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10 ways holiday car hire companies rip you off

Jasmine Birtles 23rd Aug 2016 No Comments

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Are you planning on using car hire companies when you go away over the holidays?

Watch out, particularly if you are in Southern Europe.

There are a lot of dodgy dealers around who will try to trap you with tricky contracts and extra charges that you didn’t expect.

Here is our guide to taking out car hire insurance followed by the top 10 hire scams to watch out for.

Guide to Car Hire Excess Insurance 

Thinking of hiring a car abroad? Here’s what you do:

  1. If you use car hire companies always check the hire car for damage before it is driven, and make sure that any damage is recorded on the check-out sheet. In other words, make sure you’re not charged damage that already exists.
  2. Remember that if a hire car is damaged or stolen in Europe, you as the driver will have to pay the excess on the insurance (i.e. the first part of the claim), which can be up to £2,000. Car hire companies often insist that they hold this excess amount during the rental, either in cash, or more usually on a credit card, unless you buy their excess insurance. It’s usually expensive – around £17 a day – and has a lot of exclusions.
  3. However, you can buy excess insurance before you go from specialist insurance companies at up to 85% less than the rental desk versions. Good websites to buy cheaper hire car insurance are xx, xx and xx.
  4. Cover from specialist insurance providers usually includes cover for vulnerable parts of the vehicle, e.g., the windows, tyres, roof and undercarriage, which are often not covered by rental company policies. 
  5. Standalone policies are valid with any hire car company, as they refund the customer, not the hire car company. If the rental company tries to bully you into taking out their excess insurance, just stand your ground and refuse. However even if you have independent excess insurance, you will need to let the rental company hold the excess during the rental – so it’s a good idea to have a spare credit card available for this.
  6. When the car is returned undamaged, car hire companies have to refund your deposit. If you’re charged for damage and you have standalone insurance you can claim this back from your insurance provider.


top 10 car hire scams to watch out for


1. Extra charges

You’re tempted by cheap prices by car hire companies only to discover once you’ve signed up that you have to pay extra locally for insurance and breakdown services.

Top tip: Read the rental contract carefully when collecting the car (boring but necessary). If there are any surprise charges, ask about them at the start.


2. Steep insurance excesses

Prices quoted by car hire companies often say they include “full insurance”, but there’s actually an excess of anything up to 3,000 Euros that you will have to pay if there’s an accident before the insurance kicks in.

Top tip: Make sure you check the excess before driving away. Remember that damage to the wheels, glass parts and the underside of the car are usually excluded from standard insurance.


3. Speedy sign-ups

Some car hire companies expect you to sign the rental agreement before you can read it. This is a sharp tactic so be wary.

Top tip: DON’T be bullied into signing anything until you are ready to do so.


4. ‘Collect full, return empty’ fuel policies

the car hire companies you have to pay for a full tank of petrol before you can pick up the car. You’re then charged much more than it would have cost to fill up at a local petrol station.  There’s no refund for returning the car with unused fuel.

Top tip: Find out what the fuel policy is before booking. If online information isn’t clear, phone the company and ask them.


5. Expensive ‘upgrades’

You arrive at the rental counter to be told “we’re giving you an upgrade”, only to find out later you’ve been charged for the upgrade without your permission.

Top tip: Always ask if an upgrade is free. Refuse it if you are going to be charged.


6 – The insurance hard-sell

Local reps with the car hire companies who are paid commission will try to pressurise you into buying extra insurance which you don’t need and can’t be cancelled.

Top tip: Just say no and check the contract before signing in case they have tried to add the cost of cover onto the price anyway.


7 – Pre-existing damage

You’re made liable for damage which was already on the car when you collected it.

Top tip: Check the car thoroughly for existing damage before you drive away and make sure the car rental supplier marks this down. When collecting and returning the car, take photos of it including any damage if applicable.


8 – The exchange rate sting

When paying for extras such as child seats and Sat Nav on collection, you are not given the option to pay in local currency. You are forced to pay in sterling, with a poor exchange rate applied.

Top tip: Always opt to pay for extras in local currency. Use a credit card that does not charge commission or fees for currency conversion.


9 – High deposits

You’re asked for a big deposit to cover the excess and potential parking fines. If you refuse, your only other option is to take out the expensive local additional insurance, costing as much as 15 Euros per day in Europe.

Top tip: Take a valid credit card with sufficient available funds when collecting your rental car as the supplier can use this to authorise a security deposit.


10 – Hefty repair costs

If your hire car is damaged, and it’s not covered by the insurance, you’re charged significantly more for repairs than they should actually cost.

Top tip: If you’re charged for damage, ask to see a breakdown of charges, and a repair invoice. If the amount is unnecessarily high, ask the broker you booked through to challenge this with the rental company.


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Jasmine Birtles

Your money-making expert. Financial journalist, TV and radio personality.

Jasmine Birtles

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