/ 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?

Rachael says:
12 April 2015

Booked a car through Do You Spain to collect from Alicante airport. Paid 30 euros for Gold Insurance so I didn’t have to pay the car hire firm. Was told the car hire firm, Dickmanns, would take a deposit of 400 euros which would be returned to me on return of the car. When we arrived to collect the car I was told I had to pay for their insurance 80 euros or leave a 950 euro deposit which I would get back 20 days after returning car. I showed them the email from Do You Spain but they said their terms had changed.(I only booked the car 3 weeks before) I asked why I hadn’t been notified but they said they had notified DoYou Spain. I have received no further communication from Do You Spain.

[Hi Rachael, we’ve slightly tweaked your post so it aligns with our commenting guidelines. Thanks, mods]

A. Conde says:
24 June 2015

I think Dickmanns are ones of the worst rent a car companies in the rent car .

Every time I rent a car and I rent 4/5 times a year never take they insurance policy as I have my own
it cost me £45 a year so when ever they try to push they one I tel them I have my own one.

[Hi, we’ve edited this post so it aligns with our commenting guidelines. Thanks, mods]

Angelo says:
28 August 2015

I have posted before about this company Dickmanns. I personally would never rent a car with this lot

[This comment has been edited for breaking our commenting guidelines. Thanks, mods.]

Richard says:
22 June 2015

I hired a car through do-you-spain and took out the additional comprehensive insurance they offered only to be hassled on arrival into taking out the Goldcar’s own cover (or else) which added an additional 220 euro’s to the cost.
The deal I took out would not have been the best had I been aware of the additional charge been forced on me. I don’t mind a realistic charge but the one thing I don’t want (and I’m sure no one else does) is to start my holiday by being greeted with the hassle and the additional costs I’m not expecting.

[Hi Richard, we’ve edited your post so it aligns with our commenting guidelines. Thanks, mods]

Patrick Nagle says:
24 June 2015

I think Heathrow Europcar is the worst. The trainee who waited on us argued with me for at least 40 minutes about taking a bigger car and insurance even though I told her that we had our own insurance through our credit card company. She said that if we left a deposit of 299 pounds, then we could take the car without the extra insurance. We agreed, but as we were driving away, we saw that she had charged us full insurance and an extra driver fee which we did not need. This was our second time it’s happened by them and we should have known better. There seems to be no recourse.

[Hi Patrick, we’ve tweaked your post so it aligns with our commenting guidelines. Thanks, mods]

Michael says:
16 July 2015

Reserved a car through “Economy Car Rental,” a Greek-based company (i just learned!) in November of 2014 for our June, 2015 trip to Iceland. The price was reasonable at about $300 USD. Three weeks before the trip we received an email notifying us that the reservation was null and void. No offer was made for a new reservation. We needed the car as we were going to travel Route 1, the “Ring” around Iceland and needed a reliable car to do so. I made a new reservation with “Economy” Care Rental and the price tripled to about $600 USD for the same car! (I have full documentation with both “contracts!” and would be glad to share with anyone!)

In addition, we were hit by a drive near Hofn, IS and were told by the police that all we needed was a report, which we filed with the car rental company. Of course, we paid “Economy” Car Rental and extra fee to provide us with insurance and they do not accept the Icelandic way of reporting accidents. I was out $900+ USD for an accident that was not my fault.

I want my “insurance fee” back. Fortunately, I had additional travel insurance which covered the entire incident 100%. The fact that these slime balls refused to consider the loss because I didn’t have a police report (there is no such thing in ICELAND!), shows how they rip people off. The bogus pricing is another indication of their “best (ripoff) practices!” Stay away from this company.

And.of course, do not, never do business with this company.

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Wilf says:
7 August 2015

I booked a car through do you Spain and got Dickmans . 26.85 Euros for 12 days bargain I thought.
98 euros for fuel and 950 euros on my card as I didn’t take out their insurance as I have my own. I returned the car intact and they said my 950 euros would be returned in 20 days now that’s a rip off.
Now it gets better after that time still no money so I started phoning , they said if I gave them BIC number of my account they would transfer quicker. 6 weeks later I got my money back but not all the sky high conversion or transfer charge meant that I was some £30 short of what I should have had. My bank in the UK do not charge to receive money from abroad and Dickmans say there is no charge as they deal in euros that’s nonsence , there holding bank or intermediate bank are making the money.

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Alice George says:
10 August 2015

On arrival in Belfast I was given a car with only 23 miles on it but was assured at their outside office on collection that stone chips and normal driving would not be classed as damage. On return today a 1.1cm hairline scratch was claimed to be damages; this in a country where the hedgerows fall into the path of most roads. On the previous occasion of hiring from this company they deducted charges for petrol even though I had filled the car .25 mile from the airport. I shall be contacting the UK Competition and MARKETS authority and Leaseeurope to complain

[This comment has been tweaked to align with our Community Guidelines. Thanks, mods]