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Car rental scams you should know about

Robin Bowman

Robin Bowman
Jul 4, 2016


For many of us the holiday season means the prospect of car hire – and there can’t be many people who don’t know what a minefield renting a car can be.

Paula Smith, from Bourne, has contacted A Spokesman Said with her experience of dealing with car giant, Hertz. And she provides a timely reminder to us all of what can go wrong.

Paula picked up her pre-paid car at Bergerac-Roumaniere airport in France. There she was offered extra insurance to bring down the excess on any damage from €1,500 to €500, around £350. 

She says she was quoted €22.99 for this change. She considered the charge reasonable and agreed to sign the relevant paperwork.

But when she received an invoice after returning the car, she found she had actually been charged €91.62 for what was described as ‘Super Cover’. She is adamant she would never have agreed to a charge as high as this, if she had known about it.

To add insult to injury, Paula was also charged €12.54 for the car to be cleaned.

We have every sympathy with Paula, but her experience does serve as a warning to everyone else to adopt a super-cautious approach to car renting.

Few, if any, of these companies will give up an opportunity to whack on extra charges if you let them.

Avoiding nasty surprises means reading everything carefully before agreeing and signing – even if it’s a bore and eats into your precious holiday time.

There are also a few standard ruses that rental companies will pull, if you let them.

Here are a couple to watch out for –

 

Take out full / bring back empty

Probably the oldest car rental trick in the book.

Never agree to take out a car with a full tank of petrol that you then bring back empty.

You’ll usually pay a premium for the fuel in the first place and, of course, it’s impossible to ‘bring it back empty’. 

The fuel you leave behind is nothing more than an extra charge paid to the car rental company.

 

Excess policies

If you damage a rental car, they will have standardised charges they’ll apply.

The minimum of these will almost always exceed the insurance excess. So, you’ll lose whatever the excess is.  And beware: even a scratch can see your excess gone in a blink.

This is why hire firms always offer excess waivers at extra cost. These will often reduce your excess to zero; but they usually come – as Paula found – at a hefty price.

Reducing your excess to zero is certainly a great idea – that way you don’t have to worry about damage that is not in any way your fault, damage that you’ll still end up paying for.

But buy insurance in advance.

There are plenty of decently priced deals around, most of which mean you have to pay the rental firm when the damage is done, but then claim the money back through your separate insurance policy later.


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It’s also good advice, even if you do have a separate insurance policy, to check the car thoroughly for dents, scratches and any other damage.

Never be fobbed off by any car rental employee telling you that something ‘doesn’t matter’. They may well take a different view on your return.

Top Tip: Note the damage, however minor, and make certain the rental company marks it on your documents.

And, if the car is not pristine, or carries more scratches and scuffs than can be properly identified on the damage sheets the company uses, either don’t accept the vehicle or make sure you take dated photographs before driving off.

Much the same goes for when you return the car. Get it checked and signed for, if you can, rather than just dropping off the keys.

 

Hidden charges

These are a common cause for complaints. These are the charges you’re not told about until it’s time to pick up your car. They are often little more than a rip off.

Many companies will charge you extra if you’re a ‘young’ driver, or have been driving for less than a certain number of years.  If you might be in this category, young or only had your licence for five years or less, check the small print.

Look out, too, for charges for including a second driver and such charges as ‘admin fees’ – sometimes applied if there is damage to the car, even though you have purchased an excess waiver policy.

 

Upgrades

Watch out for this one.

You arrive to pick up your car and you’re told that the model you booked isn’t available. Most bookings offer a specific model but add, or ‘similar’, so the model you think you’ve booked is not guaranteed. 

An unscrupulous company might offer you an upgrade, but at an extra cost. Stand firm and demand a model in the category you’ve already paid for – or the upgrade at the same cost.

If you come across any of the scams we've mentioned, publish your case on A Spokesman Said to warn others.