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How to avoid car hire scams

Carlton Boyce / 05 January 2016 ( 21 June 2018 )

Avoid unexpected or excessive charges with our guide to protecting yourself from car hire scams and rip-offs.

Someone drives through beautiful mountains in a hire car

Holidays should be a time to relax, to unwind, and to take the time to slow down and enjoy the world. For many of us this means hiring a car and exploring the road less travelled, getting off the beaten track and finding the undiscovered gems denied to those who are stuck beside the hotel pool.

Yet hiring a car can be a source of frustration, often leading to a nagging doubt that we’ve just been ripped off, even if we aren’t quite sure how!

Here’s our guide to avoiding hire car scams at home and abroad.

Read our guide to seven car hire rip-offs

Excessive fuel charges

Most hire companies insist on your hire car being returned with a full tank of fuel, which sounds reasonable enough, doesn’t it? 

However, the staff will often manage to squeeze in an extra litre or so, even if you’ve just brimmed the fuel tank yourself – and they’ll charge you a hugely inflated price for the privilege of doing so.

The key here is to top up as close to the car hire car park as you can. Pump the fuel until the safety cutout clicks, and then dribble a bit more in slowly. You’ll often manage to get another litre or so in, saving you a good few Euros or Dollars against having the attendant do exactly the same…

Is there an upper age limit for hiring a car?

The car insurance scam

Of course you’ll need to insure your hire car but do you really need to pay for collision damage waiver (CDW) at £20 a day or more?

Collision Damage Waiver limits the amount you have to pay in the event of an accident. Without it you might be looking at stumping up a £1,000 excess, which makes it sound like a prudent purchase. But it might already be included in the standard car rental fee and, if it isn’t, it is usually cheaper to take it out in the UK before you leave home.

Just call your car insurance company or travel insurance provider and ask them if you can buy it before you travel…

Find out more about car hire excess waiver insurance

Hidden charges

Some surveys report that car hire companies can add as much as two-thirds to the final bill by tacking on extras such as the state and local sales tax, airport surcharges, and licensing fees.

The answer is to book at home in advance and read the small print so you know exactly what is essential and what is optional. Once you know that, you can decide what you have to pay for, what you want to pay for – and what you don’t.

Seven secrets that car rental companies would prefer you not to know

Minor damage

The scam here is to charge you for existing damage, claiming that it happened while the car was in your care.

The way round this is to go over every inch of the car with a fine-tooth comb, insisting that every single mark, no matter how small, is noted. The attendant or salesperson may well try to hurry you up but don’t be bullied; it’s important that you don’t end up with a bill for something you didn’t do!

If you do find anything, why not take a quick snap of it with your Smartphone? That way you’ll have a record that the damage was there when you collected the car as the phone will automatically stamp the image with the time and date.

Is it a good idea to pre-book your car hire?

Unavoidable upgrades

You might be told that the car you reserved isn’t powerful enough for a long journey, or that the model you hired isn’t available but a more luxurious – and expensive – one is.

Just say no. This is a rip-off and every single small car on sale today is capable of covering hundreds of miles in a day with ease – and if the hire desk doesn’t have the model you reserved, you should be getting a free upgrade!

Informative, in-depth and in the know: get the latest news, interviews and reviews with Saga Magazine.

Unexpected credit card charges

Hundreds of travellers have reported receiving an unexpected charge on their credit card bill weeks or even months after returning home. The reasons vary, but the fuel surcharge or allegations of minor damage being caused to the car are the most common.

This is why it is so important to double-check all the charges on your credit card bill and to hang onto all your paperwork, keeping your petrol station receipts and copies of the car hire agreement for a few months.

Seven tips for getting a good deal on your car hire

If you see something that doesn’t look right you should email the company concerned, attaching photocopies of any evidence you have that supports your position. You’ll find that most hire companies will back down immediately when presented with proof that you are right and it is wrong. If it doesn’t, you should contact your credit card company and ask it to intervene.

Of course, the majority of these problems can be avoided by hiring your car from one of the household names. Reputable companies like this have too much to lose to risk playing games, and Saga customers can get a 10% discount at Hertz car rental, plus an extra driver added for free!

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!


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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.