New research from Which? Travel has found that one in five car hire customers have been slapped with an unexpected charge. And that half of these customers had no knowledge of the charge until after they returned from holiday.
Customers told Which? Travel that they had been fined or charged for a whole range of extras including damage to the car, refuelling, unwanted insurance, additional mileage, late drop-off, and admin charges.
But few car rental customers were notified of these additional charges when they dropped off the car. Instead, 19% said they received a bill when they returned home, and a further 29% were not notified at all. They only became aware of the charges when they checked their bank or credit card statement back in the UK.
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The worst car hire companies for unexpected charges
While customers of all the major car hire companies reported unexpected charges, the research found that you’re far more likely to get hit with two in particular.
Goldcar customers are more than twice as likely on average to be landed with unexpected charges. A whopping 44% of respondents who’d had a problem with their Goldcar rental reported that they’d been charged for something they hadn’t asked for or expected.
Customers of car hire megabrand Europcar (the parent company of Goldcar) were likely to be affected, too, with 23% reporting unexpected charges.
Car hire guidelines not enforced
According to the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA) code of conduct, companies must inform the customer of any additional charges when the car is returned and before payment is taken.
Where that’s not possible, for example admin charges for parking or speeding fines, the guidelines say ‘the customer must be provided with supporting evidence and made aware of the amount before their nominated method of payment is charged’.
However, while both Europcar UK and Goldcar UK are BVRLA members, their European branches are not bound by the same code.
Rory Boland, Which? Travel editor, said: ‘This is more evidence that some car hire companies are ripping off their own customers. And it’s no surprise that these firms don’t want to tell us about charges upfront, given that they’re often for spurious services or, worse, seemingly completely made up.
‘Many of the same names come up time and again with car hire rip-offs – avoid them and book with a firm you can trust not to hit you with sneaky charges on your return home.’
Which? Travel acts on car hire complaints
We get more complaints from Which? members about aggressive sales, unauthorised and unexpected charges and appalling customer service in this industry than any other travel-related service.
The problems in the car hire industry may be complex, but they need fixing. That’s why Which? Travel is joining forces with Telegraph Travel to investigate the major issues and find better ways to protect consumers. And we want to hear about your experiences.
We’re focusing on three areas of the industry that need our attention:
The insurance hard sell
High insurance excesses (up to £2,500) are used as a way of inflating prices. If you don’t pay to waive them, you could be hit with excessive charges for even the smallest scratch when you return the car. Worse still, unscrupulous staff use scare tactics to bully customers into buying a policy that can more than double the cost of hire.
It’s never worth buying insurance at the car hire desk; you can buy a more comprehensive policy online at a fraction of the cost. Read our advice on car hire insurance.
Unauthorised and unfair charges
Unexpected and unexplained charges accounted for more than a quarter of the problems that car hire customers told us they’d experienced. Customers were hit with spurious extra charges for cleaning, excess mileage, fuel and even admin.
And many people told us they had no idea about these charges until they checked their credit card statement when they returned home. Find out how to complain about unexpected car hire charges.
Dodgy damage repairs
You regularly tell us that car hire companies have overcharged you for accidental damage, or billed you for damage that you didn’t cause in the first place.
And last year we found evidence of car hire companies overcharging by as much as 300% for repairs that were never made.