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Government authorities have been cracking down on overseas car hire companies concerning undisclosed fees following concerns that UK holidaymakers have often been misled by their car rental practices. Spain based Record Go, Centauro and Rent-A-Car drew the attention of the regulators as they have UK customers. Information released by the Competitions and Market Authority claims that all major cars firms (including Enterprise, Hertz, Budget and Europcar) now disclose all fees during booking.
The Competitions and Market Authority's Senior Director for Consumer Protection, George Lusty, said: "The big 5 told us in 2015 they would update their practices, but we've found they weren't doing all that they'd committed to. Following our further intervention, the charges people see on the big 5's websites will be clear, prominent and accurate, allowing customers to choose the best possible deal for them."
Despite this, many travellers still find themselves subjected to high-pressure sales tactics at the point of vehicle collection. Often needless "add-ons" such as extra insurance, satnav hire or overpriced child car seats are pushed hard by counter staff who work to sales targets.
Let's take a look at what to watch out for and the main pitfalls.
The price range for a deposit can vary significantly, in some cases it will be just £200/€250, but other times you could be looking at a staggering £3000/€3500 or even more. The deposit will vary based on the type of car being rented, along with the country you're renting in and simply the prices changes between different car rental companies.
The usual practice is that the deposit paid is around the amount as the excess on the car's Collision Damage Waiver and Theft Protection policies. Excess refer to the most you would have to pay towards replacing the vehicle if it were stolen, or repairing it if it were damaged.
Depending on the method you are looking to pay, with the process with differ slightly. It's first worth noting that not a lot of rental companies accept cash or cheques. The ones that do accept it will likely be small local companies, whose rental fleet is limited.
Larger companies will be expecting a deposit to be paid either by credit or debit card. Again, there is a notable difference between these two methods. With debit cards, the money for the deposit will come out of the primary driver's account and will, therefore, be visible on a bank statement. Rental companies who accept debit cards are often found in the UK and Spain. A deposit paid by credit card will not show up on a bank statement as the amount will be blocked on the main driver's card. The money does not leave the account but will not be available to use until the block is taken off; therefore, the amount will count towards a spending limit.
Getting the money from a deposit back to your account after returning the car can take around 15 working days. However, larger companies can be closer to five days if their systems are good enough. The time of year you're renting can also have an impact. Quieter times of year can mean the refund being processed quicker. Busier times such as Christmas, Easter and summer holidays can take longer.
It is always worth looking at similar car options from other rental companies as the price may be lower for a car that is similar to the one you have seen and liked. If you can find a car from a different company that would fit your needs, the deposit required may well be much smaller.
The most important part of renting a car is being aware of any damage before you drive away. Taking pictures, both when you collect the car and when you return it, is an excellent way of disputing any false claims.
Damage can be an extensive area, and some unscrupulous rental firms may try and withhold some of your deposit claiming you damaged the car. According to Zest Car Rentals, this could even be claiming you damaged the car lock. Locks are an area some consumers do not even check before renting the car. To make matters worse, the charge for the damage may not even happen until after you get home, making it very difficult to contest.
To help protect yourself, if the option is available, have the car checked over when you're returning it and have an employee sign off the car as being returned in good condition. If however, you do find that money has been taken from your account for damages when you return home, or you have a dispute with a rental company some organisations can help. The European Car Rental Conciliation Service or the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association's conciliation service could help.
Insurance will be included as part of the rental agreement, however, in the unfortunate event of a claim, it could see you paying up to £2,000 in the form of an excess.
It's important to know that the reason this figure is so high is that the kind of insurance you will get from a rental car is different from that of standard car insurance. When renting a car, the insurance or collision damage waiver (CDW) acts as an agreement from the rental company to keep you from paying any repair costs in the case of an accident.
Taking out excess waiver insurance is a good idea, as this would pay for any potential excess fees. While car hire companies will offer you the chance to purchase this from them when you hire your car, shopping around could help you find a cheaper option which could be a better policy. Comparing prices online mean you can find excess waiver insurance for just £3 a day compared to accepting the offer at the rental desk which could be as high as £30 a day.
Unfortunately for young drivers, owning a car isn't cheap. Standard insurance on vehicles can be very expensive, and when it comes to renting a car, the prices are going to be high as well.
Drivers under 25 will be looking at paying for a young driver surcharge which is often over £30 a day. If you take that over a two-week holiday, it can mean adding on a staggering £420 extra for car rental. However, if you're under 21, it's even worse as you could well just be refused rental of a car altogether.
Unfortunately, the only real way around this is if you are a young driver who is travelling with somebody older and looking to rent a car, let them do the driving. Alternatively, if you're insured to drive overseas and have the option to take your own car, you could always look into that.
It may be surprising to hear that some car hire companies even have older driver fees as well. It is worth checking before you hire as companies may place a maximum age limit on renters. This is usually between 70-75. It's also worth knowing that some companies may require a doctor’s note before they're happy to rent you a car, so it's working checking the fine print before you book.
Travelling through new countries with road signs in different languages which you may be unfamiliar with can be very challenging, particularly if you're driving on your own with nobody else in the car to help navigate. Rental companies know this and will try and add on a satnav to your rental deal. However, the cost involved can often be very high, sometimes between £10-15 extra per day. Thanks to smartphones however you can download navigation app's direct to your phone. It is worth keeping an eye on how much data you are using however as costs can quickly accumulate, and you could be left with a big phone bill when you get home.
If you have your satnav, bringing it away with you can be a great way to help navigation, as while it is something else to pack you are already familiar with how to use it. Having a hard copy of a map in the car never hurts as well.
Travelling with young children can be a challenge, and therefore the extra cost of hiring a car seat from the rental company is something you can do with without if you can avoid it. Taking your child's car seat can save you around £10 per day from hiring one with your rental car. If you can take your car seat you could be looking at a significant saving, so it is worth looking into, perhaps taking it as your item of carry-on luggage.
When hiring a car, it is tempting to treat it like driving your regular car at home, so on long journeys sharing the driving with somebody else. It is important to remember however there may be charges for additional drivers when hiring a car. Additional costs of between £5 and £10 each day of your rental can quickly mount up, even though most companies cap the charges on longer hires, just for adding another driver to the deal.
If you are travelling with your spouse, some rental companies may allow you to add them to the deal as a named driver. Others do not allow any additional drivers however so thinking about a designated driver before booking is a good idea. Again, when paying for your car hire, be sure to pay with a card in the name of the driver designated on the rental agreement, or you could be looking at further costs.
"Full-to-full" is a common policy for car rental companies. This means you collect the car with a full tank and bring it back with a full tank. It is always important to check the companies fuel policy; however as some may operate a "fuel empty" policy where they expect the car to be returned empty. Regardless of how the company wants the car the be returned if you do not comply with the fuel policy you could face inflated costs as a penalty. If the company is expecting the car the be returned full, ask when you hire it where the nearest petrol station is so you can stop off and fill up just before returning the car.
Check before renting about any mileage limits on the car as exceeding these could land you with extra charges when you return the car. Also, some companies have fees for crossing into different countries so make sure the company you are looking to hire from allows this before you book.