/ Motoring, Travel & Leisure

Your view: the hidden cost of car hire sites

A car hire key on an exotic beach

Our investigation into car hire sites uncovered sneaky charges that could catch you out. You’ve been sharing the highs and lows of your car hire experiences.

Some car hire websites make it very difficult for you to work out the actual cost of renting a vehicle. We asked you if you’d been caught out by hidden charges. John Reynolds feels that car hire sites are more confusing than they used to be:

‘In recent years the broker car sites seem much more apt to mislead on prices and what’s included and what’s not. A few years back I found it much more straightforward than it is now.’

Johnb had tyre trouble with his one-way hire car trip:

‘I had paid extra to reduce my excess in the event of damage. I had possession of the vehicle for less than 24 hours and returned it to the office in Southampton. After an inspection, I was told there was tyre damage and I would be charged the maximum £100. I disputed this and without signing for any damage, or actually being shown the damage, I left the vehicle with the company and expected my deposit to be refunded to my card. I discovered that the £100 excess charge had been deducted from my refund. I immediately contacted the company who followed up on my complaint and ultimately the £100 was refunded to my card. My view is that if I hadn’t checked on this they would have banked the money and left me out of pocket.’

Paying extra for petrol

Tony Sharpe feels short-changed by a fuel charge:

‘We hired a little Fiat Picanto for two weeks that we picked up from a company called Marbesol at Malaga Airport. We were happy in relation to the basic hire cost for the two weeks, but when we got to the hire desk on arrival with our credit card to pay up front, we were told that we’d need to pay for the full tank of petrol there and then and return the car empty of fuel. Sounded fine until they said that the fuel charge would be an additional 90 euros! We were staggered by this cost, but were told, in effect, either agree to it or go elsewhere for another car. After a week we needed to fill the car up with fuel (which I’d allowed to get to as near ‘empty’ as I dare)…and found that it cost us just 52 euros to fill to the brim! This gave them a ‘profit of around 40 euros for each tank!’

John Dover has been more fortunate when hiring cars:

‘I have only ever hired a car on three occasions, all in Italy. I have followed what appears to be the best advice from the cognoscenti on your site and purchased excess waiver insurance separately at very much lower cost. I appear to have been very lucky and found a hirer with good local agents who have supplied me with a full tank of fuel and allowed me to return it in the same condition, thereby avoiding that particular problem. I used 6T through their internet site and was very impressed with their service.’

Mike Birchall stuck to his guns in Barcelona, earning him our Comment of the Week:

‘I used Argus Car Hire from the airport at Barcelona. They don’t actually have an office there, you have to pick your car up in the main carpark near to the flag posts. About four blokes arrived all at the same time with cars for new arrivals. They were all sharing the same payment machine from the back of a van that a fifth bloke had arrived in; it had a laptop, printer and payment machine. I had printed out my proposal offer and had it with me.

‘The guy who dealt with me spoke good English and tried adding on some other items. I refused to pay for these other items showing him my offer and telling him that was all I was going to pay. He tried it on, saying I had to have these extras or he couldn’t release the car. I told him I would go and hire one from inside the terminal and started to walk away. He called me back saying I could have the car at the price on the proposal, but I had to keep it to myself.’

Have you been lucky with car hire websites or have you been stung with charges you weren’t expecting?

Josquine says:
28 April 2013

A good experience from Hertz in Tasmania. We made quite a big paint scrape (perhaps 18 in x 12 in, but no depth) along the rear wing through reversing into something sticking out which could not be seen in the wing mirror. We mentioned it, sheepishly, as we checked in at reception. They made no charge, even though we had not taken out additional insurance.

