/ 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?

John says:
14 August 2014

Just had a terrible rental from Thrifty in Salt Lake City airport (SLC). We booked a car for 32 days at a cost of $807.97 per month plus $32.00 per day, plus 3 different taxes, 2 different charges etc. There was no indication that the 32 day rental period was a problem during the website reservation, although there was a small print in the confirmation email that we’d have to “return the vehicle for maintenance” after 30 days. Once we had rented the vehicle we called Thrifty to clarify what we had to do, this resulted in a 100-mile round trip to a different branch on the advice of the call-center, but this branch could not help. The call-center could not tell us what the penalty would be if we missed the 30-day “return for maintenance”, because this was a matter for the SLC franchise. They also could not give us the SLC phone number. We found it on the internet, but when we called it, were transferred back to (probably the same) call-center.
Eventually we changed our holiday plans and made a 150-mile return trip back to SLC after 30-days. In less than 5 minutes the representative took the mileage and gave us a new contract, which has resulted in us paying for a month plus 3 days at $50.50 per day. When we challenged this the representative claimed the $32 (on our email confirmation) was a penalty charge and would not budge. This appears to have been an outright lie.
So we appear to have been charged twice to rent the same car on the same day, and mostly all we did that day was drive 150 miles so Thrifty could read the mileage!
I appreciate the reason car-hire companies need to take a credit card in advance as security, but the credit card companies need to return some of the control over the situation to the consumer at the end of the contract.
I rent cars 6 or 7 times a year for periods of 2-4 weeks, so am a very experienced renter. This recent rental was about the worst I have ever encountered!

John says:
18 August 2014

Anyone know how we can find out about Utah state law for car hire. We have heard a rumour that in Utah (like in California) a spouse is automatically an authorized driver, yet I was charged $363 plus taxes by Thrifty to be added to my wife’s rental as an “additional driver”. I have tried to find a definitive statement on the internet, but so far only found “proof” in chat forums!

Good news! Some car hire firms have made changes thanks to your feedback: https://conversation.which.co.uk/transport-travel/car-hire-whos-still-taking-you-for-a-ride/

Geoff Edwards says:
1 September 2014

We rented a car via Arguscarhire.com with RecordGO on a resent trip to Mallorca. We were charged €62.12 for a full tank of petrol for our Ford Fiesta, but were told that if we filled up at the local garage and showed them the receipt, we could get a refund.
The problem I had was they charged me for extra insurance €76.98 and a handling charge of €23.99, even though I told them I had taken out car hire insurance before our trip. This was a complete rip off, and I would not hire from RecordGO again.

Viktor says:
11 September 2014

I recently rented a car in Palma de Mallorca airport. I heard terrible news about Goldcar but my Holiday Autos reservation allocated me Goldcar and provided me no choice.
As I expected Goldcar did everything to rip me off.
I WAS CHARGED 112 Euros for a tank of petrol for a 55L tank. Yes, that is 2 Euro per liter of petrol while the petrol station price in Mallorca is 1.45-1.5 Euros.
The employee did everything he could to convince me purchasing additional insurance when I already purchased a zero excess package. I had to fight for 5 minutes that I don`t need anything like that. He wanted to make me feel a complete idiot that I don`t buy additional insurance for the price of my total rental.
And I don`t need to mention that I was told I`ll get refund for the unused fuel but no refund received so far. 🙂
Well done Goldcar…

Joanne says:
24 September 2014

We took out hire car and insurance for a holiday to Italy, at the airport in Naples we were then caught with the extra charge for petrol and 200 euros for extra insurance to cut the excess- in fact we bought all the extras we were offered. During our holiday we were caught in a freak storm which resulted in substantial hailstone damage to the car. On returning the car we were told that the “comprehensive” insurance covered boot, bonnet and doors but not the roof. We were forced to pay another 800 euros for the roof before we were allowed to leave to catch our flight.

