign for the return of the vehicle at the conclusion of the hire. I found after my return that I had been charged 300 euros for a couple of scratches which did not exist when the car was returned and which were not brought to my attention at the time, the agent had written a few letters on the paper and she advised me that this was to signify the car had been returned full of fuel and in good order.
Contacted their MD who was abrasive and unhelpful, will never use Europcar again as In my perception I was the victim of sharp practice.

Solmar car hire, San Javier, Murcia, Spain. 10 Oct 2015 7pm

Returned car.
Girl checks digs against her list
Some paint found scratched off the small inside rear door, not on list!
I had to pay £175 for it or not get to the airport by their courtesy car

The car was a Peugeot Partner and the scratched paint was way too high for my shopping bag to affect (mid rib) inside on the smaller rear van door that I never opened. Of course it wasn’t my damage, but it “is not on the list”

Remarkable how fast the girl went to that door, but never checked internally any of the four side doors!

She couldn’t look me in the eye and was clearly uncomfortable with running this scam I reckon she’s forced to perform.

I asked the girl why the other damage on the car hadn’t been repaired. She couldn’t tell me, but i’d speculate that all the digs have been paid for by clients (possibly more than once!) Nice little earner eh!

I have sent a claim to insurance4carhire wjth whom I hold annual excess cover. Nothing heard for three weeks so I lodged a disputed transaction with visa. I wait!

Further to my report above about Solmar, San Javier I would add that insurance4carhire paid the amount for the damage in full just after 3 weeks passed.

Nationwide Visa rejected my claim because I had signed a docket for the damage deposit so “there was no fraud”.

Since writing originally I have spoken to others who were caught by Solmar (I know many who fly to San Javier). The trick now is that they use a large mirror on stick to check under front and rear valance at return, but punters are not offered it to check when they collect the car! So if you want to chance it with Solmar, insist on borrowing the (secret) mirror before driving the car away.

Really, you need to check inch by inch with this lot. Take time and make time / date photos of ALL. They are almost as bad as Dickmanns now, but they don’t take the deposit from your card (yet), just block the amount.

Iam at the moment having trouble with Enterprise car rental in Hatfield UK. Took the car back to them, not having any problems of accidents. Once inside the office, the manager quickly took the keys from me and told me to wait in the office, about 20 seconds later, came in and told me to follow her outside, whereupon she told me the car had front bumper damage, it looked s though the car fad been driven over a kerb and has scrapped the underneath, you couldn’t see any damage unless you bent down to have a look! I told her that I did not do that, but she really didn’t listen, but the funny thing is she went straight to the front of the car like she knew the damage was already there. I have read a lots of blogs on line regarding people being ripped off paying for damage to a car they didn’t do, the car never gets repaired, also the car hire companies try this scam on with other customers using the same car and. The same damage! Won’t be getting a penny out of me, will see them in court.

Thanks for highlighting this scam.

Thinking about it could you advise the registration and model an dates here. My reasoning is that there is a faint chance that some reader has had the same exact experience.

As I loathe dishonesty with a passion I would also offer it as a story to your local media. First however book a small ad in the local asking for people who have hired that vehicle from Enterprise and had damage costs to contact you or even post here. There is a chance the media will be proud of ferreting out a story.

It does not prove anything if no one responds; but if two or three customers do I think we can safely nail Enterprise. Arguably the establishing of a database of customers being charged for unknown damage might be a fruitful exercise.

Just to relate that Sixt charged my wife £120 for a TfL fine which when I checked they only paid £60 because of the prompt payment reduction. Tsk. No apology with the £60 refund back to me when I queried the £120 requested.

This board has been running for way over two years and has attracted very few reports.
I’m minded to conclude that it is not an arena that will result in any changes to the malpractices of car hire firms in Spain.

I have been hiring at San Javier and Alicante since 2003, at least six times each year and despite so many reviews on several boards the scams and dishonesty has become worse and the agents continue to promote the same rogue suppliers since that time.

The test of supplier or agent integrity is revealed in full when things do not go right and I remain convinced both can continue to trade without sanction.

What steps has Which taken?
I have seen absolutely no progress and the scams and deceit continues exponentially

Have you looked at the other Conversations about car rentals abroad, Davarn?

Which? has been active in various unsatisfactory aspects of the trade. Put “car hire abroad” in the Search box on the Home page and a number of relevant Conversations come up including “Together we can end rip-off car hire charges” [14/06/2014] about the work Which? has been doing in collaboration with the Spanish consumer group OCU in association with MEP’s.

Yes John, of course, but the scammers endure and become ever more devious. It seems not all hire firms are members of the body that claims “will” comply decent practices so that angle failed miserably.

I don’t think Which? have investigated Dickmanns or Solmar yet!

The scams are not restricted to small firms either. A good friend (accountant) has worked for three of the large international hire firms and the same scams are also perpetrated by them – mostly after return (discovered when valeting) charges for old damage!

