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Top five car hire rip offs revealed

From costly fuel policies to overpriced repairs, we show you how to avoid sneaky charges from car rental companies

New research by Which? Travel has found that 63% of car hire customers are worried about being ripped off by their rental company.

The low rate of consumer confidence is hardly surprising given that unscrupulous practices prevail in the car hire industry ranging from hidden fees and unexpected charges, to pressure selling and downright fraud.

It’s never been more important to vet your car hire company, so make sure you check out our reviews of the best and worst car hire companies


Here we round up some of the most common scams catching consumers out.

1. Excess insurance sold by car hire companies

Although insurance is included in the basic cost of hiring a car, you are still potentially liable for a large excess if you’re involved in a crash. Car hire companies routinely offer a pricey product known as a super collision damage waiver (SCDW), which reduces this liability to zero or nearer to zero. But it’s a rip off, costing far more than a standalone policy from a specialist UK provider.

For a small car hired in Spain for a week, the prices we were quoted by five car hire companies ranged from £107 to £184. But quotes from third-party insurers for the same trip ranged from just £11 to £28, while a full year of cover was between £37 and £53.

What’s more, standalone insurance is often more comprehensive – covering items such as tyres, wheels and windscreens, which are often excluded from SCDW policies.

Find out more about specialist car hire insurance

2. Car Hire Damage

Earlier this year a Which? Travel investigation revealed that customers are paying over the odds for repairs that may never be made at a price that rental companies refuse to prove is accurate.

One Which? member was charged a jaw-dropping £1,154 for a windscreen chip that could have been repaired for less than £78.

Remember that car hire companies must provide evidence of any damage and how the repair costs were calculated before charging the customer.

If you think you’ve been overcharged, check out our advice: how to complain about unexpected car hire charges.

3. Fuel policies

It’s well known that the ‘full-empty’ option, where you hire a car with a full tank of petrol, and return it empty, is a rip-off. The petrol is provided at a premium, and it’s extremely difficult, and risky, to return the car with a near-empty tank.

The cheapest option is ‘full-full’, but even this carries a rip-off risk. If you fail to return your car with a full tank of petrol, care hire firm Goldcar charges a penalty of €50 (£44) on top of the cost of the petrol itself.

Other car hire companies may not fine you, but the will often charge you more for the petrol than you would typically pay at the pump.

Always keep your receipt after refuelling. Some companies charge a refuelling fee if you can’t produce proof that you visited a petrol station within 10km of the drop off point.

4. Additional mileage

Cheaper car hire companies have often charged drivers extra for making long journeys, with limits typically around 200km a day.

Spanish car hire firm Firefly will charge €0.45 for every kilometre over 90 that you travel each day. That distance is enough to get you from Alicante airport to Benidorm, but not back again.

Make sure you check the mileage policy before you hire your car, especially if you are planning on doing a lot of driving.

5. Cleaning

Europcar charges up to £85 for ‘special cleaning’ if it decides that your car is exceptionally dirty. Goldcar charges up to £133 for this, and Firefly says it reserves the right to charge a whopping £215.

What annoys many drivers even more, though, is Interrent’s policy of charging £7.50, or more in some countries, up front. It’s voluntary, but if you don’t pay it warns that you’ll have to pay £18 if your car does need to be cleaned or £100 if it needs a ‘special clean’.

To avoid getting ripped off, take a look at our car hire tips

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