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Car hire companies are still ripping us off – here’s how to make sure you don’t get taken for a ride

Robin Bowman

Robin Bowman
Mar 5, 2018


Car hire firms are charging more than double for repairs – even overcharging one customer by more than £1,000, a new investigation has shown.

The probe found that in 80% of cases repairs could have been carried out for far less by experienced mechanics than car hire customers were charged.

Consumer group Which? showed evidence of damage to hire cars to recommended garages and asked for a repair quote.

 

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In eight out of the 12 cases, three separate garages all gave lower quotes.

And in four of the cases, the car hire company charged more than double the average cost quoted by the garages Which? approached.

Out of the total of 36 quotes received, only eight were the same or higher than the charges made by the car rental firms.

In one case, Europcar billed a customer renting a car in France £1,154 for a small windscreen chip that could have been fixed for just £35.

At best Europcar applied a markup of more than 300%, and at worst the bill equated to more than 30 times the actual cost of repair.

Another hirer was charged £854 by Green Motion at Stansted Airport for a small dent in a door and a scratch on the bumper scratch.

The damage could have been fixed for £186.

Another survey of more than 150 customers who had been charged for damage to hire cars suggested unfairness and widespread sharp practices, says Which?

More than four in 10 (44%) of customers in the survey said they had faced excessive charges and almost two in five (18%) said they’d been charged for damage they knew nothing about.

And 59% of those responding said they had not received any evidence of how the repair charges to their hired car had been calculated by the rental company.

 Some drivers said they suspected car hire firms may have been charging multiple customers for the same minor damage to a vehicle.

Many major car hire firms – including Avis, Budget and Hertz – admitted to Which? that they often do not carry out repairs, even when customers pay for them.

Instead, they said they may delay repairs until a later date, allowing them to fix several problems at once, or simply leave the damage – taking a hit on the vehicle’s resale value.

The bill a customer receives may be purely theoretical. It’s based on what is known as a ‘damage matrix’ of charges – an estimate.

Industry insiders revealed a drastic drop in profit margins has led some car hire companies to look for new ways to make money from their customers.

Tactics include upselling overpriced insurance, excessive repair bills and topping up takings with an additional admin fee when repairs are needed (as much as £129 in these case studies) and a ‘loss-of-use’ charge (up to £42 per day).

How to make sure this rip off never happens to you

  • Rule number one is by a third-party insurance policy to cover your car hire excess – this is the maximum amount you can be charged for any damage to the car, and is usually up to £1,000, but can be higher. Of course, car hire companies will be delighted to sell you a policy to cover this excess, almost always at a daily rate. It’s usually set a rip-off rate. You’ll find you can easily buy a policy covering you for a whole year of car renting for around the price of one day’s cover with the car insurer.
  • Rule number two only kicks in if you don’t have a policy like the one described above. Make certain you inspect the car thoroughly and that every mark, however minor, is recorded. Never accept the “Oh, we won’t bother about that line”. Make sure it’s all recorded. And it’s a pretty good idea to video the car and take pictures on your phone of all marks. That way not only will you have a record, you’ll have a date stamped photograph, too.

While on the subject, take a photo of the full petrol tank when you return the car and keep the receipt for filling it up – it’s another car rental company trick to claim you didn’t bring the car back full as per the contract.

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