1 Complain to car hire company
Always complain to your car hire company in the first instance. You can do this verbally or in writing but make sure you keep a clear record of your complaint.
Give the car hire company a reasonable time to address your complaint and to rectify the situation, say 14 days.
If your complaint has not been resolved, you can then turn to one of a handful of organisations who have codes of conduct for members and aim to resolve disputes with customers.
Car hire overbooked If you arrive at your destination only to find that your car hire company has overbooked or you no longer have a car, then there are a few things you can do.
If an alternative car can't be provided and you're left stranded, or if you're not happy to wait for a replacement, then you can hold the company in breach of contract.
As such, you're entitled to claim back what you've already paid to the hire company. You're also entitled to hire an identical car elsewhere and claim back any additional costs.
Unexpected car hire charges If unexpected charges are taken from your account, ask for an explanation and supporting documentation from the company as to the reasons for this.
It should provide you with a clear outline of why the charges have been taken and proof that the charges made are a true cost incurred by the company.
If the company cannot justify the charges, tell it the money has been been taken 'under protest'.
Ensure you provide as much evidence as possible as to why you think the money has been unfairly taken.
Car hire terms and conditions
Most car hire companies cover themselves with terms and conditions that say they can’t guarantee a particular make or model of car.
They often state that the cars shown are for guidance only and may be substituted for a similar or upgraded car at no extra cost.
2 Escalate your complaint
The European Car Rental Conciliation Service (ECRCS) has a free service to help with unresolved complaints concerning cross border vehicle rentals within Europe.
It will only deal with complaints about member companies. In June 2012 these members were Avis, Alamo, Budget, Europcar, Hertz, National and Sixt.
If you're using the ECRCS to help you get your money back, you must have booked with the car hire company direct - not through a broker or travel agent.
It will investigate to see if a car rental company has breached its code of practice. The code covers advertising, customer information, vehicle condition, pre and post-rental inspections, and billing.
The ECRCS can get refunds for charges it rules were incorrectly made by a rental company.
Credit and debit card protection
If you paid by credit card you can make a claim against your credit card provider using Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974.
If you paid by debit card you can use the chargeback scheme where your bank will try to reverse the payment to claim back your money.
Chargeback isn't enshrined in law but applies to all debit cards and many providers operate this system.
3 Use European Consumer Centres
You can also contact the European Consumer Centres Network, which has a free service to help resolve disputes and help you get your money back.
It will investigate if car hire companies have broken European contract law.
4 Complain to the BVRLA
For UK rentals, the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA), can help you with complaints about its members.
These include a large range of companies from big operators such as Hertz and Avis to small independents.
It operates a code of conduct and will investigate if a member has breached this. It aims to resolve disputes within 30 days.
Your complaint should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or submitted in writing. The BVRLA has also produced a guide to renting a car.