/ 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?

Jeff Tendler says:
15 June 2014

On my most recent trip to France my hire car was via an Enterprise affiliate which overall was very good, but they had invented completely new cost which was a charge if the car was not brought back clean. Since cleanliness is a very subjective matter this would appear to be a win win situation for the hire company, also the charge was about 5 times as much as the average for going through a car wash. In fact they did not levy this charge, but it was just another thing to worry about when returning the vehicle.

It seems unreasonable for anyone to put a car through the car wash before returning it, so my guess that they wanted to ensure that cars are not returned with food or mud on the upholstery, which could make it difficult and expensive to deal with and have the car in a fit state for the next user. Obviously they should make it clear what is required and that requirement should be reasonable.

Many years ago I had a hire car that stunk of fish and though it had been thoroughly cleaned the smell permeated from the boot even with the blower on.

Jeff – that’s a new surprise charge for us to add to the list! You’re right that these charges are another worry even if they’re not on the bill in the end.

Wavechange – that does sound like a holiday nightmare! I hope you didn’t have to drive around in the smelly car for too long

Fortunately it was just a day trip in a car I had hired for work. It was my passengers in the back seat who were complaining most because the foul smell was coming from the boot. A memorable trip I would rather forget.

Peter Greening says:
30 June 2014

Last year I rented a car from Goldcar in Mallorca, on returning home I received an email from Goldcar stating they had charged me 50 Euro for cleaning the car, it transpires that I had left a towel on the rear seat and the charge was for removing it!

Just spotted this comment Peter – I think this might win for the most ridiculous charge!

Martin says:
17 June 2014

Here is my story about Goldcar: http://tinyurl.com/k46kqfn

There is a twitter page where you may connect with other Victims of Goldcar

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

Garibaldi says:
20 June 2014

Have just returned from Dijon, France where I hired a car from Auto Europe for 5 days. No problems and even got an upgrade. BUT, on arrival I was hit with an extra 90 Euro charge on top of the standard insurance cover already taken out in order to cover the insurance excess charges ( Ford Fiesta). The hire itself was only 117 Euros!
Rip off insurance charges I’d say.

Hi Garibalidi – you’ve hit the nail on the head, unexpected charges on arrival before you can take the car are exactly what we don’t want to see. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Gill says:
23 June 2014

Hired a car at DunLaoghrie in Eire via Rentalcars.com. I had hired before on May occasions in Europe with no issues but on this occasion the hire depot was away from the port and we were collected and then we had to leave the car at the port when we returned home. Fortunately my friend suggested I take photographs as there was no one to meet us from Sixt. Two months later and without any prior warning a charge of 700€ was charged to my MasterCard. I was shocked and angry as I knew I had left the car with no damage. To cut a long story short, I successfully challenged the charge and the bank refunded, but I had to put a lot of effort in and it was stressful. I will never hire again fro Sixt or in Eire.

Neil walker says:
25 June 2014

I recently hired a car from the clowns at goldcar in palma mallorca and was complety ripped off.
I tokk the full full policy but they chharged me a 125 euro deposit at the airport to make sure i returned the car full. This 125 euro would be refunded when i returned the car full.. i filled the car to the brim 1 mile from the airport and returned the car. Checked my invoice online when i got home and i had been refunded only 40 euro.. 85 euro was refunded as my original deposit which was completely wrong and then 45 euro debited for not returning the car full even though it was full as it could be. i have trid processing a claim through goldcars website but heard nothing back yet. Do i have any legal rights or have i just been scammed by these criminals. Reading reviews it seems this company are notorious for ripping people off.

This is a new one to me, I’ll make sure to flag this up with the team working on the campaign. We’ve got some information on how to complain about your car hire company which you might find useful on our consumer rights site – http://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/action/how-to-complain-about-your-car-hire-company

John Taylor says:
23 July 2014

I’m using Goldcar next week in Murcia so I’ll look out for this. I have independent excess cover and My last trip 6 weeks ago was to Alicante. I experienced a problem with Dickmans car rentals where they debited my credit card for the holding deposit immediately rather than just blocking the payment. Their promise to. Refund within 3 days was false and I had to rely on my credit card company to use their chargeback process to reimburse me. Both Dickmans and the broker Do You Spain dis joy have the courtesy to respond to any of my emails. Their customer service is lacking.

Sorry to hear of your Goldcar woes. Your story sounds identical to my Goldcar nightmare at Girona. Specifically booked full to full rental, charged €92 fuel deposit ( double what it costs to fill a Toyota Yaris in Spain) filled the car to full, drove 3km to drop off, and and charged €40 for a ‘full fuel breach’ to my card. No refund of my fuel deposit and no response from Goldcar via their web portal. I am livid. Did you get anywhere Neil?

