Money Saving Tips for UK Motorists

The right way to pick up and drop off a rental car

The right way to pick up and drop off a rental car

Car hire firms will not hesitate to slam you with charges if you break your rental agreement with them or leave so much as a scratch or blemish on their vehicle. We detail exactly what you should do to avoid being stung.

 

Introduction

Competition is intense and profit margins razor-thin in the car hire industry. As a result, almost all rental firms boost their bottom line by trying to sell as many optional extras as they can with each booking.

They also use more hard-nosed tactics, such as imposing costly penalties and fees on customers who breach any one of a long list of rental rules, or charging them over the odds to fix the slightest scratch or blemish their staff find when the vehicle is returned. Some unscrupulous providers even go as far as billing unsuspecting customers for damage they are not actually responsible for.

Unless you know exactly what to do at the rental facility when collecting or returning a hire car, you could easily end up being stung with extra charges or, worse, fall victim to some of the sharp practices employed by the most shady operators.

Our in-depth guide walks you through the entire pick up and drop off process, so you know exactly how it works, what to do, how to protect yourself fully and how to avoid any fines.
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Related Article

We recommend that you also read our article on how to book a rental car for less:

Car rental secrets: how to book the cheapest deal
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How To Pick Up Your Hire Car

Want to make sure you are not taken for a ride by staff at the rental facility when collecting your vehicle? If so, then make sure you follow these important steps carefully:

 

Alert the rental desk to delays – some firms will cancel your booking and allocate the car to another customer, if you’re as little as 30 minutes late turning up at the rental facility. If your flight is delayed, let the hire company know immediately, so they can hold your reservation for you for as long as possible.

 

Save time at the airport – when you land, leave your family or group to collect the luggage while you head straight to the rental desk.

 

Be prepared for the hard-sell – rental desk staff often earn juicy commissions for any extras they manage to sell you, so be prepared for their pushy sales techniques. Stand firm and politely decline any options you don’t want, even if they use scare tactics to pressure you.

 

Paper work should be in English – don’t sign anything you don’t understand. If the rental agreement is in a foreign language, then ask staff for an English translation. If they can’t give you one, then insist they at least provide you with a carbon copy or a photocopy of the original contract.

 

Note down names – record the names of any staff you interact with, especially if they are handing over or taking back the vehicle you hired, or in the event of a dispute.

 

No means no – tick the ‘no’ box for any options you don’t want; this is so agents can’t sneakily tick ‘yes’ in your absence and bill you later.

 

Avoid a late night pick up or return – try not to collect or drop off your rental vehicle when it is dark, if you can help it, as it makes inspection far harder.

If you cannot arrange a daylight pick up, then at least ask staff to move the car to a well lit area, so you can examine it properly. Failing that, use a torch.

Some of the more reputable rental agencies allow customers a 24 hour window after collection in which to report any issues or damage they discover.

 

Allow plenty of time to check the car – do not rush the pick up procedure. You’ll save yourself a lot of time, money and aggravation, if you sort out any issues before you drive away and while still at the rental facility.

 

Record EVERY blemish, scratch and dent – this is crucial, as it is not unknown for some firms to charge different customers for the same damage.

 

Close-up of a dented and scratched front bumper on a hire car
(Image credit: Heymarchetti at Flickr.com)

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Go around the car and point out to the rental agent every single issue you spot with the following parts of the car, and make sure they record it accurately on the inspection sheet:

    • Body
    • Windows
    • Wing mirrors
    • Bumpers
    • Tyres
    • Alloys
    • Roof
    • Undercarriage

If you have time, try to look under the bonnet as well, to confirm if fluid levels such as engine oil, automatic transmission fluid, windscreen washer and coolant have been topped-up.

