How to avoid hidden car hire costs which can send bills soaring

Unclear terms and conditions and surprise fees and penalties are leaving car hire customers with hundreds of pounds of additional charges to meet.
Unclear terms and conditions and surprise fees and penalties are leaving car hire customers with hundreds of pounds of additional charges to meet.

Hiring a car is an inevitability of modern life.

It could be because your own car is getting repaired and you still need four wheels to get around, or because you’re on holiday and the public transport isn’t up to scratch.

So you book online, pitch up to the car rental company, driving licence and credit card in hand, and away you go. A straightforward process, yes? Unfortunately not.

At Which? we’ve discovered that unclear terms and conditions and surprise fees and penalties are leaving car hire consumers with hundreds of pounds of additional charges to meet.

We looked at more than 40 car hire contracts from 18 providers at home and abroad, and found impenetrable and complicated documents to be a common practice - some so bad you’d need a lawyer at your side.

So, when faced with multiple pages of a contract - at 31,000 words Avis’s UK contract is longer than any Shakespeare text.

Most people just sign, unaware they’re agreeing to terms which could leave them facing unexpected costs.

Indeed only 14 per cent of the 2,208 consumers we asked said they’d read the contract in detail.

So they wouldn’t know that something as uncontrollable as a traffic jam, which might make them late returning the car, can unfairly see the bill shoot up.

Or that if they don’t return with a full tank, they’ll be charged for petrol and have a fee slapped on top, or if they speed the car firm will charge for sharing your information with the authority involved.

We also found deposits are rising massively - in some cases by a €1,000.

So consumers are left with the option of either taking the car company’s costly insurance cover – with some charging an excess waiver of up to €20 a day – or shelling out thousands for a car they’ll drive for just a few days.

It’s an absolute scandal - and we will be submitting our findings to the Competitions and Markets Authority.

The car hire industry must act on these troubling findings and make its contracts as fair and as clear as possible and stop consumers getting stung.

* Remember to send me your consumer queries to askalex@which.co.uk

TOP TIPS

The company contracts investigated include: Avis (Late return: UK), Budget (Late return: UK), Europcar (Late collection: UK, Late return: UK) Solmar (Refuel receipt: Spain, Confirmation charge: Spain); Goldcar (Damage fee: Greece, Refuel fee: Spain, Deposit: Malta, Speeding: Spain), Del Paso (Deposit: Spain), Interrent (Damage fee: France, Late return: UK, Refuel fee: Spain, Speeding fee: UK).

To see the full investigation and Which? car hire top tips and recommendations visit www.which.co.uk/carhire