I M W says:
22 November 2014

Inter-Rent / EuropCar – Sharp Practice and Fraud.

I booked a hire car to use in Portugal, via an agency ‘Economy Car Rentals.Com’ and paid them a deposit of EUR 49.

They arranged the car hire from ‘Inter-rent’ which turned out to be ‘Europcar’. My voucher showed that the balance of EUR 83.30 would be payable when I picked up the car
When I did pick up the car, I was told that it had a full tank of petrol, costing EUR 89 if returned empty.

I told them that I would be returning the car with a full tank, so this EUR 89 would not apply. I didn’t fancy driving around a foreign country with an almost empty tank.

On returning the car, a week later, with no damage or accident, I looked around the car with the Europcar member of staff.

There was no visible change to the car. The petrol tank was full, and is marked as full on their return document.
The member of staff then spent 45 minutes doing a fingertip search all over the car, and finally said they had found ‘a scuff mark’ under the sill under the front passenger door. This was not visible to me.

They told me that this ‘scuff mark’ was damage which would be charged for at EUR 351, plus EUR 30 administration cost, making a total of EUR 381.

I have complained about this system of charging for false ‘damage’ that’s not visible, but got nowhere.

It’s a ‘Rip Off’ be warned.


You rightly point out that independent car insurance is advisable (arranged in advance) to cover all insurance excesses – it being much cheaper than the “collison damage waiver” offered by rental companies. Unfortunately it does not prevent car rental firms INSISTING that you also take out their own insurance as well, before they let you take the car. This happened to me at Malaga airport with Goldcar Rental. I showed them all my valid insurance documents for the hire, but it made no difference. I will not be renting from them again.
Philip Allen.

Rachel Singleton says:
29 June 2014

We recently hired a car I with Avis in Lanzarote through Monarch Airlines to be told at the airport that we had no option but to pay an extra 75 euros for a full tank of petrol up front.
We know from our experience there that it is very difficult to use more than a quarter of a tank over a weeks holiday on that island and our normal top up fuel bill is around 20 euros.
Our tank of fuel was not only charged out to us at a higher rate per litre than is typical on the island but my unused fuel that I had paid dearly for would also then be sold and resold by Avis to other unwitting hirers many many times!!
Now call me melodramatic but isn’t this a form of shear racketeering normally associated with a back street operator and not what you would expect from market leaders like Avis which sadly appears to be supported by Monarch who were responsible for selling us the product.
Things got worse still with Avis!! On arriving at our villa I checked the car in broad daylight [as opposed to the airport car park] only to notice they had missed two large scratches on their hire report.
After reading about previous incidents I immediately took photographs of all the bumps and scratches on the car which I was pleased I did because when I returned the car complete with a three quarter tank of Fuel [!!!] Avis’s checking lady [presumably the same person who had checked it a week before] immediately homed in on the ‘missed scratches’ and started to accuse me of causing the damage at which time I was fortunately able to offer proof otherwise.
No wonder there was a huge queue at the Autoreisen desk at the airport that’s where we will be next time we go to Lanzarote.

Thanks for sharing your story Rachel, the full-empty rip off is exactly what we’re trying to tackle. We’ve been in touch with Avis so keep an eye for more news from the campaign.

Peter Greening says:
30 June 2014

Rented car from Goldcar through Holiday Autos in Menorca for 7 days from 31 May 2014, apart from the obvious fuel rip off and poor customer service, the car failed to start on 3 June, I called Goldcar breakdown and a guy came out and fixed the charged me 110 euro for the cost of using their breakdown service. I had taken out CEW excess insurance with Allianz via Holiday Autos but it doesnt cover mechanical failure.

Peter Greening says:
30 June 2014

Rented car from Alamo in Barcelona via Holidaycars.com in February 2012 for skiing trip to Andorra (having paid the extra for cross boarder travel). On the last day of holiday the car failed to start, I tried ringing Alamo at Barcelona Airport to get advice on what to do but the phone just kept ringing out. I subsequently phoned Holidaycars and after numerous phone calls they arranged for a breakdown guy who came out but couldnt fix the car. Holidaycars.com agreed for me to get taxis and bus back to Barcelona Airport and they would reimburse me, youve guessed it, after two years of fighting via trading standards in UK and Spain I am over £250 poorer.
My list of car hire Companies I would not use include;
Goldcar – the biggest rip off merchants around.
Firefly – appalling customer service especially at Barcelona Airport
Alamo – for reasons given above.