Next, inspect the interior equally thoroughly. Make sure any spills and stains are ackowledged and recorded by the agent. And test all the essential controls and electrics to verify they are fully functioning:

    • Horn
    • Indicator
    • Lights
    • Car stereo
    • Cooling/heating system
    • Air-conditioning
    • Windows
    • Sunroof
    • Locks
    • Sat-Nav

Take an inventory of essential kit – if the provider claims equipment is missing when you return the car, then you will be liable for the replacement cost. Protect yourself from the outset by confirming that safety equipment and other items that should be in the car as standard are actually there to start with:

    • Spare wheel
    • Jack/lug wrench
    • Spare bulb(s)
    • Warning triangle(s)
    • Reflective vest(s)
    • Car manual
    • First-aid kit
    • Parcel shelf
    • Breathalyser (France)

Once the checks are complete, it is essential that you get the agent or rental desk to sign the inspection sheet – even if that involves a long walk or drive back to the office, otherwise you won’t be fully protected.

Should the car be too dirty to inspect properly, consider rejecting it. At the very least, get the staff to record the poor condition on the form and sign it.

 

Take photos – take plenty of close-ups of any damage you spot, no matter how minor.

And if there are no issues found? Great! But take pictures anyway, to protect yourself against any false claims. Snaps should be taken of every panel and from every angle of the vehicle.

 

Note the fuel and mileage – always examine the fuel gauge. If you’re on a same-to-same fuel policy, record where the needle rests on the gauge when the engine is running, so you know how much to top up the tank when you return the car. And if you’re paying for a full tank, then make sure that it is genuinely full to the brim.

Likewise, take a snap of the odometer, especially if you are on a limited mileage deal.

 

Don’t forget about the optional extras – if you reserved additional equipment such as a sat-nav, roof rack, or child seats, make sure they have been supplied and fitted properly. Check they are not faulty or damaged in any way, too.

 

Take the car for a spin – if at all possible, take the car for a quick spin around the confines of the rental depot. Not only will this help you quickly familiarise yourself with the most important controls, but it will also give you an opportunity to briefly assess the vehicle for major issues, such as a burnt clutch, that may not be covered under the insurance policy.

 

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How To Drop Off Your Hire Car

To ensure a stress-free return of your hire car and to avoid being slammed with unexpected fines or charges, just follow these key steps:

 

Prep the car for return – providers often charge a cleaning or valeting fee, if a hire car is not returned in the condition it was originally rented out. To avoid being stung, collect any food or litter in the vehicle, remove any stains and, if at all possible, give the interior a quick hoover; many service stations have coin operated vacuums available, so getting your hands on one shouldn’t be a major challenge.

Try not to smoke in the car at all during the rental – even with the windows down – as the odour of tobacco is hard to get rid of.

If the exterior has become muddy, then stop off at a car wash; it will be a lot cheaper than paying the hire firm’s cleaning fee.

And remember to check all the storage compartments, as well as under the seats, for any belongings. The last thing you want to do is leave behind valuable items like a phone, camera or jewellery.

 

Don’t forget to refuel – select the cheapest and most convenient garage near to the rental depot to refuel your car, if you are on a rental deal that specifies a full-to-full or same-to-same fuel policy.

Fill the tank to the brim, or else the hire firm may charge you for topping it up. And be sure to keep the receipt as proof.

 

Don’t be late (or too early) – hand back your hire car late and you will almost certainly be hit with a penalty, which can be as high as a full day’s rental.

To avoid this situation, set out early, giving yourself plenty of time to deal with any traffic or other delays. Your aim should be to arrive at the drop off location on schedule.

One important point to remember is that most agencies hire vehicles in 24 hour blocks. So, if you plan to collect your rental at 3pm and hand it back at 1pm, still choose 3pm as the return time, to give yourself some leeway. However, before booking, always confirm that your provider isn’t one of the ones that charges customers an early return fee for dropping off their vehicle before the allotted time.

 

Avoid out-of-hours returns – some providers also charge extra for returning vehicles outside of standard business hours, particularly if they have to arrange for staff to wait for you. Escape this penalty by ensuring you return your car during their regular hours of operation.

 

Avoid a late-night drop off – both you and the agent need to inspect the car when it is handed back, just as you did when you collected it. This is best done during daylight hours, therefore try not to hand it back when it is dark, if at all possible.

 

Hand back to a person – for peace of mind, get an agent to actually inspect the car and sign-off on it, rather than just dropping off the keys and rushing off.