Sparky B says:
9 May 2013

I have been hiring cars from Alamo in the USA for over 30 years and have never had a complaint, especially with the price I paid at the desk which has always been within a few cents of the price quoted on line or over the phone.
So when wanting to hire a car in Cyprus I went to Alamo, they quoted me a price, advised me that I MAY have to pay a charge for being aged over 70, also of the extra Super LDW charge and fuel charges, the price included Fees and Taxes ( which were subject to change.)
The car was booked and Alamo advised me it was serviced by EUROPCAR in Cyprus.
On arriving in Cyprus in April 2013 at the Europcar desk I was told (quite bluntly) that the over 70 year old drivers charge was MANDATORY and was 28 Euros, the Super LDW charge was 49 Euros (for 7 days) but the Fuel (petrol) charge was nothing like the price quoted by Alamo.
Whilst driving around we took careful note of the fuel prices which averaged out at 1.40 Euros per Litre. Europcar charged 69.41 Euros for filling the tank (on a 1.4 Litre Ford Fiesta) at the garage close by (this included VAT @18%).
I was then CHARGED VAT ON THE WHOLE AMOUNT of the Rental Agreement this was later especially noted to be ON TOP of the VAT already paid on the fuel.
So in conclusion I paid £107.55 MORE to Europcar than the price quoted by Alamo.

I Emailed Europcar Customer Services in Cyprus regarding the VAT on VAT charge, needless to say they have declined to reply.
I also Emailed Alamo Customer Services (who have always replied quickly before) BUT this time NO reply.
The problem is as far as the customer is concerned the Car Hire Company’s are on a win win basis, If you accept the charges you have been ripped off, if you cancel the car at the check-in desk (because of extra charges) you WILL incur a hefty charge anyway. The Car Hire Company’s I am sure know what you are most likely to land up paying at the desk but do not want to tell you as you are likely to walk and go somewhere else.
For me personally I am finished with hiring cars in Europe at Rip Off Prices.
I feel quite angry about this situation and wonder just how many other customers have been duped in the same wayand for how long this practice has been going on.

Sparky B says:
5 September 2013

Further to my original complaint posted 9th May 2013
To this day I have NOT received a reply from either of the 2 Emails I sent to Alamo and Europcar BUT I did receive a refund on my credit card from Europcar of £8.93 due to them charging VAT on the fuel when VAT had already been paid at the pump.
To my mind not contacting me but just sending a refund is an admission that they know exactly what they are doing and it IS A RIP OFF.
I sincerely hope this information helps when considering hiring vehicles from EUROPCAR.

Edward Munn says:
21 May 2013

Hired a car through a website whilst in Canada earlier this year. On picking up the vehicle at Heathrow was informed that I would have to pay an additional 60GBPs due to being over 70 years of age, ‘not our fault replied the sales girl it’s been imposed by the insurance industry’. I paid as I had little choice at that time. On getting back to Canada I contacted the company I normally use and got a reply from their Heathrow office that no there is no charge for any age below 25years and definitely not for someone of 70 years, if carrying a valid licence without endorsements. My wife and I are insured in the UK as we have a residence there also.
Is this charge legal? The website Ts & Cs do state that some providers may add a surcharge for over 70s. This smacks of age discrimination so interested in your views.

Macmartyn says:
31 May 2013

Every year we go to Menorca
In the past we have had all the local cowboy car hire tricks and cheats so have stuck to only using one highly reputable company (Binicars) for the past few years
Unfortunately the Bealeric goverment are now the latest rip off merchants !
This year they have decreed a new green tax on top of tourist’s car hire of approx 50-60 euros for 10 days car hire.
Another way of fleecing you but now officially blessed at goverment level.

Jane Connor says:
29 August 2013

I am fed up with misleading car hire broker sites. They provide comparisons so you can supposedly choose the best deal and always have an offer. Invariably I have found that when you arrive at the car hire firm the advertised deal is a mistake. We have end up paying extra for air con because that was a mistake and that offer didnt have it. Being transported offsite to pick up a car which was supposed to be on airport adding an extra hur to our journey. Being charged an out of hours fee for drop off or pick up despite providing our flight times and no mention of it.
I agree with the other posters though you are usually stuck with it by the time you get there.