Joanne says:
24 September 2014

We took out hire car and insurance for a holiday to Italy, at the airport in Naples we were then caught with the extra charge for petrol and 200 euros for extra insurance to cut the excess- in fact we bought all the extras we were offered. During our holiday we were caught in a freak storm which resulted in substantial hailstone damage to the car. On returning the car we were told that the “comprehensive” insurance covered boot, bonnet and doors but not the roof. We were forced to pay another 800 euros for the roof before we were allowed to leave to catch our flight. We are now struggling to dispute this payment, as the hire company have denied any wrong doing and as was pointed out in a previous comment they have your card details.

Hi Joanne,

I’m sorry to hear you’re struggling to resolve your complaint. We’ve got some tips you might find useful on our consumer rights site explaining who you can escalate your complaint to – http://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/action/how-to-complain-about-your-car-hire-company

I paid 80euros for a full tank and if I brought it back full I would receive a full refund. I was short changed by £30 I complained and they simply ignored me. This was after the tried to make me pay extra for insurance and charged me twice for the car hire.
I have hired cars numerous cars before gold car is the worsts

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John says:
13 October 2014

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Sascha says:
13 October 2014

I was looking for a company with an office within the terminal of Málaga airport because I wanted to be able to quickly return the car before my flight back home. I found that Goldcar had a service desk there compared prices and finally booked a Ford Fiesta for two days for a reasonable price of 48 EUR via their homepage. The terms and conditions displayed during the booking process were very easy and clear. One of them explicitly said “get a refund for unused fuel”. That’s the so-called Flex-fuel tariff.

When I picked up the car the clerk scaremongered me into an excess insurance altgough I had checked all applicable insurances during booking. He said that those would not cover (amongst others) gearbox problems, wheel damages and broken windscreens. As I knew how easily you get hit by rocks and stones I reluctantly agreed to pay an extra 50 EUR for the insurance.

Then I was charged another 115 EUR for the fuel. I objected but the clerk said I needn’t worry as I had the Flex-fuel tariff and would get refund for fuel I would not have used.

During booking you’re asked for date AND time when you plan on returning the car. What they don’t tell you is that the time is binding. I had planned on returning the car in the evening before our flight back as it left really early in the morning. So I asked the clerk what happened if I would not make it before their closing time. He looked at my rental papers and said “Don’t worry, you have the car for 48 hours. Now it’s Friday 11am, and if you return the car until Sunday 11am you’ll be fine. In case we’re closed just drop the keys in the dedicated mailbox.

And so I did, on Sunday morning at 6am, five hours before the end of the 48 hours, and with a full tank, assuming that with a difference of zero litres used I would get 100% back.

Three days later I got the final balance sheet by email.

Of the 115 EUR I only got 86 back as that was the regular market price for the full tank.

Plus I got charged 27 EUR for allegedly returning the car too late. What counted was the hour I had given during booking.

I filed a complaint by email with screenshots of their terms that failed to mention these details. I got no reply. Next I contacted them via facebook. This time someone wrote back asking for the number of my rental contract. I provided the details and got no reply. After asking them two more times they finally replied, sending me copies of my rental contract and the pickup protocol. Like I didn’t have those already. When I insisted on a proper answer with a real reply to my complaint they only wrote that this was all they could do and that they regard the case as closed. No further response. As that made me angry because I felt mocked as a customer who is obviously not taken seriously, and I started warning other people on the facebook page requesting info from Goldcar for future bookings, they blocked me and deleted all my comments.

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John says:
14 October 2014

Unfortunately, I became a Goldcar customer because I used Auto-Europe for a trip to Tuscany in September 2014.

I already had excess insurance from Direct Car Excess so wasn’t expecting to do anything other than pick up a car when I arrived at the Goldcar desk at Pisa airport.

Almost immediately a Goldcar employee tried to sell me their Super Relax excess insurance at 16 Euro/day. I declined, explaining I already had excess cover. But he said this was no good as they didn’t work with third party suppliers. But I still said no.

His attitude then got a lot less cordial as he explained that if I didn’t buy their insurance I’d have to pay a deposit of 1000 Euros which they would keep for 20 working days (effectively one month) after the car was returned, even if it was undamaged.