Note the name of the person serving you and verify that they really are staff, as there have been incidents where travellers have unwittingly handed over rental car keys to thieves masquerading as employees!

 

Take pictures again – when you arrive at the rental depot, snap the vehicle from EVERY angle before you hand it back, that way you will have proof if the hire company tries to bill you unfairly later for damage you didn’t cause.

 

Get staff to confirm there’s no damage – this is absolutely vital. When you return a rental car, you must ensure that an agent inspects it fully in your presence and verifies that there is no new damage to report.

If no issues are found, then get them to confirm this in writing on the return form and insist on a copy for your own records.

 

Leave the keys in a secure place – if the depot is closed when you arrive, because it doesn’t operate out of hours, for example, then deposit the keys in a secure box. Never just pop hire car keys through the letterbox of the rental office and assume that staff will collect them.

Always leave the car in a designated spot. If you don’t and something happens to it, you could be held responsible.

 

Retain the paperwork – hold on to all the receipts and paperwork related to your rental for at least a couple of months after it has completed, even if everything went smoothly, just in case any issues arise later.

Keep an eye on your credit card bill for a month or two after as well, to make sure your security deposit is refunded in full and to confirm that you haven’t been billed unfairly for anything.

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Things To Watch Out For

 

Additional Charges

There are a whole host of fines, penalties and extra charges that hire car companies impose on customers for not sticking to the rules. Many of these are often hidden in the small print and therefore easy to miss. Below is a rundown of the key ones you should be aware of:

  • Extra for diesel cars
  • Fines for late pick up
  • One-way drop off fees
  • Cleaning/valeting charges
  • Penalties for early drop off
  • Charges for additional drivers
  • Extra charges to guarantee the car of your choice
  • Administration fees for arranging repairs to fix damage
  • Extra charges for returning a car outside normal business hours
  • Processing fees, in addition to an extra days rental, for the late return of a car
  • Additional charges if fuel isn’t topped-up within a certain distance of the rental facility
  • Penalties if you can’t show a receipt to prove you topped-up the fuel before returning the car
  • Fees for topping-up the tank with extra fuel, to fill it to the brim, when you return the vehicle
  • Callout charges for dealing with a puncture (firms say you should be able to change a tyre yourself)

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Common Scams

Unfortunately, some of the less reputable hire companies, or their commission-hungry staff, try to boost their profits by using scare tactics and even under-hand practices to get customers to buy pricey optional extras.

Here are just some of the tricks to watch out for:

  • The company refuses to recognise your independently bought but totally valid insurance policy
  • Your credit card is suddenly declined when paying the security deposit (when you refuse to buy the hire firm’s excess cover)
  • You’re told you’ll face a huge towing bill if the car breaks down (when you decline firm’s breakdown cover)
  • The firm claims that you won’t be able to return the car during busy periods
  • Billing you for optional extras you didn’t buy
  • Noting damage after you have returned the car
  • Offering automatic upgrades without telling you they cost extra
  • Claiming that your chosen vehicle is not big enough for your needs
  • Downgrading your car without offering a refund for the price difference
  • Quoting a price for an optional extra or upgrade, but not clarifying that its the daily rate, not the total cost
  • Hitting you with with unfair cleaning fees
  • Charging inflated prices to repair damage

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Upgrade Tips & Tricks

It’s easy to be seduced by the offer of a cheap or free upgrade on your hire car. But always check the details, to confirm that you are getting a genuine deal and that you are not going to be left out of pocket if you accept the upgrade.

Most importantly, if a rental firm runs out cars in the class you booked, then it’s their problem, not yours. You should not pay a penny extra just because they’ve been forced to give you a bigger, better model. If it’s their fault, they pay the penalty.

Here are some other important upgrade-related pitfalls to watch out for:

 

Up-selling – falsely claiming that your car size has run out and then trying to talk you into renting a bigger car for more money is a common sales tactic. Stand your ground and insist on a free upgrade, if they genuinely can’t supply your original choice of vehicle.

 

Stealth charges – some customers find they have been charged for an upgrade on the sly. Always scan the paperwork, to confirm you haven’t been quietly billed for a bigger car, regardless of whether an upgrade was discussed or not.

