City regulators must crack down on the tricks and hidden fees used by European rent-a-car sharks, said Baroness Ros Altmann
An inquiry into the underhand tactics of car hire giants must be launched urgently, a former Government minister said last night.
City regulators must crack down on the tricks and hidden fees used by European rent-a-car sharks, said Baroness Ros Altmann.
While Countdown maths wizard Rachel Riley has also complained that she was a victim of car hire rip-offs.
Their calls came as the Mail has been inundated with calls, emails and online comments from readers after our investigation revealed how even the biggest-name firms:Charge for ‘repairs’ that were never carried out — in many cases, there was no damage anyway.Raise prices for those who book at the airport, rather than online.Pressure people to buy the hire firm’s insurance even if they are covered by their own policies.Deduct more than £1,200 from drivers’ credit cards if they insist on using third-party insurance.Charge inflated fees for petrol.Use fear tactics and prey on the fact travellers are tired and their children are getting fractious.
On Monday, the hire firms admitted they did not always carry out repairs they had charged for.
One Mail reader had £1,500 taken from his credit card by Europcar, even though he had timed photographs proving the car was undamaged when he returned it. The firm backed down after being threatened with legal action.
Our undercover investigation revealed yesterday that Europcar, Goldcar and Firefly staff — owned by Hertz — all lied to inflate charges to our reporter in Spain.
Once they have your credit card details, they seem to be able to deduct money at will.
Getting it back is made almost impossible, and many customers are forced to just give up.
Firefly: A worker insisted to an undercover Mail reporter that she had to take out the firm's excess insurance - or pay a 1,400 euro deposit
Goldcar: The reporter was encouraged to take an expensive fuel option by salesman, Enrique at Malaga airport
Three British regulators — the Financial Conduct Authority, Trading Standards and the Competition and Market Authority — all have the power to act, as the cars are booked online in the UK. Yet, so far, they have remained shamefully silent.
Lady Altmann, a former pensions minister, said: ‘The Government should look into these practices as the findings suggest that many customers are being ripped off and treated unfairly. Well done to the Mail for uncovering it.’
Cashing in on different exchange rates
Hired in Barcelona in June, they charged my credit card 1,100 euros (£983) and then refunded it when I returned the car.
However, they used a different sterling/euro exchange rate when charging and refunding — so they made £43 on the deal.
Incidentally, as my credit card billing date fell between charge and refund, I had to find £1,000 to avoid being charged interest by my credit card company.
Saved by my picture of the logbook
In 2011, I travelled to Norway and booked a hire car. On collecting the car, I checked it and took photos of the whole car, as well as the logbook.
When I returned the car, the rental office was closed. So I took more photos of the vehicle and the milometer and checked the petrol tank was full.
However, I then received an email saying the car was damaged — a plastic panel underneath the bumper was ripped.
They said they were taking £800 out of my account. I sent an email back challenging them and tried contacting the local office I’d got the car from. No joy.
The main office told me they had no say in the matter, as the contract had been sub-let. I was getting desperate, as £800 is a lot of money for a pensioner.
I eventually tried the Office of Fair Trading and was directed to the UK European Consumer Centre, part of the consumer advice network that helps in disputes with European traders, and their lawyers argued my case.
What saved me was my decision to photograph the logbook. On the page previous to my rental, the mechanic had marked a cross on the same area that this supposed bumper rip was — so obviously, they already knew about it.
Countdown maths wizard Rachel Riley, (pictured) has complained that she was a victim of car hire rip-offs
Countdown maths wizard Rachel Riley has complained that she was a victim of car hire rip-offs.
The 34-year-old Channel 4 presenter took to social media, claiming she had been charged for a number of ‘add-ons’ that she had previously declined.
She contacted German car hire firm Sixt on Twitter to query her bill over a vehicle hired in France.
She wrote: ‘Hi @SixtFR contacted you 8 days ago re all the extra charges you’ve added for add-ons.
‘I’ve proof I’d declined, any danger of a reply/refund?’
Her post attracted plenty of comments from the public, with many responding that they had had similar experiences. Others joked that the company would be foolish to overcharge someone who is ‘good with numbers’.
Garry McDonald wrote: ‘Maybe they aren’t as good at arithmetic as you.’
Miss Riley, an Oxford University mathematicss graduate, later tweeted to acknowledge that she had received a reply from the hire company.
‘Thanks @SixtUK for help with @SixtFR refund & looking into operating procedures, appreciate it.
‘Glad I could speak French to check my bill.’
Sixt were unavailable for comment last night.
Bullied and told to pay £20,000 deposit
At Bristol Airport, I explained that I had my own excess damage insurance and that the car had third-party insurance included in the hire price. He told me the full price of the car — yes, really — would need to go on my credit card or I had to take their insurance. Since I clearly could not put £20,000 on to my card, I took out the insurance.
I am now in dispute with the firm, which insists it was an optional service. They should be ashamed of themselves.
We took out fully comp insurance separately — but the rental firm at Malaga Airport initially claimed this wasn’t good enough. Then they more than doubled our hire fees. We got nowhere complaining to customer service. They didn’t care at all!
Their photographic ‘evidence’ was a sham
My niece returned a car while in Spain. The rental firm emailed her later, claiming the car had been dented. She requested a picture of the damage, which they sent.
But the metadata [electronic information attached to the photo] showed the photo had been taken six months earlier.
So she challenged the charge and — guess what? — they backed down. I wonder how many folks get conned in the same way.
Barfly1, Brigg, UK.
We hired a car in Ibiza. Having been taken by minibus to the rental office 30 minutes from the airport, they told us the car we’d booked online wasn’t available.
They said we would have to either hire a much bigger, more expensive one or wait for a smaller one. They took 800 euros (£700) from our credit card as a holding fee and said we must take out their insurance and pay a fuel surcharge.
There need to be laws to regulate these abuses.