Hidden fuel charges can turn what appears to be a cheap holiday car rental into an expensive one, a Which? Travel investigation has found.
We sent researchers to Spain after scores of Which? members complained about unavoidable fuel charges that were imposed when they picked up the car and which they felt were not made clear at the time of booking.
Watch our video diary to see what our researchers found:
Members felt they had been ripped off by the policy in places across the world, but the highest number of complaints came from Spain, with most of those coming from Alicante and Malaga.
The charge is made for a full tank of petrol on arrival, and customers are told to return the car empty as there is no refund for unused fuel.
Our researchers rented six cars – three in Alicante, and three in Malaga. And they found that non-refundable charges for fuel imposed at the airport can more than triple the price of a few days car hire.
If you’re unhappy with your car hire company, you can follow our guide to making a complaint.
Fuel charges triple price
In each location, we rented from a UK car hire broker, a locally based company, and one of the big two hire firms, Avis and Hertz.
For Malaga, when we booked online, the cheapest initial price, including basic insurance, was from Spanish company Goldcar at €30.25. But when we picked up the car at the airport and the fuel was added, the price more than tripled to €94.25.
In Alicante, the cheapest price when we booked online was through the broker Holiday Autos at €28. It remained the cheapest of the three when insurance was added. But when the non-refundable €68.27 fuel charge was added by the local car provider Record Spain, the total price including insurance increased to €144.77. This made the Holiday Autos rental the most expensive at the point of picking up the car.
Researchers were given little or no information about the impact of these charges before they booked the car and any information that was provided was buried in the terms and conditions.
For the Goldcar rental it was possible to book the car without knowing the fuel policy. You had to read to clause seven in the terms and conditions before you were told there was a ‘choice’ of fuel policy, even though the pick up full and return empty policy was compulsory for all rentals longer than three days.
One of the brokers, Carhire3000, sent our researcher a confirmation voucher saying ‘Paid in Full’ in large type. It was only in smaller print lower down that it said fuel had to be paid for on arrival.
Which? members complained that the policy was a rip off because it was all but impossible to use the fuel when renting for a week on a small island such as Menorca. And one of our researchers found they would need to drive nearly 140km a day to use up their tank of petrol.
There were also complaints about car hire companies charging exorbitant rates for fuel. We found two companies adding mark-ups on local prices – a hefty 32% by Record Spain, and 5.4% by Centauro.
Which? Travel expert, Rochelle Turner, said: “It’s clear from our investigation that consumers are not being given the full facts about these extra charges. Our research has shown that these unavoidable fuel charges can triple the price of a rental, turning what seemed like a good deal to potentially a very expensive one.
“All charges should be shown up-front at the time the booking is made so consumers can make the right choice and compare prices easily.”
To read the full report, subscribe to Which? Travel.
- Know your
- Advice on hiring a car abroad
- Download our free consumer rights app