How to protect yourself when you hire a car

Hiring a car can be a stressful business, with many hidden costs and sharp practices. Merryn Somerset Webb has some advice to make it a little less fraught.

180802-car-hire

Hiring a car can be a stressful business

©JeffreyGreenberg@aol.com

One thing you will hear endlessly from anyone writing about the nightmares of hiring a car is that you must read and understand the contract before you sign it. You will also be told that you must photograph the car all over so that you know where the existing damage is and that a photo of the fuel gauge and the milometer won't go amiss either.

This is all perfectly reasonable advice. But it's also pretty useless. It will add to the (already nasty) stress levels around hiring the thing (remember that most car hire agreements are as long and complicated as mortgage agreement forms, just in smaller and more blurred type) and do little to help you when things really go wrong.

Instead, you might remember that when it comes to paperwork and signature capture you are no match for a skilled car rental operator: you never will be their margins depend on your confusion. So skim it for effect, but don't assume you understand it. Instead, focus on the things you can understand and manage.

Make sure you understand the fuel policy. Fuel is an important profit centre for the company it needs to make money on it. But it isn't particularly complicated. Prepaid fuel offers can work if you think you might be in a hurry on the way home, but most firms still expect you to return the car full something that works for most people who aren't going to be horribly tight for time returning to the airport. One insider tip: all tanks have a good bit of leeway above the 8/8 level, so don't assume it is full when you get it (it is probably only up to 8/8) and don't fill it beyond 8/8 yourself (that's good enough for the car hire firm).

Next, when you return the car, do it in office hours and get it checked and signed off while you watch. If there is a problem, argue about it there and then at the counter. If you have to return it outside office hours, my insider suggests doing what he says everyone in the know does: before you board the aircraft home, cancel the card the car hire excess is on and order a new one. Now you control how much money is taken (this is important fraud is rampant in the sector).

Finally, should all that fail, a word from the inside on rental car conciliation services such as the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association, or the European Car Rental Conciliation Service: "Don't waste your breath".

For more on car hire, see my column on the matter here.

Recommended

How to trace lost accounts and share in £50bn of unclaimed assets
Personal finance

How to trace lost accounts and share in £50bn of unclaimed assets

Britons have amassed almost £50bn of unclaimed assets in lost accounts. Here’s what to do if you think some of the money may belong to you.
8 Aug 2022
Interest rates rise to 1.75% – the highest level since December 2008
Personal finance

Interest rates rise to 1.75% – the highest level since December 2008

The Bank of England has raised interest rates from 1.25% to 1.75%, and warns that the UK will fall into a recession this year.
4 Aug 2022
Smartphone banking: the best app-based bank accounts
Bank accounts

Smartphone banking: the best app-based bank accounts

Smartphone banking is convenient and, with features that help you budget and save, is becoming very popular. Saloni Sardana looks at the best app-base…
3 Aug 2022
Mortgage interest rates are surging – homeowners need to act now
Mortgages

Mortgage interest rates are surging – homeowners need to act now

Rising interest rates look set to spring a nasty surprise on millions of homeowners next year. You need to take steps today to protect yourself from a…
2 Aug 2022

Most Popular

Are UK house prices finally heading for a crash?
House prices

Are UK house prices finally heading for a crash?

The latest house price figures show a fall of 0.1% in July. With interest rates rising, inflation hitting double figures and a recession on the cards,…
5 Aug 2022
Brace yourself for the return of rationing
Economy

Brace yourself for the return of rationing

Russia is turning off the cheap energy. That is already leading to belt-tightening, says Matthew Lynn. Who will suffer most, and which sectors will th…
5 Aug 2022
Zhao Weiguo: China’s No. 1 chip tycoon vanishes
People

Zhao Weiguo: China’s No. 1 chip tycoon vanishes

Zhao Weiguo rode a decades-long boom in China pursuing Beijing’s core industrial policy of semiconductor self-sufficiency. Then he fell foul of Xi Jin…
5 Aug 2022