My solution is to buy a Spanish car next trip and park it at the airport (around 250 euros a year)

You’re right – it’s impossible even for big organisations like Which? to keep abreast of it let alone get ahead of the game.

You have a point davarn.

My gripe is that it hard to know if Which? advice is current as it is undated :

It refers to 2012 and therefore seems out-of-date compared to this more recent posting from a useful site:

” A campaign aimed at giving UK consumers the tools to be well-prepared when hiring cars elsewhere in the EU is being promoted by consumer advice organisation UK European Consumer Centre.
Complaints to the UKECC about car hire in the EU have continued to rise over the past year, and UK consumers are being urged to follow the UK ECC’s advice when hiring a vehicle and to do everything they can to ‘know before they go’.
Last year (2015), car hire complaints went up by almost 7% over 2014. This was against a backdrop of an overall rise of complaints by UK consumers to the UKECC of 2%.
Andy Allen, UK European Consumer Centre (UK ECC) director, said that it’s good to see that the rate of increase of car hire complaints has started to drop (complaints about car hire the previous year (2014) rose by just over 23%). But he added that it’s disappointing that the figure is still rising at all.
In a bid to help consumers, the UK ECC has also joined together with partner consumer protection organisations this Spring (2016) to run a consumer awareness campaign on car rental, in advance of the main holiday season when people often decide to rent a car.
This follows work by the European Commission and national consumer protection authorities (led by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority – CMA) with the top five car rental companies operating in the EU – Avis-Budget, Enterprise, Europcar, Hertz and Sixt – pledged to better align current car rental practices with consumer legislation, set out by EU rules on consumer rights, unfair commercial practices and unfair terms.”


I had another search this time within Which? rather than using Google and that provides seven articles. However it also links to these guides which do seem more up-to-date :

Looks like the search engine favours the consumer rights site of Which?.

A few weeks ago I hired a car for four days from Glasgow Airport and took out excess insurance on the Internet when I booked it, which I understood to be up to £1000. I had absolutely no problem with the car – no bumps or impacts of any kind. When I returned the car to Eurocar they said that the front left corner was scuffed and that it was my fault. In addition, the excess insurance that I took out covered damage IN EXCESS of £1000 and I was therefore liable. They told me I would probably pay a rough figure of £170. I told them I would dispute this or that I had caused any damage to the vehicle. Yesterday, they sent me a bill for almost £600 which they claimed was the cost of paintwork plus labour. I am completely shocked by this and feel that frankly I have been scammed. They have my credit card details.


Ask them for a photo (dated would be better) of the damage that includes the reg plate of the car.
Also a copy ot the itemised quote for the repairs, then if they still insist on payment you’ll want to see the itemised invoice for the repair so you can check with the repairer that car is the one they worked on.

I have seen photos of damage sent to various regular hirer friends that clearly are not of the car they hired!

When you returned the car did you get the condition as hired paperwork signed off by them?

I can understand that you charge extra for the hire of a satnav device (although $70 a week is overpriced). However if I want to hire a luxury car like a Cadillac or a Mercedes (my own car is Mercedes S Class) which has satnav fitted as standard equipment, I am astonished to be told in response to my enquiry that – on these luxury cars – Alamo DISABLES the satnav, only to re-connect it on payment of the extra fee! If this iniquitous practice is not discriminating against the customer I do not know what is.
If this really is the case, I shall not be hiring from Alamo.

Steve C says:
22 June 2016

I hire a car from Enterprsie Poiters Gare, and was later charged for a minor scratch which I disputed. It was initially a nightmare because they withheld 850 euro on my card. Fortunately I had annual excess car hire who came through, and my visa bank disputed the payment which gave me some leverage. Lesson is make sure ALL scratches are recorded and make they sign off the “satisfactory returned” sheet.

The following is copy from a friend who used Goldcar at Murcia airport:

“Just a warning to those using Goldcar. I did not get my return sheet signed when handing back the vehicle, just handed the keys over and got on the plane. I wasn’t asked to accompany the desk clerk to check the car!
They took E200 from my credit card three days later. its taken me 3 weeks to pin down GC for an explanantion and all they send me are 2 pictures of scratches. Not time or date stamped. I returned the car at night time, the pictures were taken in daylight. Could have been any day, any other similar marque car.
I am fighting it, I know the car was not damaged, it was immaculate and was the same when I returned it.

My mistake for trusting there would be no spurious charges”

Discussed with Avis car hire, parents have been charged In excess of £1000! Any one help on this?