I suppose the car rental outlets in holiday destinations are likely to be franchise operations and receive minimal oversight from the franchisor. So far they have probably operated in the shadows where foreign business habits, language difficulties, time pressures, and an unwillingness to let a car-hiring problem spoil a good holiday, have allowed them to get away with some dodgy practices. They have been able to trade with disregard to customer service and satisfaction but now, thanks to holidaymakers’ reports via social media and the internet, consumer organisations are starting to look under the hood. I hope the major car rental companies which are being exposed suffer as a consequence – the problem is some of them are probably in a dominant position locally and that they all firms are cross-infected by unfair trading.

Kathy James says:
8 July 2014

We hired a car from Centauro car hire Malaga airport.Before driving I took ´photo´s of the car from all angles…except the hubcaps.When we returned the car ( washed and clean inside ) the man at Centauro agreed the bodywork was fine but accused as of having scratched a hubcap.This was an outright rip off as I had not scuffed the wheels against any kerb,the damage had been caused prior to our hire. Centauro charged us € 80 for a new set of hub caps.DON´T RENT FROM CENTAURO !!!

Hugh says:
9 July 2014

On a recent trip to Spain I encountered the ‘administrative’ charge of €23.29 when returning the car to Firefly. The sales rep claimed all the low cost car hire companies were applying this type of fee. I had prepaid the car hire costs when I ordered through Argus and had checked I could return with full fuel. It said on my booking form there would be a credit card charge (€3.30) and it mentioned an administrative fee, but not an amount. I assumed the admin fee would be to calculate the fuel consumed if I returned partially full. A nominal fee might be appropriate but this fee would buy 33% of the cost of the tank of fuel! I can’t see why if they are going to apply this fee then it should be included in the price up front.

Thanks for sharing your story Hugh. This is exactly what we’re asking for – companies to display the full cost of car hire upfront so you can compare prices and know exactly what you’ll be paying.

rita says:
11 July 2014

1. never mind the extras, to save money SHOP AROUND. AND DO IT YOURSELF. for the same car and dates this august in US, with national.com was $1500 – but on national.uk offer 340pounds! (previous years cheaper on us site)
2. check the extras on line in advance, print copies of rental details. with this I got a refund from Avis
-france- for the tank of fuel charge within 2 weeks
3. before leaving the car, check the checker – e.g. fuel tank full – and take a copy in writing

Richard says:
24 July 2014

Myself and my partner were going to Barcelona to see his family and we went with Easy Jet and landed we went over to Europcar because we had a car hire for the whole time we was there paid £120.00 for the 7 days we was there and was then charged £300.00 because Easy Jet had a small print. Europcar refused to refund.

Aggie says:
26 July 2014

It would appear that your experiences are from well known franchise car rental companies. I rent a car long term as I live in Malta, €10 a day, all in …. Yep that’s right all I have to pay for is the fuel, the company are a little one office operation, who unlike others who wanted €800 a month – Goldcar, Europcar and Avis, actually care about their customer. My suggestion is keep away from the big names and just google cheap car rental in the country you are going to visit.

Hi Aggie , what is the name of the company you use , am looking to hire a car in Malta this year and have had some pretty poor experiences so far.Thanks

Matt B says:
26 July 2014

I hired a car from Avis via a voucher from the BA.com site and would avoid this in future as they are poorly joined-up and able to blame each other for any confusion. Several extra charges ensued and BA compensated the first but wouldn’t accept the rest. Avis didn’t even reply to messages to their Customer Services.

1. Avis delivered a car in one Group lower than we’d booked (refund given).
2. Avis charged more than the credit for the voucher (this got confused with the above so not refunded).
3. We reluctantly agreed to pay almost 100 Euros for waiver of excess because the excess was 2500 Euros. This was only disclosed to us when collecting the car in Italy and rendered the standard insurance unfit for purpose in my opinion. BA said it was my fault for not asking in advance and felt no obligation to highlight this to me at time of sale. I understand that this probably contravenes the EU Rental Charter.
4. When I agreed to buy Satnav, they added “RSN Counter Product” under the same header for 9 Euros, splitting it out only in a post-hire receipt. I still don’t know what it was. The clerk also programmed our hotel into the Satnav then accidentally set it on “simulation mode” which we discovered only after being led into a US naval base.
5. Avis added 4 Euros for windscreen cover without permission late on in the process once I was too tired to argue.

