SMART CONSUMER: Taking the hassle out of hiring your holiday car
If you're planning your holidays the last thing you need to be worrying about is renting a car. It isn't always as straightforward as you might think so follow some basic rules to ensure you don't get stuck.
From hidden charges to being slapped with a hefty bill for damage you say you didn't cause, there are a several things you need to look out for.
Before renting the car
* Are you booking directly from a car-rental company or via an online agent? If the latter, then remember they are only liable to return the administration fee you paid them if something goes wrong.
Your contract is with the car-rental company so you'll have to complain to them directly if something goes wrong.
* When looking for the best bargain, bear in mind that very often prices quoted online contain only the basics. Always check the price of extras that you may need during your rental: child seat, additional driver, extra insurance, collision damage waiver, excess waiver etc.
* If you are picking up at the airport there is usually a compulsory charge for that but some rental companies don't include it in the initial quote so double-check that too.
* Pay special attention to the fuel policy and make sure it is explained to you clearly before you confirm the booking. You don't want a deal where you are collecting with a full tank and returning with an empty one as you'll be charged at inflated prices for the fuel.
Instead ask to return the car full, that way you can get the best deal yourself at the pumps.
* Make sure you are familiar with the cancellation policy, just in case.
* If you plan on crossing a border make sure your insurance will cover you for the second country.
Collecting the car
* Make sure it is what you ordered. If the car you ordered is not available and they try to get you to pay extra, say no as you shouldn't have to pay more. If that's not possible, pay it but under duress and complain in writing on your return.
* Make sure you understand what is covered by your insurance and what is left out. It is also very important to know the excess amount that could be charged to your credit card in case of an accident. You can buy insurance to cover an excess waiver if you want.
* A staff member should check the condition of the car at the time of pick-up and mark all damages to the exterior and the interior on a diagram.
If you are not provided with a special check-list or diagram, make sure that you note any damages in writing and have it signed by an employee of the car rental company.
During the rental
* If the car breaks down, call the car-rental company and follow their instructions. Do not get the vehicle repaired yourself without prior authorisation, as if it is against the company's rules you may not be refunded.
* In case of an accident, you should always note down the names and addresses of everyone involved.
If anybody is injured, or when there is a dispute over who is responsible, you should notify the police. Contact the car rental company immediately.
* In the case of an accident or damage it is common practice for the excess to be charged to your card. However, this should be returned to you later if the accident or damage was not your fault.
Returning the car
* Try to ensure you return the car during the working hours of the car-rental company and make sure you have it inspected by an employee. The condition of the vehicle should be confirmed in writing and signed by the representative of the company and the driver.
* If you are returning the car outside the working hours of the car-hire company, you should park it in the designated area. You can take pictures of the vehicle as confirmation that it was returned in good condition.
* Remember that if the car isn't checked on return or you've no proof that you didn't damage it, you won't be in a good position if you are later charged for alleged damage. Nonetheless, fight it all the way if you have to.