/ Motoring, Travel & Leisure

Update: Together we can end rip-off car hire charges

Car rental sign in airport

Today we launch our new car hire campaign, alongside the Spanish consumer group OCU. Together we’re calling on car hire companies to end all unexpected extra charges and play fair with their fuel policies.

I have a confession. Although I do have a driving licence, I’m too scared of driving abroad to hire a car on holiday. I’m even more put off since reading all the car hire nightmare stories you’ve shared with us here on Which? Convo!

Not only would I have to drive on the wrong side of the road, but I might also have to deal with car hire sales people trying to sell me extras like sat navs. Or I might get hit with an additional, non-refundable charge for fuel that wasn’t made clear when I booked.

Holidays are meant to be a chance to relax and I don’t want my break ruined by getting ripped off on day one.

The tricks of the car trade

Lots of you have complained to us about some car hire companies using full-empty fuel policies. This is where people have to pay for a full tank of petrol on arrival, but aren’t offered refunds for returning the car with unused fuel. We found nearly three-quarters of those who did this thought they’d been ripped off by being forced to pay a fuel price that was higher than local garages.

Full-empty might sound convenient at first, but someone hiring a Fiat 500 would need to drive 550 miles to empty the tank. In Mallorca this would be enough to make the 80 mile round trip from Palma airport to Port de Pollenca on the other side of the island nearly seven times.

Alan was caught out in Alicante:

‘Hire charges seemed reasonable, but we got caught by the full-to-empty trap. This ploy results in three additional costs. First there’s the unreasonably high charge per litre for the full tank. Second there’s the cost of the unused fuel left in the tank, and the third is the bank charge on my UK credit card for currency conversion. (They wouldn’t accept my preloaded euro currency card). Needless to say, I’ll be more careful next time!’

Our investigation found that a number of companies do offer a fair fuel policy, such as Alamo, Enterprise and Autoreisen. All three offer a full-full fuel policy in Spain, where people return the car with a full tank as standard, so don’t pay for fuel they don’t use.

Joining forces with OCU

We think being caught out once, like Alan was, is one time too many; so we’re calling on car hire companies to:

• Be upfront about all extra charges, such as for fuel or insurance, so people aren’t forced to pay more before they can drive away, and can more easily compare deals.
• Only charge consumers for the fuel they use and offer a full-full policy as default.
• Ensure they offer fair fuel prices, which are in line with the local price.

Together with Organización de Consumidores y Usuario, we will be asking the Spanish consumer authorities to take action to protect all consumers from unfair fuel policies and we’ve already shared our concerns with the Competition & Markets Authority in UK.

We’ll also be making noise at a European level about your concerns, including getting in touch with the recently elected MEPs to seek their support for action on rip off car hire.

Have you been caught out by car hire companies, like Alan?

Update: 8 July 2016

We’ve had some welcome news from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) on car hire in the UK. The regulator has written to 25 car hire comparison websites to call on them to ensure that motorists are shown the true cost of hiring a car before they choose to rent one.

Our  Director of Policy and Campaigns, Alex Neill said:

‘We expect all car rental companies and broker websites to be clear about charges” Which? response to CMA announcement on car hire websites

‘The CMA is right to be tackling hidden costs and sneaky practices in the car hire industry. Our research has shown some car hire brokers aren’t being upfront about the true cost of car hire.

‘We expect all car rental companies and broker websites to be clear about charges, so that people know exactly what they will pay when they book.’

Update: 20 October 2017

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has announced an investigation into two car hire price comparison websites suspected of charging customers hidden fees.

The CMA is concerned the unidentified sites are breaking consumer law by imposing unforeseen costs including fuel, late night vehicle collections and drop-offs. In addition, the regulator has also written to 40 car hire companies requesting they maintain standards and improve the accuracy and clarity of their own online information.

It also wants to see the inclusion of all extra charges in the price customers first receive, including fuel pricing policies and warnings about high excess, deposit amounts.

We don’t think it’s right for people to be hit with hidden charges and unexpected fees when hiring a car, or purchasing any other product for that matter. Car hire sites must improve their practices and be upfront about any charges so consumers can make an informed choice at the time of booking.

What are your experiences when hiring a car? Have you had to pay any surprise costs?

