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Eight car hire rip-offs to avoid

Carlton Boyce / 31 May 2019 ( 04 February 2020 )

Although most car hire companies are reputable, there are some unscrupulous firms out there. Avoid the hire car scams and rip-offs with our guide.

Petrol gauge on a car
Have you ever been charged because you haven't returned the car with a full petrol tank?

Hiring a car should be so simple, shouldn’t it? You choose a car, pay the fee, collect your chosen model and drive it away to enjoy two weeks in the sun exploring unfamiliar highways and byways.

Yet too often we hear tales of travellers being ripped off by unscrupulous car hire companies who hit them with all manner of extra fees and charges that weren’t made clear at the time of booking.

So what can you do to protect yourself? Well, forewarned is forearmed, so here are some of the more common car hire scams you might come across.

Read our tips for hiring a car

1. Adding extra drivers

Some car hire companies will charge you extra to add a second driver on the rental agreement. 

Some, and here we are talking about the really dishonest ones, will even go as far as adding the extra cost without even bothering to check whether anyone else will even be driving the car! Others will load the policy if the second driver is under 25 or over 70 years of age, regardless of the actual risk.

What all these scams have in common is the assumption that you won’t bother checking the bill too closely as you will be keen to hit the road and get your holiday started.

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2. Extra fees

None of us mind paying a pre-agreed rental charge, but being hit with extra fees that we weren’t aware of is the second rip-off that you might fall prey to.

The excuses will vary from country to country but if you see something like a local sales tax, state sales tax, airport levy, or licensing agreement listed then the chances are you are being ripped off.

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3. Excess fuel charges

How many times have you brimmed the car with petrol or diesel only to have the salesperson tell you that there is a €10 surcharge (plus the cost of the petrol or diesel) being added to the bill because you haven’t returned it with a full tank?

Infuriatingly, this is very common and we can only assume that the attendant on the hire desk knows that you are in a hurry to catch your flight and don’t have time to argue about it…

4. Involuntary upgrades

Picture the scene: you are jet-lagged, tired, and thoroughly fed up with travelling; all you want to do is to sign the paperwork and jump into your air-conditioned hire car to make your way to your first overnight stop.

So when you’re told that your first choice of hire car isn’t available, or that the car you’ve chosen is too small to travel the sort of distances you’ll be doing, the temptation is to sign the paperwork, swallow the extra charges, and try to ignore the fact that you’ve just been scammed into paying more than you should.

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5. Sat-navs and other optional extras

Of course, hiring a satellite navigation device will make finding your way around a foreign country much easier, but the extra cost of hiring one could be avoided completely by downloading an app for your Smartphone.

I use Waze and have always found it to be at least as accurate and easy-to-use as a dedicated, standalone device plus the added benefit of up-to-date traffic and obstruction information thanks to its crowd-sourced data. And it’s free.

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6. Late fees

You’re running a bit late and are worried about missing your plane, so when the smiling attendant tells you that you’ve triggered another day’s payment because you’ve brought the car back half-an-hour late, you cave in because if you can’t afford to miss your flight.

Which is exactly what the hire company is banking on.

Is it better to pre-book your hire car?

7. Scratches and other minor damage

The same goes for the scratch that a concerned employee points out to you, the same scratch you noticed when you collected the car but didn’t think to mention at the time.

What do you do? Argue the point and risk missing your flight? Or argue, knowing that if it wasn’t noted down there is no proof that it was there when you picked it up? No, you do the British thing and seethe inside and swear that you’ll write a letter of complaint when you get home. And then, of course, you forget all about it. Which is what the car hire company is relying on.

So, take the time to photograph the scratch when you see it – and raise it at the time!

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8. Car insurance

A 2019 investigation revealed car hire firms charging motorists £190 for insurance worth just £30. Amanda Stretton, motoring editor at said 'Some car hire firms are getting away with ripping off drivers. We see an advertised price and expect to pay it, but when we turn up at the counter we are confused by all of the add-ons which we’re told we must have. Car hire excess cover prevents you from having to pay out a substantial amount if there is damage to the hired vehicle. However, £190 charged by some firms is extortionate and you could get a better deal online.'

I bought car hire excess insurance as a separate policy for under £100, and that gives me 12 months cover worldwide. Yes, I’ve got to pay the excess up front if I have a bump and then claim it back, but I figure I’ve saved hundreds of pounds in the past year so can afford to spend a bit of time reclaiming the money if I have to.

Saga Car Insurance: Join over a million drivers already benefiting from our outstanding cover and personal service for the over 50s. Get a quote and find out more!

Have you been on an amazing road trip that you would like to share with us? We're looking for fantastic journeys our readers have been on for a new feature in the magazine. Do email with details of where you went and when, and any great pictures, along with your recommendations for places that other road users can check out on the route.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.