To ram home the point he underlined both mentions of a 1000 Euros on the Auto-Europe rental voucher and wrote “20” under one of them. He repeated “20 working days” several times to make sure I understood. But still I declined.

(I later read the almost impenetrable small print he gave me and could find no mention of 20 working days, just: “the deposit may be retained for up to 15 days after the vehicle has been returned.”

Even less cordially still, he said if they found so much as a scratch when the car was returned I’d be charged a 250 Euro admin fee. And he made it sound like they’d find a scratch.

Given the state of the Renault Clio they supplied – especially the inside – it would have taken a long time checking to ensure I spotted every mark or scratch. I just hope the large brown stain on the back seat was chocolate.

Then he said if I broke down I’d have to pay 250 Euros for a breakdown truck to come out.

I was stunned by this but finally, and reluctantly, agreed because my partner was starting, quite rightly, to get very agitated. It wasn’t exactly putting me in a fun holiday mood.

I’ve come across excess insurance before but this was ridiculously expensive – almost as much as the initial car rental – and four times more than anything else I’ve seen.

When I came to pay the 160 Euro for their Super Relax insurance the bill was 270.50 Euros. He said the 110.50 Euro difference was for the tank of fuel because I had to pay in advance and bring the car back empty.

I questioned this and he said they’d refund any remaining fuel – but didn’t say there’d be an admin charge for doing so.

He didn’t mention the option of bringing back the car full, which is an alternative in their small print. I was staggered to find it only cost 75 Euros for a full tank at a petrol station.

I complained to Auto-Europe but they decided there was no complaint to answer because I’d signed for the insurance. Brilliant!

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David Robson says:
14 October 2014

We hired a car from Jet2 car hire in Italy they subcontracted to Goldcar. They refused to give this car until we paid 230 euros for extra insurance which we did not want or need. They held us to ransom at the airport, they treated us like something you would scrape off your shoe. When at first I refused to pay they just slid my documents along the counter and shouted next. This is tantamount to theft. My credit card company are saying because I signed for the charge I have to pay for it even though I had no choice, our destination was a tiny hamlet a 40 min drive away from the airport.

Steve says:
1 November 2014

In October 2014 we hired a small/medium car from Faro airport in Portugal with Goldcar, this was through Holiday Autos website. When we collected it they said we had to pay for a full tank and we would get a refund for any unused fuel. Also that we would get charged for any toll charges. I explained we knew the area and would not be using any toll roads. When we returned I filled the tank up at the airport to avoid any excessive charges, and the attendant said we would get a full refund. On returning home I found they had charged for a full tank of fuel (no refund) also toll charges and a charge for a Diesel upgrade, which I did not request, or was told of at the time.
I challenged this through Holiday Autos (as I couldn’t find a contact for Goldcar) and they said the charges were correct. After challenging again I received a partial refund for fuel only. I challenged yet again, and this time they refunded the Diesel upgrade cost. I have challenged yet again and asked for receipts for the tolls but have yet to receive a reply. This is fraudulent and criminal and after looking online I’m not the only one who has been caught out like this. my advice would be to get the refunds at the time of returning the car, but I guess you are still open for other fraudulent charges once you return, as they have your card details. I certainly wouldn’t use Goldcar again. the whole experience leaves a bad feeling after what was a great holiday.

Michael Fairman says:
11 January 2015

We hired a Vauxhall Astra from Europcar in October 2014 for one week (7 days) through Easyjet. The quote on the Easyjet website was for about £136.66 for the week. It ended up costing £484.44 all told with the extras. No mention on the initial advert that there is an excess of £1000 if you have a prang; £116 for collision damage waiver. Something called Baggage and IPT £49. Roadside Assistance £18: wife to drive also £58; return empty £58; VAT not include of course £73. SHOP AROUND OR GET CONNED!

Antipodean says:
21 February 2015

We NEARLY rented a car from Thrifty in Scotland. Lucky we combed the T&C at the bottom of the webpage (yes the very fine print) because we found a hidden charge there – unspecified potential charges for miles over 500/ week.