 

Check the excess cover is still valid – if you bought enhanced stand-alone car insurance from an independent insurer, make sure the policy still covers the excess amount in full when accepting an upgrade, as the figure may rise considerably when you opt for the more luxurious vehicle, leaving you exposed.

 

Breaching the vehicle value limit – check that you haven’t breached the vehicle value limit on your car hire insurance policy when agreeing to a bigger car.

 

Refunds missed – it really shouldn’t do this, but if a firm genuinely has no choice but to downgrade you to a smaller car than the one you booked, then it must refund any price difference. Make sure it does.

 

No extra for extras – if you have to be upgraded because of low inventory you shouldn’t have to pay a penny more, and that includes the cost of any optional extras you booked with your original car.

 

Bigger, not better – upgrades are usually to a bigger car from the next category up, rather than a more prestigious brand, so don’t hold your breath for a BMW if you booked a Mini!

 

Ultimately, upgrades are always at the discretion of the rental company, but there are a few tricks you can use to boost your chances of being offered a bigger, better model for free:

  • Book vehicles the firm has fewer of in stock
  • Hire the smallest car for your needs and then politely ask for an upgrade at the rental desk
  • Reserve a small but still suitable 4 door car, as firm’s often run out of these quickly
  • Join the rental firm’s loyalty scheme, because members are more likely to be indulged
  • Just ask! There is no harm in trying

 

Letter blocks spelling out 'tips and tricks'
(Image Credit: Home Water Softener Reviews)

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Documents You Need To Hire A Car

 

Driving License & DVLA Code

You must present your driving license at the car hire desk when you go to collect your vehicle, or you won’t be able to drive it away. Any additional drivers have to appear at the counter with their driving license as well.

If you forget your license, and you don’t have a print-out of your driving license details either, you have two choices:

  • Let the rental firm view your driving license details online using a DVLA check code
  • Call the DVLA and ask them to share your details verbally with the rental firm

The DVLA check code allows third-parties to view your driving record. You will need the following information to apply for the code:

  • Your driving license number
  • Your National Insurance number
  • The postcode on your driving license

The code is only valid for 21 days, but if it runs out while you’re abroad you can get a new one via the internet or over the phone. Also, you can have up to 15 check codes active at any one time.

Many providers, particularly in the UK, will not rent a car to anyone with a driving ban, driving convictions or a significant number of points on their license, and will therefore ask to see your driving record to check for any endorsements.

How they carry out this check depends on the type of driving license you hold:

 

Photocard – the paper counterpart to the photocard license is no longer valid. You will therefore need to provide the hire company with a DVLA check code instead, so they can complete their checks.

 

Paper Driving License – if you still possess a paper driving license, or if your license was issued in N. Ireland, the paper counterpart is still valid and you may need to present it at the rental desk.

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Other Essentials

In addition to your driving license, make sure you take the following important items with you to the car hire desk. Failure to do so may jeopardise your rental:

 

Rental voucher/reservation code – keep a spare paper copy with you, or at least a backup on your mobile phone.

 

Credit card – this must be the card you made the booking with. It is a good idea to always take more than one card with you, in case of problems, and to ensure that your credit limit is high enough to pay the security deposit in full.

 

Passport – rental firms normally ask to see your passport for identification purposes, both here in the UK and abroad. Failure to do so may result in your reservation being cancelled but you still being charged.

 

Proof of Address – some providers insist on seeing one or more utility bill or bank statement with your address on it. Some even insist that the bank statement you provide is for the card you booked with.

 

Travel Details – a small number of car hire companies ask customers to provide travel details such as a flight reservation or a hotel booking. This applies to non-residents renting in the UK in particular.

 

International Driving Permit – please see the ‘Driving Abroad’ section below for more information on the IDP.

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Driving Abroad

 

What to take with you

 

International Driving Permit

The International Driving Permit is an official document containing driver information about you in several languages and allows you to drive in a foreign country. It is a complement to your driving license, not a substitute for it.

The IDP is recognized in over 150 countries worldwide and comes in two main flavours: the 1949 Geneva Convention IDP and the 1968 Vienna Convention IDP. Check which IDP you need here:

IDP Country Checker

Non-EU driving license holders need to show an IDP in order to hire a vehicle in the UK.

