Hiring cars abroad: drivers urged to ‘know before they go’ as complaints surge

Hiring cars abroad

Drivers are being urged to plan their car hire carefully to avoid problems

The number of drivers grumbling about problems hiring cars abroad is on the up. Complaints against car hire companies in 2015 increased by almost 7 per cent compared with the previous year. The rise has been reported by the UK European Consumer Centre (UKECC), the UK-based consumer advice organisation that people complain to if they’ve had a bad experience with foreign based companies.

The increase comes despite the big five hire car companies ‑ Avis-Budget, Enterprise, Europcar, Hertz and Sixt – pledging to conform more closely with legislation designed to protect consumers. However, the number of complaints has dropped compared to the year before. Andy Allen, UK European Consumer Centre (UK ECC) director, said: “Complaints about car hire the previous year (2014) rose by just over 23 per cent, so it’s good to see that the rate of increase of car hire complaints has started to drop but disappointing that the figure is still rising at all.”

What the car hire companies promised

With gripes about the behaviour of hire car companies escalating, the European Commission and national bodies such as the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority attempted to put things right. They sought a pledge from the major hire car companies that they would treat customers more fairly.

Companies claimed they would implement clearer contract terms over insurance and refuelling. Customers are frequently unsure whether fuel is included or not. They might then return the car empty only to be charged a penalty for refuelling. Holidaymakers can be lulled into buying expensive extras too. The hire car companies also said they would allow consumers to challenge damage to rental cars rather than the company just taking money from their credit card.

Earlier this year, research by a hire car insurance company claimed costs could be quadrupled at the rental location because of the addition of extras. It claimed the average cost of extras included £87 for insurance excess protection, tyre and windscreen excess £32, £44 for an extra driver, £63 for sat nav and £49 for a child’s car seat. The same company, icarhireinsurance.com, found that a quarter of drivers who had been penalised for damage claimed it wasn’t their fault.

In addition to punitive charges, drivers can frequently arrange their own insurance excess protection for a fraction of the price they pay at the rental car desk. And they might even be asked to pay extra for a sat nav even when the car they rent has it fitted as standard.

Hiring cars abroad? The UK ECC holiday hire car checklist

  • Do pre and post-rental vehicle inspections (with photos where possible) and ensure both parties sign these documents at the time and retain a copy
  • Shop around for the best rate (if booked online, you have no right to cancel and claim a refund). Prices may also vary according to the time of year
  • Read all paperwork before signing, including terms and conditions
  • Check what is and isn’t covered on the insurance
  • Confirm the company’s fuel tank policy. There may be compulsory refuelling service charges or penalties for returning the car without a full tank
  • Check any extra charges you may be liable for
  • Allow enough time to drop the car off
  • Research the country’s highway code and local road legislation
  • Request evidence of disputed charges

The UKECC has published its advice about hiring cars abroad in a leaflet called ‘Trains, planes, cars and boats.’ Download a copy from the UK ECC’s website.

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