I t should be so simple such a stress-free run-of-the-mill part of a holiday. Yet I hear more complaints from readers about car hire companies than about any other single issue. So what is going wrong? Why are readers still having bad experiences, and what more needs to be done to sort the issue? First, the background. The CMA investigation, held in tandem with its European counterparts, looked at the online price transparency, terms and conditions and general behaviour of rental companies, including five of the major players – Hertz, Avis-Budget, Europcar, Enterprise and Sixt – which provide two thirds of the rentals in Britain and the EU. Overall, however, it was Spanish car rental firms that turned out to be the worst offenders: the CMA and its Spanish equivalent discovered major infringements in 87 of the 655 businesses so far checked, and the process is continuing.
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They were told to provide transparent pricing, give prominent links to a new “key facts” document and to the supplier’s terms and conditions, explain the full extent of liability and waiver cover, and offer a full-to-full fuel option. These latter two points stemmed from high charges for insurance top-ups, and for refuelling cars. Another issue was unaccountable, post-rental charges for accidental damage. The report also said that when damage did occur, customers were to be sent evidence of it and how the repair cost had been calculated, and have the opportunity to challenge it before their credit card was debited. Since then, my own research has confirmed a marked improvement in the level of information and price transparency provided by the five major players on their websites.
There are still issues with some UK brokers, but the CMA has since been working with them to follow suit. Overall, the UK vehicle rental trade association, the BVRLA, which has 775 members, and its European counterpart, Leaseurope, now have more robust codes of conduct and provide mediation services for customers. But it’s certainly not game over. Some of the old issues are still entrenched and car rental suppliers – or at least the companies that operate the local franchises – continue to think up new revenue earners. The biggest bugbear continues to be aggressive sales tactics used by staff at the pick-up desk to sell damage waiver cover – that’s insurance to cover the excess you will have to pay if you damage the car in any way.
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They are told their own insurance does not provide adequate cover, and that they will be on their own if they have an accident or their car breaks down. If that doesn’t work, the agent’s next ruse is to claim that the credit card handed over as security for the €6,755 deposit has been declined. The only solution, the agent will claim, is for the customer to buy their top-up cover after all. Readers who contact their bank in such situations have found that the charge was never presented. Funny that.
Those tenacious enough to overcome these hurdles can find that this battle of wills recommences on returning the car. The agent will ask “Did you buy our insurance? ” Say no and you’ll find the car given a bodywork inspection that would earn praise from Sherlock Holmes. Inevitably there will be a scratch – often on the underside of a bumper or the edge of a wing-mirror – that isn’t noted on the vehicle condition diagram. A smile from the rental agent at last:
she’s about to hit her sales target by charging you €655 for “damage” you probably didn’t cause, knowing that you will probably be reimbursed by your excess insurer. “Remember when you bought a new cooker or a washing machine and the shop gave you the hard sell to buy an extended guarantee? That’s what’s happening in the car rental business now, ” says Kevin Bonner-Williams from Worldwide Insure, which sells excess reimbursement policies. “Companies make nearly all their profit from extras sold at the pick-up desk. ” The latest wheeze – and one that is not covered by excess-reduction policies – is to charge for cleaning the interior of the car.
When reader Andriy Kukharuk returned a car he had hired in Venice, the check-in agent said it was too dirty and a cleaning charge would apply. “It was just some dry sand in the footwells, ” he says.