Rent a car ordeals

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BE PREPARED: Research firms, take photos and have back-up insurance so you’re not left out of pocket.

“SORRY sir, but as you travelled in excess of 2,000km we will have to charge an additional €2 per excess kilometre, a total of €250. We’ve also identified a small scratch right here which will cost €600 to repair. Did you take out our insurance? No? Ok sir, we will have to charge you €850…now how would you like to pay?”

Not many things are more infuriating than being ripped off at the end of your travels. Especially when you predicted it would happen, took measures to prevent it, and yet had to stand there seething as your pockets were emptied. 

Every year thousands of British residents and tourists fall foul of the airport car rental giants who offer seemingly reasonably priced deals. They encourage the traveller to explore Spain or use a vehicle just for those little journeys that we all undertake. 

But these deals are too often turning out to mask an organised price-fixing cartel who have engineered their hire policies to ensure they turn a healthy profit in what is a very cut-throat industry. But should this be at the expense of the traveller?

Not all car hire firms are the same of course but there are some chains present at Spanish airports which try to ensure you rarely walk away having paid the originally agreed upon fee. 

A highly competitive offer will be made for a week-long car rental but then, upon collection, customers will be told of the prudent value of taking out full insurance. Some readers have told EWN this is given with the same cheerful promise you might find when asked outside a football ground for a few quid to have someone ‘watch your car.’ 

That insurance typically costs at least as much as the entire rental deal, upwards of €5 per day, is not required in any legal sense travellers complain, and many customers will have insurance policies that cover damage under €1,000 anyway, typically for around €50 per year. 

Any extras, whether sat nav, a booster seat, WiFi or a second driver will be offered for an expensive fee and you will be asked to pay for a full tank of petrol, often at well above market price.

When you return the car, rest assured there’ll be a full sweep and, no matter how angelically you might think you drove it, there’s a strong chance that an eagle-eyed attendant will uncover some rubber mark or chip that was barely noticeable before. Suddenly this represents a glaring €500 hole in your bank account until your insurance comes through, assuming you have some. 

If you were smart you went on a photography spree when you hired the car, covering every nook and cranny with your phone, dating the photos and having them handy as evidence. 

If there is a ‘new,’ yet achingly minor dust mark somewhere, then sometimes simply kicking up a fuss can save you a few hundred euros, especially when there’s no clear cut damage for them to point to, and a crowd of waiting customers yet to hand over their own hard-earned cash. 

Whatever you do, don’t leave it to fate and be tempted by the ‘leave the keys in the box’ approach. Make sure that when you return the car you have it confirmed that no additional charges will be made and you do not risk fuming over a bill levied from a thousand miles away.

Keep an eye out online for reviews of particular car rental firms but remember, at the airport they are all essentially in the same business. For some that means tactics which end with an angry consumer who is now out of pocket.

The market is an oligopoly with customers feeling at their most vulnerable: stressed out, in a queue, in a foreign country, and in desperate need of a car. So, if you’re renting soon from an airport firm, be smart and prepare yourself. 

A camera, back-up insurance and careful driving should be your weapons of choice, and leave yourself plenty of time for a boisterous exchange when you return the car. Who knows, perhaps with this mindset you can relish the challenge.

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