Ed Criswick says:
8 November 2013

Car hire fuel costs – there seems to be an increasing trend for the ‘rent full, return empty’ practice, or scam as we like to call it. I hire a car abroad every year or so, and this year was the first time I’ve come across this. In the past it was ‘rent full, return full’ which meant a frantic scrabble around at the last minute to find a non-existent filling station close to the airport. The hire company would penalise your failure to top up the tank by charging exorbitant fuel rates. They still do so, but now they charge an exorbitant rate for a full tank, but only have to top up on what’s left when the car is returned. I guess there is not much scope for putting an end to either fuel practice, but there must be scope for Which? to lead or participate in a Europe-wide effort to ban exorbitant fuel prices, eg by setting the maximum price chargeable at the maximum retail price within 10 miles of the hire facility.

Just hired a car in Barcelona and was charged for a full tank at 2.16 euros per litre. An absolute rip off. Car Trawler don’t want to know although they are happy to recommend and take commission. it is about time that the car hire industry comes clean and shows their costs up front.

Cranky says:
6 June 2015

In May 2015 I prepaid for car hire through Avis UK for a rental from Barcelona airport. I did not pay for their excess CDW as I had insured for this through a UK broker.
Unfortunately I reversed into a low concrete bollard causing damage to the rear of the car. On return to Avis at the airport the Agent inspected the damage calling it “medium grade damage” and said it would cost €850 to repair which was taken from my credit card.
On return home I awaited details of the damage to submit to my insurance broker but this was not forthcoming so after a week I phoned Avis UK to see if they could help by chasing up detailed charges which they said they would. A further week went by and so I filled in a complaint form on the Avis website asking for help.
To my astonishment I received a swift response giving apologies for the delay and after reviewing my charges they have given me 100% refund and this has now gone through my credit card account.
Well done Avis!

Raymond says:
13 May 2016

Question relates to “car hire excess insurance”. Is it reliable?
Background: For a 16-day car rental in Italy, car hire companies have offered a range of prices for waiver of their standard excess charge in the event of damage or theft. The waiver of the excess is sometimes called Super Collision Damage Waiver, or SCDW., which may or may not apply to theft also. Example: without SCDW, excess is around €2000, and this can be reduced to zero by buying the SCDW which costs up to €70 PER DAY (sic). Separately, “car hire excess insurance policies” appear on Internet from independent insurers which offer a far lower premium. Example: £40 PER YEAR for all car rentals by a given person. The disparity is so enormous that “too good to be true” comes to mind, leading to the suspicion of a hidden trick. Has Which? looked into these independent car hire excess insurance policies, please?

Thelma says:
We are going to Italy in July and have hired a car for 4 weeks from Hertz through our travel company Citalia. Supercover will likely cost about 600 or 700 Euros. We are looking at car hire insurance policy to cover excess but annual cover at £ 37 seems too good to be true. Please can you investigate.

I hired a car at Malaga airport from Goldcar, having pre-booked it. On arrival I was told there was an obligatory “excess waiver” charge. I said I had already taken out my own insurance waiver with an independent insurer, and showed them the paperwork. They were not interested and insisted that their excess waiver charge was obligatory if I wanted to take the car. With two small children, and it being fairly late evening, I simply had to surrender. I will not be hiring from Goldcar again.

Carlos says:
19 June 2016

I believe that nobody should use the “pick up full, return empty” car hire companies such as Goldcar.
It always works out dearer than the standard rental by the time they charge you exorbitant fuel prices, other fees and extra time pick-up and returns at more distant locations at airport terminals.

Ethorytor says:
2 May 2017

I have just been charged £28 by Nationwide for fuel I didn’t use. The van was left outside my house while I was out, with 7/8 of a tank of fuel. When I finished with it I made sure it had more fuel in than when I started, but they still charged me to fill the tank. When I complained it took them 28 days to investigate, then when I chased them the answer they gave me didn’t make any sense.

I shall be contacting Trading Standards next.