British drivers travelling outside Europe may require an IDP to drive legally in certain countries. Always check before setting out. And after Brexit, British motorists may even need one to drive in the European Union.

You can buy the permit from the Post Office. To apply, just present your full valid UK photo-card driving licence, along with a passport sized photo. If you have a paper license, you’ll need to show your passport as well.

Once issued, an IDP is valid for 12 months. It can be post-dated to start up to 3 months after you apply, in case you are not travelling immediately.

 

Vehicle on Hire Certificate

Planning to take your UK registered hire car abroad? Then you will need to get the rental company to give you a Vehicle on Hire Certificate (VE103R), which is issued as a substitute for the vehicle’s original vehicle registration document (V5c), otherwise known as the ‘log book’.

A Vehicle on Hire Certificate is valid for 1 year. You can request one from the RAC:

RAC – Vehicle on Hire Certificate (further information)

RAC – Vehicle on Hire Application Form (PDF download)

 

Other Essentials

  • A copy of your excess reimbursement insurance policy (if bought independently)
  • Contact number of the rental firm
  • Address of the pick up/drop off location
  • Mobile phone(s) and in-car phone charger(s)
  • Contact number of the breakdown service
  • Sat-Nav/maps (if using your own)
  • Child car/booster seats (if using your own)
  • National Insurance number (in case you need to apply for a new DVLA code)
  • EHIC card (for free healthcare in the EU/EEA, unless there is a no deal Brexit)
  • Travel insurance

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Right-Hand Traffic

Traffic flows on the right in the majority of countries around the world, although there are a few major exceptions like Australia, India, Japan and South Africa where they drive on the left as we do here in the UK.

Check out this link for a comprehensive list of who drives on which side of the road:

Right- and Left-Hand Traffic

Driving on the other side of the road is a daunting prospect for many. In recognition of this, travel website Skyscanner has launched the world’s first left-hand driving school, to give holiday-makers the confidence they needed to drive abroad. You can find out more about it on the company’s website:

Skyscanner – Left-Hand Driving School

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Crossing Borders

Most car hire companies discourage cross-border rentals of any kind, either because of the high cost of returning a car to its originating depot or because of legal requirements. For instance, Italy doesn’t allow hire cars to be driven to another country, not even a fellow EU member.

And EU citizens have been banned from driving non-EU registered rental vehicles in the EU since 1 May 2016, though non-EU drivers such as the Swiss can still do so. The rule is designed to help combat customs fraud.

Beware new EU law if you are hiring a car in Switzerland this summer

For similar reasons, Switzerland has banned Swiss registered hire cars from being driven to neighbouring countries, unless the driver is actually resident in that country.

The new rule on Swiss hire cars that’s catching out hundreds of travellers

In other words, under Swiss law, a French resident can take a Swiss registered rental into France, but a British visitor can’t. However, under EU law neither of them can.

These conflicting rulings inevitably resulted in confusion when they were rolled out, but thankfully a solution has since been found. Customers wishing to drive from Switzerland to a neighbouring country must let the hire firm know in advance, so it can allocate an EU registered rental vehicle.

Head to the ‘Driving a hired car in another country’ section of this website from the European Commission for more information on crossing the border in a Swiss rental vehicle:

Your Europe – Hiring a car

As a general rule, if you plan to cross the border in a hire car anywhere in the world, not just in the EU, we advise you check with the rental firm first, or better still hire a car in the neighbouring country itself to avoid regulations.

 

Approaching a Spanish border crossing on a motorway in a hire car
(Image credit: Dennis van Zuijlekom at Flickr.com)

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European Breakdown Cover

We suggest you buy European breakdown cover from a UK supplier such as the AA or RAC, if you plan to drive on the Continent. Third-party breakdown policies are not only cheaper than ones sold by hire firms, but often provide more comprehensive levels of cover too.

Alternatively, consider purchasing a stand-alone excess reimbursement policy from an independent specialist that includes insurance for breakdowns, misplaced keys and misfuelling.

