The Perils of Car Rental

As it’s holiday time, I am going to take the opportunity to get something off my chest. Car rental drives me mad!

Most of us have been there. You need to hire a car on holiday, you go to a price comparison website to ensure that you get a suitable vehicle at the very best price, but the headline price you see on the website bears no relation to what you end up paying.

Worse is often to come. You arrive at the destination airport with the kids, hot and flustered to find that you are at the back of a long queue. Arriving at the desk, after a frustratingly long wait, however, does not signal the end to the annoyance of car rental. On the contrary, it is at this point that the car rental money making scheme moves into full swing. The hire company employee sows enough doubt that you grudgingly agree to all the extras significantly adding to the original cost of your car hire. Here are some of the gotchas and tips to get around: (Thank you to Travel Supermarket for helping me to constructively articulate the points rather than just having a rant!)

  • Collision damage waiver excess.
    When you hire a car, insurance is included, but usually there is a very high excess - often as much as £2000. In the event of an accident or damage, the excess is the amount you would have to pay before the insurance cover kicks in. Cover can work out at over £20 per day. If you take this cover out when booking, it can be reduced to around £3 per day - or less if you take out your own policy.

  • Insurance for other damage.
    On top of collision damage waiver excess, there could often be other charges not covered by the insurance policy like a broken windscreen, damage to tyres or having to be towed. Of course, the car rental representative will worry you sufficiently to ensure that you purchase this policy too. See point one above!

  • Full-empty fuel policy.
    A full-empty policy means that you pay upfront for a tank of petrol and can then return the car empty. However, there are couple of major drawbacks with this. Firstly, you are almost certain to be charged an inflated price for the fuel and secondly, you are unlikely to use all of the fuel you have paid for. Sometimes you will be offered a refund for any unused fuel, but of course, there’s usually a service charge associated with this! Look out for hire car companies that allow you to return the car with the same amount of fuel as when you picked it up.

  • Restricted mileage.
    This is a very easy one to miss, especially where it appears in very small print. Essentially the hire car will have a daily mileage allowance, like 35km per day. Exceeding this over the period means your credit card may be hit with charges as high as 31p per km over and above your allowance for the period. Choose unlimited mileage when you book. Generally it isn’t that much more expensive and is going to be a lot cheaper than paying excess mileage charges.

  • The upgrade option.
    Often you will arrive at the car rental desk to be told that the company has run out of vehicles in the category you chose and be offered an upgrade - at a price. Don’t fall for this one - the higher category car should be offered at no extra charge or a lesser one with an appropriate refund. Make sure this is the case before you sign the contract.

  • Booking at the destination airport desk.
    Just don’t do it! Always book with the car rental company well in advance. Otherwise, you will get ripped off at the airport.

From my experience of car rental companies in any country and from reading the experiences of others, there does seem to be a lot of room for improvement. In an age where customer service complaints are easily shared via social media and most businesses strive to offer services in an ethical way to their customers, why do car rental companies seem to have been left behind?

Maybe it’s time that they surveyed their customers and acted upon the insight gained. Just think how good it would be if one car rental company could break the mould. If anyone knows one I’d love to hear from them!