None of this was helped by the local practice of quoting fees excluding tax and presenting invoices in Italian.

I’d be grateful for any pointers if you think I could have any other recourse. Incidentally, I understand that the financial ombudsman won’t look at hire car insurance (as they would regular car insurance) because it’s probably just the hire company standing behind it and not a proper insurer. Is that correct?

Hi Matt,

Sorry to hear Avis aren’t replying to your messages and that you had charges you weren’t expecting.

We’ve got some advice on our consumer rights site you may find helpful – http://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/action/how-to-complain-about-your-car-hire-company

Avis are a member of the European Car Rental Conciliation Service (ECRCS) who can help deal with unresolved complaints, there’s contact details via my link above.

Melanie says:
27 July 2014

I paid Avis upfront for a weeks holiday car hire in Malaga Spain. When I returned from my holiday a found they had taken an additional £184.59. I called Avis to query the additional payment. They said this was to cover the excess on the car insurance policy. I had not requested the extra cover and at no point did they explain there would be an additional charge for this. I believe Avis are deliberately misleading customers. I have called Avis on three occasions and emailed their customer service but have been told it will be a least three weeks before they will get back to me.
Still waiting!

Julia and David says:
1 August 2014

We’ve just suffered what we consider a rip off at the hands of Avis. We booked a hire car through Avis for our holiday in Italy. We chose Avis because they are a national name in the UK.

When we picked the car up we were offered excess cover on the insurance at €25 per DAY. Now we’re back we did research and can get the same cover for both of us for £79 per YEAR. As we’ve never had any trouble in the past we decided to risk it.

Sadly we hit a massive pot hole and got a flat tyre. The breakdown service said they would come and tow the car away but we would have to get ourselves to an Avis office to get another car. We changed the wheel and discovered it was actually the wheel damaged. We got ourselves to the nearest dealer but they didn’t have a suitable car so we went on to the next dealer over 2 hours away. We handed in our damaged car, half full of fuel and carried on with our holiday. Unfortunately no one we dealt with have much in the way of English and our Italian is poor – another reason we initially thought we’d be best with Avis was to get staff who spoke reasonable English.

When we returned the car in Naples airport at the end of our holiday we were met in the car park by an Avis rep who had checked the car over before we had unloaded and presented us with a bill for an additional €608.37 for the wheel and fuel. No discussion. No proof of the costs to them. Just sign here and we’ll take it off your card. The car was half full so should only have taken €48 at their own rates. In fact we only put €78 in our replacement car which was running on fumes and there is no way a replacement wheel should cost over €500.

The trouble is they have your card details, you’re at the airport with a plane to catch and there’s no one to talk to as the member of staff you are dealing with only checks in returned cars.

Lesson learned on the insurance but the whole experience was a rip off.

Matt B says:
1 August 2014

Interesting. My Avis story (above) was also Naples. Same excess waiver charge.

Dougi says:
2 August 2014

My daughter and family returned from France last week. They had a hired car from Inter-rent / Europcar for 2 weeks for approx 450 euros A few days ago she noticed that an additional 550 euros had been charged to their credit card with no explanation. When they picked up the car they were advised to ensure the car was washed (?) inside when they returned it, so they cleaned out the interior, including glass and dash etc and brushed out the carpets. On returning the car they were told the interior had not been vaccumed and therefore was not clean enough (?) Inter-rent / Europcar rep also claimed that a mark on the car was “a scratch”, although in fact it was pointed out to the rep at the time that the surface had not been broken and my son in law easily rubbed half of the mark off in front of the rep and wrote on the report it was not in fact a scratch. The battle to recover this unjustified charge goes on.

Holidaying in Mallorca regularly over the years and needing a hired car as I wasn’t staying in a resort, I vowed never to hire from any of the big companies after they started the rip-off fuel scenario. I wrote to my MEP who was no help at all. He told me that car hire companies had the right to set their business charges. I consider that I have the right not to be ripped off.
A rummage on the internet reading local forums in Mallorca was revealing and very useful. I recommend looking at forums in whichever country you find yourself. Local knowledge is invaluable and privately owned car hire companies are hidden jewels. I found a privately run British family company whose vehicles were just fine. They have been in business in Mallorca for thirty years. Got the vehicle with a quarter tank or so and returned it as I found it – ideal! The friendly personal service was a bonus. This particular small company has a loyal clientele and I’m not going to tell you its name in case it they are fully booked when I need a vehicle! It is possible to have a good car hire experience.

It’s nice to read a story with a happy ending thanks Reviewer 🙂