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Car hire: how to avoid aggressive and costly sales tactics

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Brits admit to spending more than necessary on car hire, equating to £475m in additional costs. This step-by-step guide will help you bag a bargain car hire policy, avoiding those pricey pitfalls.

Research from comparison site TravelSupermarket revealed the most common extra charges – which can easily be avoided – relate to the fuel policy of the car hire, followed by excess mileage and cleaning the vehicle after use.

These extras can add around £80 each to the cost of car hire.

As such, TravelSupermarket’s step-by-step guide explains what you need to watch out for and what to avoid, plus tips to get the right cover at the right price:

Before you go

Book car hire as soon as you can: waiting to hire a car in the arrivals hall or at your hotel can mean you fork out three times as much, sometimes more , than booking in advance. For example, a mini car picked up from Faro airport (unlimited mileage and a full-to-full fuel policy) on 5 August 2018 for a week, will cost £112.70 with Argus Car Hire. Online at Hertz, the equivalent rental on arrival would cost £641.93 – 469% more expensive.

Avoid the ‘full – empty’ fuel policy: this is where you pay upfront for a tank of petrol and can return it empty. You may be charged an inflated price for the petrol and can end up paying for fuel you haven’t used.

Instead, opt for a full – full fuel policy which allows you to return the car with the same amount of fuel at pick up. Before returning it, don’t forget to fill your tank to the same level as when you collected it.

Choose an agreement with unlimited mileage:  this ensures you won’t be charged for excess mileage.

Do you need extra insurance? Car hire companies will charge you extra for insurances including personal accident insurance but you might not need it.

You’re likely to be covered for personal accident insurance (this pays out if you are severely injured or die in an accident in a hired car) through your travel insurance policy or through the credit card that you used to pay for the rental but it’s important to check before you go away. If you’re travelling internationally, call your credit card company to see if your destination is covered. If you wait until the desk, Hertz will charge you £62.59 a week. So, if you need to get this, shop around before you go away.

Buy your own excess policy: they’ll try to sell you excessive damage waiver excess, theft excess waiver and tyre and windscreen excess at the arrivals desk. When you hire a car, insurance is included. But it often comes with incredibly high excess charges (up to £2,000). If the rental car gets damaged or stolen, the ‘excess’ is the amount of money which you have to pay in the event of an insurance claim.

These policies can cost more than the rental itself, adding around £20+ extra a day for these covers.

Remember to buy a car hire excess policy online, in advance of your holiday. If you buy an excess/damage waiver policy, online in advance of your holiday, it will only cost a few pounds a day. If you take more than one car rental trip a year, consider whether it’s worth getting an annual policy which costs only a little bit more – around £40 – so is cheaper than buying it for two single trips.

Extortionate extras: One in 10 Brits said they’ve been charged for extras which they could have easily brought along themselves. For a satnav, Europcar charges from £14.99 a day. Hertz quotes £74.51 on its website for its sat nav package, Neverlost, for a week. This is the same price as buying a satnav on the high street. Plus, when travelling in the EU, you’ll pay the same prices as at home.

Take your own child seat:  Check if your airline allows a car seat for free – many do. Even with baggage restrictions, it is likely to be cheaper to take a child seat with you than hiring one from the car firm. Hertz, for example, charges £63.88 for a booster, child or infant seat. Europcar charges from £11.99 per day.

On arrival

Beware if your car’s suddenly ‘unavailable’: some report a hard sell for an upgrade at the pickup desk and often this is blamed on the fact that the car in the category which has been booked is no longer available. If the car you booked is unavailable, you should either be offered a higher category car for no extra cost or a lesser one with the appropriate refund.

Thoroughly inspect the vehicle: Don’t be rushed. Look at the whole car including the tyres, glass, roof and underside of the car. Keep an eye out for pre-existing damage not indicated on the rental checkout sheet and ensure it is marked on the contract before you take the car away. Take photographs of the pre-existing damage.

Carefully read what you’re signing on the rental agreement: line by line, read everything really, really carefully to make sure you’re not signing up for anything which you don’t need.

Overcharging you by asking for payment in sterling: Another trap to watch out for is not being given the option to pay in the local currency when you collect your vehicle – even though firms are legally required to give customers a choice. Paying in sterling can result in you being charged over the odds as firms may use an uncompetitive exchange rate. Before entering your pin number, have a look at the amount – and check the currency being used is the local currency. And, if not, insist it is.

Returning the car

If the car’s dirty, you may be charged a premium: clean the car thoroughly/consider a valet. If there is a spillage, clean it yourself before you hand over the keys. You could even get it valeted at a local garage.

Charges for damage: if the car hire tries to charge you for damage which you weren’t aware of. And you disagree, there are procedures the car rental firm needs to follow. Customers have to be sent evidence of the damage and how the repair cost has been calculated and have the opportunity to challenge it before their credit card is debited. Complain if this isn’t done.

The UK vehicle rental trade association, the BVRLA and its European counterpart, Leaseurope, now have more robust codes of conduct and provide mediation services for customers. You can also contact the European Car Rental Conciliation Service ( which has the power to get refunds for incorrect charges taken by its members but you’ll need to check if the car hire company which you booked with is a member of it.

Unfortunately, though, if you’ve signed up to anything at the rental desk without realising, it is unlikely mediation will resolve it.

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