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?