Holiday car hire: the hidden snags

Wednesday 05 December 2012 11.22
Know your car hire rights before you arrive at your destination
Know your car hire rights before you arrive at your destination

When renting a car this summer, be aware of hidden charges and extras which couold turn an ‘amazingly cheap’ daiily rate into something significantly different. Tina Leonard tells Pat Kenny what to watch out for.

The first thing to do is to look at the small print - the insurance rate or excess charges can change the offering significantly.

Hidden fees or charges not detailed in the trader’s terms and conditions are charged unlawfull. This is currently the biggest problem area, and about which most complaints are received by the European Consumer Centre.

Tricks some less than scrupulous car hire companies might try:

Car type not available when you arrive

- A consumer reserved a specific type of car, usually one that is fit for a larger number of people, only to arrive and be informed that such a car is not available. The consumer then had to hire two smaller cars and pay additional costs for insurance and petrol, and then had to actively seek a refund for the original reservation from the trader.

Charged for upgrade to type you booked

- A consumer received a different model of car to the one that he had reserved, and was asked to pay extra to ‘upgrade’ to the model he’d booked. The original advertisement had specifically linked the amount the consumer paid to that type of model, thereby misleading the consumer.

Check the fuel charges policy

- In another case, the consumer was charged extra for fuel when the car was returned, despite there being no indication in the terms & conditions that the fuel fees would be calculated in this way. The consumer had understood that he was paying a certain amount for fuel upfront as part of his reservation.

Are there charges for debit or credit cards?

- Another consumer hired a car and was asked to pay an additional amount of money upfront as he was paying with a debit card, instead of a credit card. When the consumer returned the car, he requested the return of this amount as it was only intended to cover the period of rental. The trader refused to refund him, despite the fact that the trader had accepted the debit card as payment when the consumer reserved online and made no indication in the T&C that there would be an additional fee for this card. The first the consumer heard of it was when he arrived at the car rental desk to pick up the vehicle.

Cost of 'processing' parking fines

- A consumer was fined for illegal parking and was charged for this by the car rental company. This amount was undisputed by the consumer. However, the trader added a cost for ‘processing’ this onto the amount of the fine, increasing the total amount payable by over €100. Again, there was no information in the T&C about this.

Charging of cancellation fees after dispute

- In another case, a consumer reserved a car and paid half the total cost in advance, with the booking confirmation indicating that the other half would be payable when he picked up the car. When he arrived at the counter however, the trader charged him additional monies as well as the second half of the booking cost. The consumer refused to pay and hired a car from a different company, but only received a partial refund despite the trader’s acknowledgement that there was nothing in its T&C about this possibility and that it was at fault.

In all of these cases, the car hire company tried to get more money out of the consumer, for things they were not told about in advance and for items not even detailed in the terms and conditions.

If this happens to you, refuse to pay. And if you feel you have no choice make sure to seek a refund afterwards.

Other perennial problems

o Charges for alleged damage make to your credit card after return, without prior notification.

o Car rental agent website doesn’t have correct or full information on the car rental company, for example about age restrictions, wrong opening hours, wrong type of vehicle etc.

o A rented car breaks down but there is no proper assistance so you have to incur un-necessary costs and claim them back later or you are charged an excess following an accident even when not at fault.

o You have to accept a prepaid tank of fuel costing more than market price and are offered no refunds at the end of the rental period for unused petrol.

o The insurance policy is unclear, has a huge excess, or additional insurance is automatically added to the contract without permission.

Before renting the car

o Are you booking directly from a car rental company or via an online agent? If the latter, then remember they are only liable to return the admin fee you paid them if something goes wrong, as your contract is with the car rental company so you’ll have to complain to them.

o When looking for the best bargain, bear in mind that very often prices quoted online contain only the basics so make sure you check what is included in the final quote and what is not.

o Always check the price of extras that you will need during your rental: child seat, additional driver, extra insurance, collision damage waiver, excess, location surcharge, etc.

o Pay special attention to the fuel policy; make sure it is explained to you clearly before you confirm the booking.

- ‘collect full return empty policy’ implies that no refunds will be paid for unused fuel even if the whole tank was paid for upfront (often at a higher price than at the pumps). As it is impossible to return the car empty, especially during short rentals, an alternative policy should be available on request.?

- ‘collect full return full policy’ means that the vehicle should be provided with a full tank of fuel. Unless the consumer was clearly notified in the terms and conditions when booking the car, fuel should not be prepaid. It should be your responsibility to refuel the car with correct fuel type before it is returned. If the vehicle is not returned with a full tank, the consumer should bear the cost of refueling.

o Check age restrictions.

o Make sure you are familiar with the cancellation policy.

o If you will be crossing a border make sure your insurance will cover you for the second country.

Collecting the car

o Make sure it is what you ordered. If the car you ordered is not available and they try to get you to pay extra, say no as you shouldn’t have to pay more. If that’s not possible, pay it but under duress and complain in writing on your return.

o Make sure you understand what is covered by your insurance and what is left out. It is also very important to know the excess amount that could be charged to your credit card in case of an accident. You can buy insurance to cover an excess waiver if you want.

o A staff member should check the condition of the car at the time of pick-up and mark all damages to the exterior and the interior on a diagram. If you are not provided with a special check-list or diagram, make sure that you note any damages in writing and have it signed by an employee of the car rental company.

o Always ask about the company policy in case of the car breaking down or in case of an accident.

o Make sure you know the type of fuel you can use in your rental car.

During the rental

o If the car breaks down, call the car rental company and follow the instructions provided. Do not get the vehicle repaired yourself without prior authorisation, as if it is against the company’s rules you may not be refunded.

o In case of an accident, you should always note down the names and addresses of everyone involved. If anybody is injured, or when there is a dispute over who is responsible, you should notify the police. Contact the car rental company immediately.

o In the case of an accident or damage it is common practice for the excess to be charged to your card. However, this should be returned to you later if the accident or damage was not your fault.

Returning the car

o Try to return the car during the working hours of the car rental company and have it inspected by an employee. The condition of the vehicle should be confirmed in writing and signed by the representative of the company and the driver.

o If you are returning the car outside the working hours of the car hire company, you should park it in the designated area. You can take pictures of the vehicle as confirmation that it was returned in good condition.

o Remember to return with an empty or full tank depending on the terms (preferably full).

Complaining

If you can’t resolve the problem yourself you can go to the European Consumer Centre for assistance with cross-border disputes.

www.eccireland.ie

If the company is a member of the Car Rental Council of Ireland you can use their complaints process.

www.carrentalcouncil.ie

It’s also interesting to note both Visa and Mastercard’s rules. Basically, while they allow their merchants to bill subsequent charges based on a signed contract, they stipulate that the customer must be advised first for loss, damage of theft. (But beware that according to their rules charges can be levied without further permission for petrol or parking fines).

So you could always turn to your card-issuing bank to a request a ‘chargeback’ if this doesn’t happen.

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