Booked a car from Solmar Barcelona Airport Spain.(we travel abroad and hire cars at least 3-4 times a year) car rental from Barcelona Airport 24/08/2016 for 8 days, paid the rental price via ‘Do You Spain’
Arrived on time at Barcelona airport and followed poor directions to bus stop (where there is no indication that it is for Solmar) to meet our transfer bus which Solmar said would be ‘waiting’ for us. What a joke !
WE waited one hour and twenty five minutes for transfer bus to arrive in 30+ degrees heat, we watched other rental companies (i.e. Gold car) transfer buses come and go (3 x for one company !)
When the driver finally came after 5 phone calls to Do you Spain, we and another French family asked him where had he been, he insisted he had been at the pick up 35 minutes previously, this was total rubbish !
Transferred to car pick up reception area and one man initially serving a very frustrated business man who Solmar said was not the person who booked the car and hence he was denied a vehicle. The very cocky and rude reception man finally turned to us and started to process our rental, at the same time the French couple where having difficulties with their rental with another rude man who could not find their rental agreement on his computer and was insisting they have a different car and probably pay again!
We where then told that we have to pay another 144 Euro for THEIR insurance and 25 Euro to have them fill the the tank plus pay up front for a full tank of fuel and then a 1500 Euro block on our credit card (even though it says in all their literature and the sign in their office for the type of car we were trying to hire was 1000 Euro) Which we refused, We phoned DO YOU Spain whilst in the office and explained the situation and Do you Spain confirmed the 1000 Euro block etc and i even handed my phone to the reception man, who was insisting that it is now 1500. I walked behind his desk and pointed out the sign behind him, at this point he said he was cancelling the booking!!! that was it !
Three separate customers in the office and all three having problems !! I rang DO you Spain again and explained that Solmar are now not going to rent us a car and was apologized professedly and promised refund of initial monies paid (now 5/09/2016 and no refund as yet)
To recap car hire was advertised at 87 pounds, what you have to actually pay is
87 pounds Sterling Car hire
140 Euros Their Insurance or 144 Euro for better insurance
25 Euros to have the tank refilled
50+ for fuel (can have refund on each quarter of a tank that remains (so they say))
1500 block on your credit card

So this company is not cheap at all, hidden costs which you feel you have to accept as you are so far from the airport you have to accept.
We did not, and were left stranded with children in 30+ degree heat in a foreign country, this is diabolical behavior by this RIP OFF company.
We managed to get a lift from another kind shuttle driver (NOT SOLMAR) back to the airport and went to SIXT car rental and for the total of 140 Euro we had a car within 10 minutes, and only 280 Euro block on credit card and can use external insurance. The difference between the companies is light and dark.
They were happy to strand a family with children !!!!
Go elsewhere, anywhere, read the reviews, Why DO You Spain is associated with this RIP OFF firm is a mystery, they will be getting a letter of complaint as well about this company they are advertising.
I have video footage of all the people complaining and having problems in SOLMAR offices which i will post when we have checked the legal implications.

I’ve recently recieved a bill for £500 from a hire car company, the bill states that its to cover damage on the outside of the vehicle, which i am 100% certain i didn’t cause. I had to leave the keys to the vehicle under my bin as i wasn’t in on the day they wanted to collect, but they failed to leave or post a damage report, and said that they won’t provide any photo’s prior to the claim as they don’t take them. Any thoughts?

Typical trick many firms pull when you can’t get the car checked and signed off as no further damage on return.
Please name the firm so others can avoiud them.

If you had bought annual excess cover (£39 a year) claim on that and get repaid.

Sixt car rental Belfast international airport, absolute nightmare, reservation messed up delays rude unhelpful staff the worst rental experience of my life,KEEP AWAY

Well. I think we were had by staff in Malaga Airport. After a 2 hour wait, my wife because the electronic system was up the creek my wife who was the named driver went to the ‘premium’ queue and pointed out me in a wheelchair and two small kids. Things began to move. The estate car we had booked and paid for was unavailable so in theory we were ‘upgraded’ to an Audi – on arrival to the car park the key we had been given opened what i think was a Vauxhall Corsa parked where we were told to go.

So we went to the office in the car park and after another long wait we were offered the keys to a VW Touran 7 seater. Not being fluent in spanish it appears she had now also accidentally agreed to pay for the fuel in the tank in full thinking she was agreeing to return the car with a full tank. On return to England and checking paperwork it also appears we have paid for the upgrade!

It was dark, it was getting late we were all very tired, thirsty and hungry (best part of 4 hours after landing at Malaga now) and in all the fluster we did not scan every inch of the car for damage but on inspection it looked o.k. On return, the receiver within 20 seconds had found the most minor of scratches on the front bumper (like he almost knew where it was going to be) that was obviously old damage but we had no way to prove it – at least we had bought insurance back in the UK that I hope will cover the Euro 255 charge for damage that I will bet never gets repaired, as it is barely noticeable.

On return to the UK we received photo’s by e-mail – He had taken a photo of the fuel gauge – which must have been with the engine power off to make it look empty – it was off the bottom of the red line! (We had just filled the tank to the brim). Incompetent at best, criminally corrupt at worst. We will no doubt have little recourse with Avis as we have little proof of the whole thing, but next time will pay more with Hertz or anyone else to avoid this company.