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Renting a car doesn’t always run smoothly. Things can go wrong before, during or after the rental. Here are some of the most common complaints about car rental and what you can do to protect yourself.
When you book
Damage charges are the single largest cause of complaints. You can reduce the chances of having to pay large damage charges by taking these steps:
- When choosing a hire car, look at the excess and deposit amounts. The excess amount is the most that you will have to pay if the car is damaged. The deposit is what you must make available on your credit card and it shows the rental company that you have the funds to pay the excess. During the time that the amount is ‘ring-fenced’ on your card, you won’t be able to spend it on other things
- Consider whether you would be willing and able to pay the excess if the car was damaged. For some deals, especially cheaper ones, the excess and deposit can be very large. You may prefer a different deal that costs a little more, but has a much smaller excess and deposit
- If you can’t cover the deposit (or don’t want to leave one), be aware that the rental company will usually ask you to buy extra insurance. This will reduce the excess and the deposit to a small sum (or even to zero), but the insurance can be very expensive. Again, consider whether this is the best deal for you
- Check the Collision Damage Waiver (CDW). This is the ‘insurance’ that usually comes as standard with the rental. It usually doesn’t cover everything and will often exclude items such as damage to tyres or glass
- If you want extra cover and peace of mind, take out insurance before you travel to cover any excess claims. You don’t have to buy this insurance from the rental company, so shop around for the best deal. It’s often much cheaper buying from an independent insurance provider. You may get better coverage too
- If you have independent insurance, note that the rental company may still require you to leave a deposit. In the event of damage, the rental company will deduct the cost of repairs from your deposit and you will need to reclaim that cost from your insurance provider
Unexpected charges have long been a source of customer annoyance. Watch out for these:
- Some rental providers will require you to buy a tank of fuel from them, often at inflated prices – so check the fuel policy
- Some providers set a maximum number of miles that you can drive and make additional charges above this limit. If you plan to do a lot of driving, check the policy
- Car seats and snow chains may be legal requirements in your destination and there will be charges to rent these items from the rental company
- Be wary of deals that are very cheap. If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is
When you collect the car
Some people complain about pressure selling of insurance by sales staff when they arrive to collect the vehicle. Here’s what you should do if this happens to you:
- If you feel you are being forced to buy unwanted insurance, consider whether you can walk away and hire a car from another provider
- If walking away is not an option, pay for the additional insurance (so you can get the car you booked), but write on the contract that you object to the payment and reserve the right to complain and ask for your money back. If possible, pay with a credit card so you have the option of making a claim with your credit card provider later on
- Ask for the staff member’s name and immediately raise a complaint with the rental company’s head office. If you are picking up a car in Spain, ask for the ‘Hoja de Reclamacion’. This is the official complaint form and the car company is required to give it to you
Some customers find they are not getting the expected type or quality of car (e.g. it is a smaller car or one with fewer features than the car they booked). They either are not fully compensated for this or are required to pay extra for an upgrade to get the key features that they want.
- Stand your ground. The rental provider should provide the car you booked (or a similar one). If it can’t do that, you should be refunded the difference to downgrade, or get an upgrade at no extra cost
- Have a copy of the booking confirmation with you, so that you can show the rental desk exactly what you have booked
- If you are not treated fairly, make a formal complaint
At pick-up, you can take further steps to avoid disputes over damage charges:
- Allow time to inspect the car for any dents, scratches or other defects
- If you can, take photos or video of the condition of the vehicle
- Report any defects, no matter how minor, immediately and while you are still on the rental company’s premises
- Ensure that all defects are noted on the pre-rental inspection form, that the form is signed by the rental company as well as by you, and that you retain your own copy
When you return home
Follow up your complaint with the car rental company. If it involves a damage charge that you dispute, ask for evidence of the damage and an invoice for the repair bill.
If you have taken out insurance, and the terms of the insurance policy cover the issue, make a claim with the insurance company.
If you paid by credit card, and something went wrong with the rental, especially if it is a misrepresentation or breach of contract, make a claim with the credit card provider under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.
If you have an unresolved dispute with a company, check whether it belongs to an arbitration or conciliation service. If it does, use this service. Examples include:
- BVRLA Conciliation Service, run by the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA), for car rental disputes arising within the UK;
- European Car Rental Conciliation Service, run by the BVRLA on behalf of Leaseurope, for disputes about cross border car rentals within the EU;
- ABTA Alternative Dispute Resolution Service, run by ABTA Ltd, the Travel Association. Some booking agents belong to this service.
If you wish to make a complaint and/or ask for practical help with a consumer problem, go to a consumer advice service:
- Citizens Advice, 03454 04 05 06, for consumers in England, Scotland or Wales about purchases in the UK
- Consumerline, 0300 123 6262, for consumers in Northern Ireland about purchases in the UK
- UK European Consumer Centre, 01268 886 690, for UK consumers about purchases in another EU country
The information provided above does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such.