If you do opt for the rental company’s breakdown offering and plan to drive in neighbouring countries as well, confirm that the cover extends across borders, otherwise you may be left facing a big bill if you experience car troubles.

For much more detailed information about European breakdown policies, check out our in-depth guide to the topic:

European Breakdown Cover

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Toll Charges

Paying road tolls can be a complicated affair in some countries.

Furthermore, many motorways and crossings operate on a cashless basis, relying instead on automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) systems to identify vehicles. If you fail to pay, the rental firm will not only deduct the toll from your credit card, but add a hefty administration charge on top.

To minimise any difficulties, we recommend you clarify the following points with regard to toll fees, either when booking or when you reach the car hire desk:

  • Do any tolls apply to my itinerary?
  • Can I pay the toll charges manually?
  • Can I enrol online for the toll scheme?
  • Does the hire company offer pre-paid toll passes, toll payment facilities or electronic transponders with rentals? If so, for how much?
  • How will I pay for any outstanding tolls after I return the car?

British motorists planning to drive in France, Spain or Portugal can buy a tag for automatic payment of motorway tolls from this UK-based company:

Emovis Tag

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Accident Report Form

If you are involved in an accident while driving abroad, you should record the details of all the parties involved and then get an accident report from the local police. Failure to do so could invalidate your insurance cover.

Ideally, you should call the police if another vehicle is involved, no matter how minor the damage.

Insurers across Europe recommend that you keep a copy of the European Accident Statement (EAS) form in your car, both to record the details of an accident and to help process any resulting claims quicker.

The form consists of two identical sections consisting of two pages each. In the event of an accident, you fill out one set and the opposing driver completes the other set. The document is legally binding, which means that if you sign it anywhere without ticking any of the boxes in section 12 you are basically agreeing to the other driver’s version of events.

For this reason, we highly recommend that you keep an English language copy of the EAS, as well as one in the language of the country you are visiting, in your vehicle at all times. Free copies in multiple languages are available here:

Car Travel Docs

Photographic proof is invaluable, so take lots of pictures at the crash site. You can also use the following online tool to create detailed accident scene diagrams quickly and easily:

Accident Scene Diagrams

Further instruction on completing the European Accident Statement can be found at these sites:

Citizens Advice Bureau

European Consumer Centre France

Your Europe – European Union

If the matter is more serious and you need official help or guidance, then get in touch with the local British embassy, consulate or high commission. The Foreign Office website hosts a worldwide list of them, complete with opening times and contact details:

Foreign Office – Find a British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate

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Foreign Road Rules

It is essential that you familiarise yourself with the road rules and regulations of the country you intend to drive in, so you can avoid trouble. To help you gen up, we’ve put together a list of some the most useful driving abroad resources we could find on the internet:

The AA – Driving in Europe: A-Z of European road rules and more

RAC – Travel Advice: driving advice relating to every country in Europe

European Commission – Transport: road safety regulations across Europe; also available as a free mobile app

Department of Motor Vehicles: the road rules in America explained

Driving In: a basic primer for motorists that covers major countries worldwide

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Restrictions on 4×4 vehicles

It may surprise you to learn this, but many car hire companies, including a number of the well known brands, do not allow you to take their vehicles off-road, or even on unpaved roads. The reason why is that the collision damage waiver or third-party insurance does not cover you for such activity.

Even if a provider does allow you to venture off-road, governments in some countries don’t, or at least restrict you to designated areas. Iceland is one such example. Off-road driving is banned all over the country, unless clearly marked otherwise, because authorities there say it damages local plants and flowers, and poses a safety risk to tourists in some areas.

If in doubt, double-check before hiring a 4×4 and before venturing off the tarmac!
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What To Do When Things Go Wrong

As with the sale of any product or service, issues can and do arise from time to time. However, there are steps you can take to minimise the risk in the first place, and to fight your corner effectively if the worse happens and you do enter into a dispute with the supplier.

 

Read the Contract

A recent survey by Which?, the consumer magazine, found that some car rental contracts sprawled over multiple documents and contained more words than a Shakespearean play. Even worse, they discovered that essential information about charges and conditions was missing from many of these contracts, despite their extraordinary length.

