Costly scrapes – and your other car hire hor­ror sto­ries

The Daily Telegraph - Your Money - - YOUR MONEY -

As one com­pany is in­ves­ti­gated for al­leged over­charg­ing of driv­ers, Sam Mead­ows re­ports on other read­ers’ ex­pe­ri­ences

In the wake of dam­ag­ing rev­e­la­tions sur­round­ing car hire gi­ant Europ­car – first re­vealed by The Daily Tele­graph in June – an­gry driv­ers have come for­ward with a litany of ex­am­ples of sharp prac­tice in the in­dus­try. Ex­ces­sive, poorly ex­plained fees for ev­ery­thing from mi­nor scratches to empty fuel tanks have wrecked cus­tomers’ hol­i­days or busi­ness trips.

The over­charg­ing by hire com­pa­nies for “ex­cess waiver in­sur­ance” – which re­duces driv­ers’ li­a­bil­ity to pay for dam­age – has been well doc­u­mented and warned against. But a Tele­graph in­ves­ti­ga­tion has re­vealed that one of the world’s big­gest hire firms is be­ing in­ves­ti­gated for al­leged over­charg­ing of cus­tomers by tens of mil­lions of pounds.

As many as 500,000 cus­tomers of French-owned Europ­car could be af­fected, with cases stretch­ing back more than a decade. The rev­e­la­tions have prompted Tele­graph Money read­ers to con­tact our of­fice with their own cases of al­leged over­charg­ing by other firms, in­clud­ing the in­dus­try gi­ants Avis and Hertz. You hire a car and no­tice a seem­ingly in­nocu­ous mark on the body­work. You think noth­ing of it, but when you re­turn it a week later you are clob­bered with a huge fee for re­pairs – whether or not it was you who caused the dam­age. Over­charg­ing for re­pairs is one of the most com­mon com­plaints from car hire cus­tomers. Phil Quantick, 57, who lives near Durham, hired a car from the Avis desk at Bris­tol Air­port in 2011. He drove the car with­out in­ci­dent, but when he re­turned it an agent spot­ted what Mr Quantick de­scribes as “a large scratch down the side”. Mr Quantick said he was sure he had not caused the dam­age – al­though ad­mit­ted it may have hap­pened while he was at work – but it did not ap­pear on the dam­age form he had ini­tially signed, so he had no choice but to ac­cept the charge. And he was shocked to learn how much the re­pairs would cost: £420.

He claimed that, af­ter pay­ing, he sub­se­quently spoke to a me­chanic who said that sort of re­pair should cost no more than £30. He added: “I had no choice but to pay – but you have no guar­an­tee that the re­pairs are even un­der­taken. Un­less you spot ev­ery lit­tle scratch be­fore you leave, you are stuck with a great big bill and no choice but to pay.”

Like other reg­u­lar car hir­ers, he also sus­pects the overzeal­ous na­ture of the firms’ ve­hi­cle in­spec­tors. “They don’t see the dam­age when you pick the car up, and then you come back and sud­denly they no­tice ev­ery lit­tle speck,” he said.

“I find so many times when I pick up hire cars there is dam­age that isn’t One trick to save money is to buy stand-alone “ex­cess waiver in­sur­ance”. The ex­cess is the first part of any claim that you are re­quired to pay your­self, and this has been creep­ing up and is typ­i­cally around £1,000.

The ex­cess waiver cover cuts this sum down to zero.

But be­ware pur­chas­ing the poli­cies of­fered by the firms them­selves as they can cost hun­dreds of pounds – when poli­cies from in­de­pen­dent in­sur­ers can cost as lit­tle as £3 per day.

Anal­y­sis by Tele­graph Money shows com­pa­nies in­clud­ing Hertz, Europ­car and Avis charge more than £200 for their ex­cess waiver cover for a typ­i­cal hol­i­day hire week (see ta­ble). But in­de­pen­dent in­sur­ers will pro­vide cover for a week’s car hire within

The Avis spokesman said: “Cus­tomers can pur­chase ad­di­tional pro­tec­tion cover, of which there are sev­eral op­tions, to re­duce the cost of dam­age or re­pair.

“We use all data avail­able to make sure we of­fer our cus­tomers com­pet­i­tive and fair rates.”

While Mr Park­ing­ton was cov­ered by the ad­di­tional in­sur­ance pol­icy, he could have ob­tained the same cover for a tenth of the price. With stand-alone cover, how­ever, you have to pay the bill first – and claim back the cost.

Steep cost: Phil Quantick, left, was given a £420 re­pair bill af­ter a ‘large scratch’ was dis­cov­ered on a car he rented

Avis’s £706 bill for what our reader de­scribed as ‘mi­nor scratches’

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