A Few Little Tips On Avoiding The Holiday Car Hire Scams
So, now that you’ve signed on the dotted line and booked your plane tickets to somewhere altogether sunnier, you would be forgiven for thinking that the hardest, most expensive bit is out of the way. Alas if only it were true.
Holidaying in sunnier climates can end up being a very costly business for unwary or inexperienced sun-seekers and tourists, what with all the scams and rip-offs that potentially await us. Whether its high street travel agents and budget flight operators, men with monkeys or cheeky foreign firms who are looking to sneakily snaffle your hard-earned money from you, vigilance against the con-artists is essential – they really do come in all shapes and sizes.
The holiday car hire business in particular presents something of a financial minefield for unsuspecting holidaymakers. For many people, especially families, renting a hire car for the duration of their stay is often an absolute necessity, and car hire firms know this – they can and do employ numerous tricks of the trade to separate service users from as much of their money as they can in the form of various ‘charges’, ‘fees’, and ‘upgrades’.
Fortunately it isn’t too difficult to dodge the worst of the hidden charges which unscrupulous car hire firms are liable to try and hit you with, so long as you know what to look out for. One of the great benefits of living in the internet age is that we hard-pressed consumers have access to an ever growing number of comparison websites, which not only highlight what can sometimes be deceptively low headline rates but also firms offering ‘fair fuel’ arrangements – as we’ll discuss later, a fair fuel arrangement deal with a car hire company could end up saving you a small fortune.
And another thing: don’t judge a book by its cover! It won’t necessarily be visibly obvious independent outfits operating out of grimy shacks which are the cowboys – it could just as easily be a branch of a multi-million pound car hire firm with smiling staff and an expensive, shiny façade above the front window.
The numerous scams and rip-offs which await unwary or inexperienced holidaymakers can potentially make the business of going on holiday far more expensive than it needs to be. Here are a few useful tips on the key car hire swindles to look out for.
Do your homework and book in advance
Make the most of the advantages that come with existing in the internet age and do some online research prior to your holiday. This way you can check up on all of the local car hire firms in the area, be they big-name companies, third-party hire companies, or smaller local overseas firms, and compare their headline rates and whether or not they have a fair fuel policy, for example.
Oh, and while you’re at it, book your holiday hire car in advance – as with booking your flights, the cost of your car rental will get steadily more expensive as the date of your holiday approaches.
Shopping around for a good deal and shopping smart like this alone will save you money before you’ve even stepped off of the plane.
Be wary of the full-to-empty fuel swindle
It is now fairly common for car hire firms to insist on providing you with a full tank of fuel before you can drive off and enjoy your holiday.
This full-to-empty fuel policy is now prevalent across Europe, particularly in Spain and some areas of Italy, and while it may seem pretty convenient on the surface, this convenience comes at a price. A high one!
Consider this: upon driving away to enjoy your holiday, you then return the car a week later with around a quarter of a tank of fuel left over. In effect you are gifting this fuel to the car rental company, who will only have to pay to refill three-quarters of a tank before leasing the vehicle to the next customer at full price. If this leftover fuel means that the company saves £20 on the cost of refilling a hire car and they employ this tactic to 100 customers a week, you are helping to earn the company an extra £2,000 a week – this is quite the little earner.
Also, you can typically expect to pay up to double the price at the pump for the convenience of buying a full tank of petrol from the hire company and, cheekily, there is no chance of a refund for any leftover fuel when the vehicle is returned.
If you are holidaying in Spain, you may find that it is practically impossible to find a car rental outfit which doesn’t tie you into this dubious full-empty policy, but you will likely find that there are good car hire companies in other locations which will offer alternative options.
Whilst some offer a similar full-to-empty fuel package, albeit one with an unused petrol refund option and accompanying ‘service charge’, ideally it would be better for your bank balance to seek out a company offering a ‘return as you found’ fuel policy. Such a policy will not only ensure that you only pay for the fuel that you use but also that any fuel purchased is at the market price from the pump, rather than at inflated cost via a car rental company.
Avoid rip-off insurance packages
The threat of a hefty £1,000 hit if your hire car is returned with damage, or even stolen during your holiday is enough to cause anybody sleepless nights, and car hire companies are notorious for using this to frighten customers into taking on very expensive, comprehensive full-cover insurance packages.
Huge excesses are now standard fare in many countries and they are a powerful persuasive tool for car hire companies who will happily offer you an inflated full excess waiver package. However, rather than pay for full excess waiver insurance from a car rental company, which can easily set you back in the region of £300 depending on the length of your holiday, you could save yourself a lot of money by instead buying it from an independent insurer at home – for the sake of comparison, some of the cheaper fully-comprehensive excess waiver packages, plus cover for wheels, misfuelling, glass, breakdown, and lost keys can come in at as little as £30.
As always, be sure to check your cover before you leave off on holiday and ignore any sales patter from staff at the car hire company, who might say that your excess waiver package is insufficient to cover you – it will be, so long as it is a full excess waiver package. Whatever they say, there is no need to pay for insurance which you already have.
As a final note, the car hire company will seek to ring-fence a deposit fee if you decline their offer of in-house top-up excess waiver insurance. The cost of any damage, mishaps or theft will be deducted from this deposit, although you can obviously claim back on this through your UK-based independent insurer. Just remember that this is normal practice, and that you will need a sufficient credit limit on your card to cover the cost of this fee.
Take your own Satnav
Perhaps this is stating the obvious but don’t hire a satnav – you will not be able to do so for anything less than £100, whether you are in Europe or the US. Whether you choose to update your own satnav with updated maps for around £35 or buy a second-hand one with pre-loaded maps of your holiday destination for a similar price from Ebay, you will save a fortune.
This, or you can go old school and buy a map. A map will ensure that you get lost, argue with your family or friends, and up off the beaten track a bit at times, but it will certainly add to the holiday experience.
Ask to see the contract before payment
It is not unheard of for the more unscrupulous car rental outfits to wait until you have entered your credit card pin number, made payment, and then signed an electronic screen before presenting you with a copy of your rental contract, complete with your electronic signature imprinted onto it.
Rather than sign your life away like this, ask to see the contract before signing. This way you can question any charges or additional extras which you might otherwise have unwittingly agreed to.
Always use a credit card
Bearing in mind the sheer amount of protection that they offer to consumers via the Consumer Credit Act, credit cards are a very useful tool – certainly, you should always pay for your holiday hire car by credit card, never your debit card.
Unlike with a debit card, where a car hire company could simply dip into your account and take your money during a dispute, credit cards offer a buffer period between when money is charged to your card and when the credit card company takes money from your account – this is due to the fact that credit card issuers are jointly liable in case of a dispute. During this period you can dispute a transaction and request that it be frozen whilst it is investigated. Oh, and always ask for payment to be charged to you in the local currency, not sterling – this could save you the cost of paying inflated exchange rates.
Check the car
In the same way that you’d check any damage, marks, or any other issues against an inventory when you’re moving into a new property, always be sure to check your hire car for any scratches, scuffs, marks, or damage. If you spot any, be sure to have them noted by the staff member who is assisting you.
Don’t be shy about taking any photos of any marks or damage that you might – your smartphone will record the pictures in perfect detail, along with the date and times at which the photos were taken.
So long as you are careful and both think and plan ahead, picking up a hire car for your holiday need not ruin your much needed getaway – a little vigilance goes a long way.
Last but not least, enjoy your holiday!
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