Nobody likes to plod through complex legalese, but we recommend that you make an effort to familiarise yourself with the terms and conditions of your rental, and clarify any information that is missing, or that you don’t understand, direct with the rental firm – ideally before you book.

 

Close-up of someone's hand about to sign a car hire contract
(Image credit: Pxhere.com)

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Know your Legal Rights

Complex and lengthy car rental agreements make it seem like all the rules are stacked in favour of the supplier. But that is not the case. You have fundamental rights as a consumer, so make sure you understand them and use them to ensure that you are treated fairly.

Which? Consumer Rights – Car Hire

Competition & Markets Authority – Hiring a car: What To Watch Out For

British Vehicle Rental & Leasing Association – Consumer Rights

Should a problem arise at the rental desk, try to sort it out there and then, rather than following it up on your return home. Make sure you note down the names of any staff you deal with, and if you are not making headway, escalate your issue to the most senior person available at the time.
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Check your Bank Statements

Even if everything passed without a hitch, it is absolutely vital that you carefully check the credit card statement(s) you receive after the rental, to confirm that your security deposit and any other refunds you are owed, such as unspent fuel, have been processed correctly, and that you have not been charged for anything you did not agree to.
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Ask for Evidence

Don’t just pay up if the car hire company tries to charge you unfairly. Stand your ground.

If they try to claim for damage that you are certain you’re not responsible for, then ask the firm to forward you photographs, proof of repairs and a breakdown of charges.

And if you have any paperwork, photos or receipts that counter their claim, then don’t hesitate to send them copies as evidence.
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Withhold Payment

Always pay for your booking with a credit card, if at all possible, because under section 75 rules, which are detailed in the Consumer Credit Act 1974, the card company is jointly liable if anything goes wrong with your purchase.

For instance, if you have been charged unfairly, advise the hire car firm that they have taken the money from you ‘under protest’ and raise the dispute with your card issuer. The onus will then be on the rental company to prove that its claim is legitimate.

Section 75 only applies to credit cards, though, not debit or charge cards (where the bill has to be settled in full at months-end). However, you may be able to recover some or all of your money via the chargeback system if you paid by debit card.
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Escalate your Complaint

If all else fails, there are a number of resolution services you can use to help settle a dispute with a car hire firm. Here is a rundown of the main ones we suggest you consider:

Resolver – a totally free service that consumers can use to submit and track a complaint to a business

British Vehicle Rental & Leasing Association – the BVRLA runs a conciliation service that deals with car hire disputes arising in the UK

European Car Rental Conciliation Service – the ECRS can help with complaints related to cross-border vehicle rentals within Europe. Note that the organisation will only intervene if you booked direct with the supplier and not through a broker

European Consumer Centres Network – a network of consumer centres that provide information on consumer rights and assist in resolving disputes when the consumer and trader involved are based in two different European countries

ABTA Alternative Dispute Resolution Service – certain booking agents, such as Netflights, belong to this well known travel association. Customers can register a complaint against a member using the organisation’s ADR service

On the other hand, if you are not looking for arbitration, but simply want practical information on how to progress your complaint further, we recommend you approach one of the following consumer advice services instead:

Citizens Advice – for help and advice on purchases made in the UK

UK European Consumer Centre – for information and guidance on products or services bought in Europe

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Recommended Car Rental Firms

You can view our full list of recommended hire companies, car rental brokers and excess reimbursement insurance providers by clicking the following link:

How to save money on your booking

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Summary

Competition is intense and profit margins low in the car hire industry, and some providers are looking for any excuse to slam you with fines or charge you for the tiniest flaw they can find on the vehicle you rented, in order to make more money from you.

By following the advice and tactics we’ve described in this guide, you’ll not only ensure that the pick up and drop off process runs smoothly when you reach the rental desk, but you’ll also be able to dodge any additional fees and, more importantly, greatly reduce the risk of being unfairly billed for damage to a rental vehicle.

And if things do go wrong, and you end up wrangling with the supplier, you’ll know exactly how to handle the issue and escalate it appropriately if necessary.

 

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