“Price Rates include insurance (subject to the damage liability of the vehicle), VAT & breakdown cover. If your mileage is likely to exceed 500 miles per week please contact the renting location for full details before placing your booking. Thrifty reserves the right to determine and charge unreasonable mileage incurred within any rental period” (note – there is no full stop at the end of the last sentence).

Note, this was NOT specified UPFRONT in the inclusions / exclusions re the car. We inquired with the branch and were told an amount payable for each mile over 500. We then checked with head office and were told a different amount.

Head Office told us that this information was clearly displayed in the booking process. Yes, you tick a ‘I have read the T&C box’, but as said in the inclusions and exclusions that are prominently displayed there is NO MENTION of the hidden charge and even in the T&C there is no actual charge stated.

We didn’t get caught, but I consider this to be duplicitous on behalf of Thrifty. Make sure that you check the T&C before you book if you plan on doing a lot of miles! They have covered their backsides because they can say ‘you should have read the T&C neener neener’ … but it is hardly really consumer-friendly practice.

Angel Conde says:
2 April 2015

recently I rent a car with Dickmanns in Alicante Spain, I have been renting cards from Alicante for the past 30 Years with mix experiences but this time it was a bad one I’m expecting to get worse, to start the staff was very, very patronizing ( do this people get any training at all ) secondly this company took strait away from my credit card the deposit of 400 Eu and the 90 for the petrol, but the what it really got my is THEY CHARGED VIT ?????? first the petrol the vit is paid all ready and the deposit shouldn’t have VIT as is only a deposit and not a businesses transaction, then they said on my return of the car that my my deposit will be refund in 20 days therefor they will have my money out of the credit card for a total of 45 days
never again with this mob ( be ware you )

Donna says:
9 April 2015

Hi All

Just wanted to let you know to beware when collecting a car from Centauro in Spain. I hired a car in Feb 15, I asked if they needed to come and check it before we took it away but they said no, no need everything is perfect. OK we thought it was late so had a quick look and couldn’t see any lumps or bumps. On returning the car, we handed the keys in, they asked if everything was OK, we said yes fine and that was that no inspection or anything. A few days after returning home, i noticed a charge on my credit card £146.00 from Centauro. Of course i queried this via Economy car hire ( who i must add have tried to help) they came back stating that we had damaged the care as there was a slight bump on the car when they inspected it, and it was part of the agreement that they could charge for the repair. Again i disputed this as we didn’t bump the car, why would i not tell the truth when i took out fully comp insurance. Anyway i have asked for photographic evidence but they couldn’t send anything, but still refused to overturn the charge. I’m one of the lucky ones as i did take extra insurance, but i do wonder how many other rentals have ended this was. Sorry rant over! Moral to the story is make someone inspect the car on collection and return photographic, it’ll save you money in the long run.

Rachele says:
10 April 2015

We paid £72 for 5 day car hire for a company…which we thought was good. No where in their website did it mention hidden costs. I have now got the confirmation email through and it turns out we have to give 1000 euro deposit. If we don’t want to pay this we have to pay 25 euros a day to waive this off. Glad I read the small print as otherwise would be stuck in the airport!

This annoys me because in actual fact the car hire is really £1072 until they return your deposit. Now it will cost us an extra 25 per a day.

Also we planned to pick up the car at 12.30 at night from the airport and return it at 6am. Again nowhere did it tell us the companies opening hours until AFTER I have paid. The company is open from 7am – 11pm and there is a 40 euro charge for cars dropped and picked up after office hours!!

I can’t speak directly to them as their number takes me back to economy bookings – they keep saying it’s not their problem, it’s the car compnaies, but they are the ones who sold me the product and who I keep being directed to!!

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Stephen wearden says:
11 April 2015

Went to florida last sept and just checked march statement from the bank and thrifty have taken out £552 wen we already paid at the airport which was $154, any ideas how to go about getting a refund

Hi Stephen, thanks for your post – I’m sorry to read that you’ve been charged an excessive amount for hiring a car, several months after travelling abroad. We’ve published lots of really useful advice about this matter here: