Fines for rental car 'damage' trigger raft of complaints to EU watchdog
Rental car companies have been accused of imposing supplementary charges on consumers for alleged damage to vehicles.
High charges are levied on consumers weeks or months after the car has been returned, making it difficult for people to dispute the extra costs.
Disputes around car hire charges are the second-biggest issue the European Consumer Centre (ECC) in Dublin has to deal with every year, it said in its annual report.
The difficulty in proving there was no damage is compounded by the fact that rental companies often do not provide a check-out report confirming the vehicle was returned in good condition.
The charges can be very high.
"This is an area where consumers face significant financial detriment given the frequently large sums of money involved," the annual report of the ECC said.
The ECC offers free advice and helps consumers to resolve cross-border disputes.
It is co-financed by the European Commission and the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.
A total of 78 car rental disputes were dealt with by the ECC in Dublin last year, with most of these relating to tourists renting cars here.
But the ECC officials also pursued 19 car hire cases on behalf of Irish consumers.
Hard-selling techniques used by car rental firms to get people to take out insurance have also been complained about.
Booking problems are another issue that lead to disputes, with consumers confused and unsure what to do when they use a car-rental booking agent.
This is because they end up with two sets of terms and conditions, which leaves them unable to work out who is responsible for resolving a dispute.
Some 4,337 contacts were received from consumers by the ECC in Dublin.
Most related to air passenger rights.
This category holds the top spot year after year.
Paul Redmond, chief executive of the Car Rental Council of Ireland, said there were 720,000 car-rental agreements concluded at the three main airports in 2016. Given that, the number of cases referred to the ECC is very small.
"With respect to repair charges, we expect member companies to provide consumers with full details of all charges and photographic evidence. This is normally done by providing a customer with an insurance-approved methodology for calculating repair costs."
Many of the complaints related to international agents and brokers selling car-rental services, Mr Redmond added.