Beware the hidden costs of holiday car hire

Family of four on holiday with hire car © Alamy
Will a big bill be waiting when they get home?

Car hire firms can chase you for money long after you thought you had paid for your holiday.

The summer holidays are over. But you may not have finished paying for them if you hired a car during your trip. Kate Palmer in The Sunday Times tells the story of Peter and Lynne Darker, who found themselves chased for a car-hire payment 15 months after their journey. To make matters worse the charge was for damage and breakdown cover after the tyre exploded on the vehicle on a motorway just 15 minutes after they hired it. This shows that “rental companies can charge for alleged damage to vehicles long after customers have returned home”, says Palmer. They can do so because they store your financial details when you hire the car and it is in the terms and conditions that they don’t have to seek your permission to take a payment. In a case covered in The Daily Telegraph, a “highly experienced police driver was accused of burning out the clutch and billed £1,235 five months later”.

Keep an eye on your card statement

To avoid being stung, keep an eye on your credit-card statements in the months after you hire a car. If you see a charge, question it. If you aren’t happy with the response from the rental firm “it is sometimes possible to claim back the money through your bank or credit-card provider using a chargeback”, says Palmer. Another frequent problem is a dispute over who caused damage to a hire car. Make sure you are prepared for any problems by taking photos of your vehicle when you collect it and when you drop it off. Sadly, however, this may not be enough, as “hire companies’ complaints departments may ignore this evidence”, says Palmer.

Try to book with a firm that has a UK office so if there is a problem you aren’t trying to communicate across a language barrier. You also have additional support when dealing with UK firms. “If you cannot resolve a dispute with a car-rental company in the UK, use the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association’s conciliation service (bvrla.co.uk),” says Nick Trend in The Daily Telegraph.

Finally, avoid hiring a car through InterRent, Goldcar, or their parent company Europcar. In a survey by Which? Travel, an independent consumers’ organisation, these firms were ranked the worst. Almost half of those who hired with InterRent, and four in ten Goldcar customers, had a problem, says Guy Hobbs on which.co.uk.