James Walker: Don't be taken for a ride by car hire firms

The past few weeks have been filled with horror stories about car hire traumas abroad. My phone has been ringing off the hook as people get in touch to ask for guidance on how to avoid being conned.
Beware the hard sell when renting a vehicleBeware the hard sell when renting a vehicle
Beware the hard sell when renting a vehicle

Travelling abroad can be stressful. You’ve made it to the airport, survived security, spent a fortune on a sandwich and made it through the flight without killing your fellow passengers/family/partner. Finally, you make it through customs for the last part of the endurance test. Getting to your destination.

Hiring a car is a great idea if you’ve got a family, are going off the beaten track or just have an adventurous spirit. Car hire is big business, so the companies can seem reassuring.

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None the less, it pays to be informed about the typical problems that can arise when hiring a car. Not all firms are dodgy or out to rip you off, but it pays to plan in advance and be savvy.

Stories making the news recently have revolved around these complaints:

◆ Massive excess fees. You may get a cheap deal, but bear in mind that you can be charged up to £1,000 and beyond in excess fees if the firm says your car is damaged.

◆ Nonexistent repairs. It’s just emerged that some firms aren’t even doing the repairs they’re charging you for.

◆ 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.

Here are our tips to avoid being conned when hiring a car abroad:

1. Book in advance, shop around and read all the documents before you travel.

2. Check the excess fees – the higher they are, the riskier it is to take the contract.

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3. Consider buying a zero-excess policy (it pays the excess if the firm charges you). Yes, we know you shouldn’t have to, but it’s worth it. Buy in advance rather than from the firm – it’s much cheaper.

4. Ask about the deposit. If the firm “ring-fences” a deposit, you can’t spend that money. If they debit your card and give you a refund on your return find out how long it takes for the credit to come back and if you can pay in pounds so you don’t lose out on exchange rates.

5. Photograph the car from all angles. Be pushy. A representative from the firm will sign the car out with you. Make sure they write down every mark or scuff on their documents and photo the car from all angles too. Do the same when you return the car and make sure that you have agreed with everything on the documents.

6. Keep all the paperwork and receipts for things like petrol.

7. Factor in additional costs. Child seats, extra drivers, valeting, all can add up.

8. If you are in an accident, call the police and get copies of all documentation. Make sure you’ve checked with the hire firm what their procedures are too.

If you follow those tips, you should have a pain-free holiday. But if something goes wrong you still have rights. For example, you can:

◆ Complain to the car hire firm through Resolver.

◆ Send them a message on social media – that’ll grab their attention.

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◆ If you have a UK-based zero excess policy, you can complain through Resolver to the financial ombudsman.

◆ The same goes for disputes on credit cards.

We’re arguing for better support for drivers abroad who hire cars, so get in touch at www.resolver.co.uk if you’ve been caught out by a car hire con.

James Walker is the founder of online complaint-resolution service Resolver.co.uk