Car hire firms ‘failing to show full costs’

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Many of the top car hire companies are failing to disclose extra costs, making it “almost impossible” for consumers to find the best deal, according to a watchdog.

Which? tried to rent a car in Spain from ten major hire companies and broker websites, but even at the end of the booking process 53 per cent of its researchers were not satisfied that they knew the total price.

The investigation also found 75 per cent of those who had to pay a compulsory cost for a full tank of fuel did not know how much they would need to pay when they picked up the car.

More than one in five (22 per cent) did not know the amount of excess and 44 per cent did not know the cost of the optional excess waiver to reduce the amount they would have to pay if the car was damaged.

Such payments can add more than £100 to the cost of a week’s rental.

More than half (54 per cent) did not know if the excess waiver covered them for damage to tyres, the windscreen or underneath the vehicle.

Which? is calling for all car hire fees to be made clear to consumers upfront and before they make a booking, saying that it is a principle of European and UK law that essential information such as compulsory and other significant charges must be clearly stated at the point of purchase.

Smaller companies topped a customer satisfaction survey of car hire firms by the consumer group, with Canary Islands-based Auto Reisen beating more well-known names with a score of 89 per cent.

Goldcar was bottom of the table with a customer score of 42 per cent. Thrifty and Enterprise were second and third respectively, while Europcar and Budget rounded out the bottom three. Economy Car Hire topped the broker table of ratings with 78 per cent, with Argus Car Hire at the bottom on 52 per cent.

Which? said it would be sharing details of its investigation with the companies to encourage improvements, and had also written to Avis, Dollar and Enterprise “to remind them of their legal obligations”.