Ian Bullock says:
31 July 2017

Used Argus Car hire for a 3 week trip to the US, the stateside company was Fox. I paid in full before travelling only to incur an $880 bill for insurance. The ‘agent’ told me “I was good to go, you’ve got everything and don’t need anything” I signed for the ‘car’ on a blank signature only LCD screen (this is normal procedure), at the end of the process he said that’ll be $880, when I refused to pay he said he would cancel the entire booking, he told me it was state law (which it wasn’t) I was completely conned into signing the blank screen. I raised the issue with Halifax (card provider) Fox and Argus, who refused to help on the basis that I’d signed. I stated clearly that I was told by the Fox agent “I didn’t need anything extra” I willingly signed for the car, AT NO POINT WAS I SHOWN THE DUE BALANCE, the screen was a signature only screen. This is by far the single biggest con trick from a supposed bona fide company. I’m certain this is their entire pitch, everyone before me seemed to be charged extra for something. I was sitting comfortably, and when he told me I had everything, I naturally assumed I was signing for the car, not an additional $880 The Fox agent openly ‘lied’ openly mislead me. I kept copies of all paperwork, sadly money and greed prevented me from receiving a refund. It disgusts me to think you can be treated this way. It has put me off ever hiring a car in the US again.

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29 September 2017

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Tony Prince says:
4 November 2017

I have a similar problem to many listed on this blog. I rented a car for pick up at Larnaca Airport in Cyprus via Holiday Autos. For peace of mind, I purchased additional insurance from Holiday Autos only to be told by the supplier (Europcar) that they wouldn’t release the vehicle to me unless I paid them EUR 200 for their insurance. There was no real option to refuse – either paid up, or forfeit the already paid for rental and find an alternative means of getting to my destination. It’s been a month since I returned from Cyprus and all I get from the ironically named Customer Care Team at Holiday Autos are emails saying they refuse to give any refund.

Feeling well and truly ripped off!


. I recently hired a car in Catania Italy from Enterprise (Locauto) via Holiday autos. When I picked up the car I spent some time checking the car over. After my short trip I returned the car was told that there was a chip on the windscreen for which I am now liable. The chip was small and if it was there when I picked it up then I had not seen it. However I was suspicious because the rental staff member had not inspected the screen but came up with this fault. However, I could not prove that it had already been there so there was nothing I could do.

My issue is that the next day I received an invoice for the damage amounting to £506. There was a small admin charge and tax included but the major part of the invoice was for what was termed damage compensation. There was no indication that any action was taken in respect of the alleged damage or if any action was taken what that was.

I am concerned at this because

• The stonechip that was the damage concerned in my view was repairable without the need for a new windscreen. The amount seems excessive.
• The amount I have been charged is termed as compensation and does not relate specifically to action deal with the damage.
• The car may be hired again with the same damage if indeed the company took no action. Another customer may not spot such a small chip and be charged for the same damage.
• I sought further detail in an email message on the company website but did not receive it and now the link to send a message does not function. A telephone number simply refers you to the website.

Danny Jones says:
5 December 2017

I recently hired from Marbesol in Malaga. When I arrived told need to take out their insurance 120 Euro for 4 days . I declined politely as have my own insurance. A heated debate followed for which I was informed that if I did not I would Have to Pay 40 Euro refueling bill. I still refused his final comment was ‘ Don’t worry Sir we will get our money ‘ . The car was cover in marks which believe were recorded on there overview sheet. I went around the car in dimly lit area. Highlighted further damage.
Returned the car without incident. Within seconds over me handing back sheet 3 tiny areas of scratches were highlighted that are argued were on the original sheet [ and you could polish out ]. At a cost 540 Euros further debate took place but I had a plane to catch and they knew it . It is fraud, theft and bullying. It is disgraceful and they are allowed to continue unchallenged with nobody taking any form of legal redress.

John Wright says:
5 April 2018

Ditto on the Marbesol. Been using them from Malaga for a few years now, and used to most of the scams. I always thought them to be just as ruthless, but at least a bit more transparent with their pricing than the rest.
In February, having checked the car beforehand, and with no incidents, I still had to pay for two tiny marks which were found. My insurance refunded me the 250 EUR cost and I put it down to not having checked the car thoroughly enough – next time I would be ready with a torch and video etc.
Problem was next time, despite having my pre-booking accepted online as a Marbesol ‘ VIP ‘ , they informed me on arrival that my booking had been blocked due to my previous damage record, and that they would not let me take the car.
After a protest, and a referral to the supervisor, they reluctantly ‘allowed’ me to hire the car I had booked, provided of course that I paid their full insurance (an extra 100 EUR)! Knowing what awaited me outside with all the other Car hire firms, it seemed little point in not just accepting this so we could start our holiday.


Nothing much changes. We have hired cars several times recently in Germany. There are a number of excessive hidden charges which can only be found in the small print.
1. Extra driver. We hired a car and asked about the cost of an additional driver. The additional cost was more than the cost of hiring the car with one driver. This is a major rip-off. I doubt that there is any justification for charging extra, indeed there may be a case for charging less since there is less likelihood of there being a tired driver.
2. Child seats. Compulsory of course, but charged extra, typically 5 to 6 euros per day. 2 weeks hire is then enough to buy a brand new seat. Several times, we were given older, well-used child seats. Nothing wrong with them, but proof that the hire companies do not regularly buy new ones.
3. Extra if you want to cross a European border with the car. What happened to EU wide rules?