Dodgy car hire tricks will drive you to despair

Car hire industry has a terrible reputation for treating people unfairly and overcharging innocent travellers.

If a car hire deal looks too good to be true, then it may well turn out be misleading.

Not all of them are terrible – but there are a lot of things you need to watch out for so you don’t get hit with a nasty surprise on or after your holiday.

Ever wondered why you need to have a credit card to book a hire car? Or why it has to be in the driver’s name? It’s all down to liability if something goes wrong. The credit card you use will need to have a set amount of credit on it before the car hire company will even let you leave with the vehicle – and they’ll check you’ve got it too.

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This is because the company will automatically debit your account for any damage or contract dispute costs as soon as it concludes you’re liable. The money comes off your credit card without you having the right to argue – and then you’re stuck complaining to get your cash back.

This is ludicrously unfair, but for now, there’s nothing to stop them doing this. So the savvy traveller needs to be aware of things that can go wrong if they want to avoid extra costs.

The big car hire problems making the news recently have revolved around these complaints:

◆ Misleading deals. Car hire firms are desperately competing with each other by offering the cheapest deals they can. But they make their money back in additional charges, add-on policies and other costs.

◆ Massive damage excess fees. When you sign your contract, you’ll have a damage or collision excess fee. This is what you have to pay if there’s a crash or minor damage to the vehicle that needs to be repaired. It’s not unusual for this to be £1,000 or over – even though the firm will have its own insurance.

Insurance and add-ons. To cover you for this excess fee, the firm will sell you insurance, just in case there is an accident. These policies can cost up to £200 – but you can buy them online for £20. Firms that claim you can’t do this are lying – you can. But make sure the policy you buy covers the make and model of the car.

◆ A little scratch. Ask anyone who’s hired a car and chances are you’ll come across someone who’s been hit with a bill for ‘minor’ damage that’s cost them hundreds of pounds. I’ve seen people billed for a scratch on a bumper where the firm has claimed the whole thing needs to be replaced.

◆ Non-existent repairs. It’s just emerged that some firms aren’t even doing the repairs they’re charging you for. So if you are billed for a repair, ask to see proof it’s been done. If they don’t give it, ask for the cash back.

◆ High pressure sales. You’re tired, you just want to get to the destination and the firm tries to flog you loads of things you don’t need. Watch out for upgrades that invalidate your pre-bought insurance, fuel-guzzling vehicles and other additional expenses.

◆ The petrol tricks. You’ll be charged if you don’t return your car with a full tank of petrol. Only sometimes you’ll be asked to return it almost empty. Make sure you ask about how this works and the charges for getting it wrong.

◆ Extras. Late pick up or plane late? That’ll be extra. Roof rack or child seat? Extra.

Resolver can help you sort out complaints about pretty much anything. Check out and share your experiences at [email protected]

James Walker is the founder of online complaint-resolution service