Car hire firms are stinging holidaymakers with rip-off charges for scratches, child car seats and petrol refills, a Money Mail investigation has found.
We can reveal that firms are charging up to $10,000 if you damage a family saloon in Europe and haven’t bought extra insurance.
Some holidaymakers claim they are being billed for repairs that never take place. In some cases, the fees are only showing up on their bank statements when they return home.
Others are arriving at European pick-up desks to find that renting a sat nav or booster seat for two weeks costs triple the price of buying a new model back in England.
Here, we expose this year’s biggest car hire cons — and explain how you could save thousands by planning ahead.
SMALL PRANGS THAT COST THOUSANDS
If you damage your car on holiday, you usually have to pay the first few hundred dollars of any repair bill before your insurance kicks in.
This is known as excess. But in some cases, the excess is so enormous that you could end up paying more than the cost of your entire family holiday in repair fees.
Money Mail discovered that Budget, for example, charges a damage excess of £8,416 on a Mercedes E-Class saloon car from Faro Airport, in Portugal.
This is nearly ten times the rental bill of £846.88 for the week.
Car hire firms are aware that these prices are unaffordable and terrifying for many families, so will try to sell you so-called excess waiver insurance. In principle, this is a good idea, as it means you don’t pay any of the repair bill.
But don’t buy this from your car hire firm at the pick-up desk or you’ll pay up to £170.
It is much cheaper to get a policy from a third-party insurer before you leave for your holiday.
Firms such as Reducemyexcess.co.uk and iCarhireinsurance.com offer cover for less than £3 a day or annual cover for around £40. Use comparison website moneymaxim.co.uk to find the cheapest deals.
Ignore pushy staff at the collection desks abroad, who’ll try to tell you that this third-party insurance is not valid.
However, bear in mind that they will still need to block off a deposit on your credit card if you don’t buy their waiver policy.
Then, if you do get charged for repairs, you will have to pay upfront out of this deposit and claim the money back from the excess waiver insurance firm afterwards.
Even for cheaper models, families could find themselves lumbered with huge bills if they scratch or dent their cars.
Quotes obtained from the Budget website show the excess is £5,614 for a Volvo S60, or £3,346 for a Mini Cooper convertible.
When we called Budget to check the quotes and told them some of their excess charges were approaching €10,000, a customer service adviser admitted: ‘That’s pretty outrageous. That’s a new one on me.’
After checking his computer, he added: ‘Yeah, €9,594 excess on the Mercedes. The higher-end vehicles do have the higher excess. It varies from country to country. For Portugal, that’s going to be normal.’
He added that excess charges for hire cars in the UK tended to be lower than this.
Last night, Budget had not responded to Money Mail’s requests for comment.
BILLS FOR REPAIRS THAT NEVER WERE
Several Money Mail readers claim car hire firms have tried to charge them hundreds of pounds for dents and scratches that were never repaired.
It comes with Europcar facing a scandal over accusations that it overcharged customers for car hire repairs by £30 million.
Trading Standards is investigating claims that up to half-a-million UK customers could have been affected over a decade. The Serious Fraud Office is also said to be aware of the case.
Fears are growing that some firms may use similar practices at European destinations.
Support worker Lynette Taylor, 31, is in dispute with Europcar in Switzerland because she says it has billed her almost £800 ‘for a small scuff mark on the bumper’ of a hire car.
‘I signed to say I didn’t cause the damage as at no point did I go into anything, so perhaps it happened when the car was parked,’ she says.
‘I managed to block my credit card before they could take the money and they have been trying to get it ever since. The worst part is, I asked them if they had actually repaired the car and their answer was ‘no’.
‘They suggested it probably wouldn’t be repaired. Therefore they are charging me a repair bill for repairs not even carried out.’