9 sneaky rip-offs to avoid at the car rental desk

Regulators have cracked down on foreign car hire firms that don't disclose all their charges upfront, but watch out for other 'optional' fees.

The Government has taken action against foreign car hire firms that don't disclose all their charges upfront.

Two Spanish companies, Centauro Rent-A-Car and Record Go Alquiler Vacacional, were specifically targeted by regulators, who are able to act because these firms sell to UK customers.

According to the Competitions and Market Authority (CMA), the 'big five' car rental firms - which include Avis Budget, Enterprise, Hertz, Sixt, and Europcar - now disclose all charges at the start of the booking process.

George Lusty, senior director for consumer protection at the CMA, said:

"The big 5 told us in 2015 they would update their practices, but we’ve found they weren’t doing all that they’d committed to. Following our further intervention, the charges people see on the big 5’s websites will be clear, prominent and accurate, allowing customers to choose the best possible deal for them."

However, the CMA's crackdown doesn't cover the many extra charges which could drive up the cost of a rental.

Drivers could find themselves pressured into buying expensive excess insurance and expensive car seat and satnav hire, all before they leave the airport.

And that's without mentioning the costs incurred if something goes wrong.

In this article we look at the top car hire rip-offs and how you can avoid them.

Charges for damage

Some of the more unscrupulous car hire firms may try to hold back some of your deposit and claim you returned the car with damage. 

This could go as far as charging for a 'damaged car lock' that you may not even know about, according to Zest Car Rental. 

What's worse is that they often don't charge you until you get home, so it's very hard to contest.

Damage of this kind isn't commonly covered by standard excess protection policies so motorists need to be vigilant. To protect against it, make sure you thoroughly check the car over both inside and out (including locks) before signing any rental or return agreements.

If the option is available, ask for the car to be checked when you return it and signed off as being in good condition.  

It’s also worth taking pictures of the car before you take it away and as you drop it back so you can dispute any false claims, should the need arise.

And, on the subject of deposits, be aware the car hire company will require a deposit before you drive away, and this is usually done by ring-fencing an amount on a credit card, so make sure you can cover this cost with your plastic.

If you do get home to find money has been taken from your card, or you have any unresolved disputes with a car hire company firm, use British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association’s conciliation service or the European Car Rental Conciliation Service to help settle any differences.

Don't get ripped off on your own car: search for cheaper car insurance with Confused.com

High excess charges

Although insurance will be included as part of your rental agreement, it’ll come with a hefty excess that could see you stumping up as much as £2,000 towards the cost of any claim.

The reason this excess is so high is because hire car insurance, or collision damage waiver (CDW), doesn’t work like normal car insurance.

Car hire excess charges can be very expensive (image: Shutterstock)

Instead of being an arrangement whereby the insurer covers the cost of repair, it’s just an agreement from the rental firm to waive any repair costs should you be at fault for an accident.

So it’s a good idea to take out excess waiver insurance, a standalone policy that will pay these potentially pricey excess fees. The car hire company will attempt to sell this to you, but you could find a much cheaper and potentially better policy by shopping around.

You can pick up excess waiver insurance for as little as £3 a day by comparing prices online, but take what’s on offer at the rental desk and you could get stung at a daily rate of £30.

Tip: Save around £17 a day on insurance by comparing prices online.

Car hire excess insurance: what it is and how it could save you thousands

Young driver fees

If you’re a young driver, you’ll be used to paying through the nose for your car insurance, and you can expect more of the same when it comes to hiring a car.

If you’re under 25, you’ll get hit with a young driver surcharge that is usually upwards of £30 a day – which comes out an eye-watering £420 extra on a two-week holiday.

And if you’re under 21 there’s a good chance you’ll be turned down for car hire altogether.

There’s no real way around this unless you’re travelling with an older driver, in which case it’s probably best to just let them do the driving.

However, you could be caught out by older driver fees too. Car hire companies may put a maximum age limit on car rentals, usually 70 or 75.

Some car hire companies may ask for a doctor's note before you drive away, so check the small print when you book. Hertz doesn't have an upper age restriction so if you're an older driver, it's worth looking it up.

Tip: Save £30 a day by letting an older driver take the wheel, or consider taking your own car abroad (just make sure you’re insured to drive overseas).

Satnav rental fees

If you’ve ever tried to negotiate narrow European roads while a co-pilot navigates using a map, you’ll appreciate how much hassle you can save with a satnav.

Of course, rental firms know these gadgets can be invaluable and so hiring one can cost as much as £10-£15 a day.

Car rental: how to cut costsSave money by packing your own satnav, or getting a reliable route planner app on your smartphone. There are even free apps available for download, such as NavMii, although these might not have the most up-to-date routes installed.

And you may as well pack that map too, just in case…

Tip: Save around £10 a day by packing your own satnav or just using your phone.

If you're using your mobile abroad, here's how to reduce the cost of roaming

Car seat hire costs

If you have young children, make sure you take their car seats along for the ride as rental firms charge around £10 a day for baby or booster seat hire.

Even if the hire company only charges for a maximum of seven days, as many do, this will still see you unnecessarily out of pocket to the tune of £70, and that’s just for one child!

You could buy a new seat for half the price – perhaps even an inflatable one to save space – and take it as carry on luggage.

Tip: Save around £10 per day, per child, by taking your own baby and booster seats.

Car seat hire can be very expensive (image: Shutterstock)

Additional driver fees

Having someone share the driving can make life a whole lot easier, it can also make your road trip a whole lot more expensive as additional driver fees clock in at anywhere between £5 and £10 a day.

And although most rental firms cap the charges to keep prices down for longer breaks, costs can still stack up.

To avoid this extra fee, either look for a rental firm that allows you to add a driver without charge – some offer this for the main driver’s spouse – or simply designate one driver for the whole trip.

When you get to the desk, make sure you pay with the card of the named driver or you may have to pay again.

Tip: Save as much as £10 a day by ditching the additional driver.

The chance to 'upgrade'

This happens a lot in peak season, so watch out for it.

When you rock up to collect your pre-booked car, the person at the desk might tell you that the company has run out of vehicles in the category you chose and you'll be offered an upgrade, but at a price.

You should either be offered a higher-category car for no extra charge or a lower-category motor with an adequate refund.

Tip: Don't accept a paid upgrade at the desk. 

The best time to book a holiday: get your flights, hotels, cruises and more for the lowest price

Overpriced fuel

Most rental firms offer a ‘full-to-full’ fuel policy, whereby you pick up and drop off the car with a full tank of petrol, while others prefer a ‘fuel empty’ policy, which means you pick up the car with a full tank of fuel and are expected to return it empty.

Car rental: how to cut costs

In this instance, the rental firm will charge you for the full tank, usually at an inflated price.

And if you don’t use it all up, you’ll find yourself even further out of pocket.

Tip: Save £15-£20 by opting for a rental firm offering a ‘full-to-full’ arrangement.

Extra mileage and border fees

Some rental firms will hit you with extra charges for exceeding an agreed mileage limit and travelling across borders.

So if you’re going to be racking up the miles or travelling through more than one country, work out in advance roughly how far and where you’ll be travelling to and make sure any rental agreement fits in with your plans.

Don't get ripped off by your car insurer: search for a cheaper policy today

This article contains affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission on any sales of products or services we write about. This article was written completely independently.

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