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How to dodge car hire scams

Ever bagged a great deal on car hire, only to see the price balloon by the end of your trip? Some hire companies have turned making extra income from customers into an art form.

We tell you about their tactics and how to avoid falling for them.

Published by
Raph Giacardi·31/05/2023

Let's be clear, we're not saying car hire companies are dishonest. But they're very good at the old bait and switch – get people in with a super-low price and find any ways to make them pay more later.

We've listed the most common tactics car hire companies use to squeeze pennies out, so they don't take you for a ride.

Unnecessary insurance

We've all been there: the person at the counter is printing your paperwork and reminds you of the £1000 excess if you damage the car. You are, at the end of the day, only paying for the 'basic' insurance.

The good news, you're told, is that for £20 a day, you can get premium insurance without the excess. Certainly, that's worth it. Well, not when you realise that third parties sell similar insurance for £3-4 per day.

The only downside is that you'll have to pay the excess and then claim for it on your insurance.

Fuel policies

Be particularly wary of full-to-empty and pre-paid fuel policies. In both cases, you will pay over the odds – either for fuel you don't need, or fuel that's overpriced.

Before you book, read the fuel policy carefully. Ideally, you want a fuel policy that lets you return the car at the same fill level as when you picked it up.

Pirate tip: ask for a receipt when re-fuelling a car before dropping it off. Some hire companies will ask you to prove you have re-fuelled within a certain distance of the drop-off point.

Dubious damage

It's not that hire companies are purposefully lying about damage to a car. It's easy to miss a scratch when inspecting a car before renting it to someone else. But you also don't want to be in a situation where you tell yourself, 'Hang on, I'm pretty sure this mark was here when I got the car, but how can I prove it."

When you pick up your car, review any scratches and damage against the documentation provided by the hire company. Report any issues that's not documented – and if possible, take photos or videos.

Taking an extra 10 minutes to check the car before driving off may save you a big headache later.

The cheap upgrade

Well, aren't you lucky… you can upgrade to a better car for half the usual price. What a generous offer.

No. Stop and think. First, you might not need to pay for this upgrade at all. Maybe the company doesn't have the model you've booked and is just trying to monetise the situation. If you don't bite, they'll have to upgrade you free of charge.

If you decide to pay for an upgrade: ask the company to explain any changes to the hire terms. Is there a mileage limitation, higher insurance fees? Don't say 'yes' until you understand the implications.

Exorbitant extras

Before you decide to pay for extras like a GPS or a child seat, do some research.

Most airlines will let you travel with things like car seats for free. Consider taking your own rather than using one from the hire company. It's not just about price: you will be sure it's adequate. Hire car seats can be older and might not be suited to your child's age.

GPS are another one. First, investigate how much roaming costs with your mobile phone provider? The answer often is, less than what the car-hire company wants to charge you for a GPS... Hello, Google Maps.

Pirate tip: Even if you don't want to pay roaming charges to use your phone as GPS, you can always download maps for offline use.

Final words

OK, now you have all the knowledge you need, there's one final thing: research rental companies before booking.

With aggregators like Kayak, you know the names of the providers they list. Check their reviews on Google, Trustpilot, Facebook and wherever you can.

To be honest, if you 100% trust the reviews, you'll never hire a car again. A lot of companies have poor ratings. But some are a lot worse than others.

Our recommendation: read a sample of the worse reviews: Are they recent? Are there recurrent issues? Is the company responding to the complaints? Are the reviews getting better or worse?

Congratulations, you are now ready. There's only one thing left to do – hire a car for your next holiday. You can do this here.

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