'I was charged more than €900 for scuff marks on wheels'- Expats renting cars on trips home warn of 'insurance issues'
- Expats share 'frustrating' car rental experiences and issue warning to people planning on renting vehicles this Christmas
- Customer had taken out 'super cover' insurance but was later told this didn't cover damage to the rims of wheels
- Man charged €130 for damage to wheel despite providing photos showing damage was pre-existing
- Research carried out by insurance company says 40pc of holidaymakers have had negative car rental experiences
Irish people returning home for Christmas are being warned to take photographs of car rental vehicles and to read the terms and conditions of insurance cover.
Expats and tourists have spoken out about "frustrating" experiences when renting cars from airports here as thousands of people are expected to travel to Ireland over the festive period.
Some have told how they were charged for damage they claim was not caused by them and said they were left with no option but to pay as they had a flight to catch within hours.
Others took out 'full cover' insurance only to learn that full cover doesn't include damage to wheel rims.
Michael McBurney, a retired Aer Lingus pilot who now lives in Asia, rented an Opel from Avis at Dublin Airport last September. On returning the vehicle a week later he was charged for damage to one of the wheels, despite providing photos showing the damage was pre-existing.
"When I went outside I found the car was covered in dents and scuffs and scratches," Mr McBurney told Independent.ie.
"I took plenty of photos of all the panels, because I knew I could be blamed for any scratch, and there were dozens. I drove the car safely for a week and returned it two hours before my flight to Hong Kong. At the inspection a staff member walked around the car and told me I had damaged a tyre."
A supervisor who was working on the returns desk then came along and told Mr McBurney he would have to pay €130 for the scuff mark on the sidewall of the left front tyre.
"There was no explanation as to where that number came from, he hadn’t referred to any manual," he said.
"I then told him I had taken photos of all the wheels. He didn't seem interested. He told me to pay up and send the photos to their 'claims department' afterwards.
"Being in a hurry for my flight I had to just pay and leave - but not before I took more photos."
He examined his before and after photos when he returned to Hong Kong, which confirmed the damage was already there.
Mr McBurney sent the photographs to the Avis claims department and they agreed the damage "may not" have been done by him and granted a refund.
"From the photos you have provided, we are satisfied that this damage was not caused during the course of your rental," an Avis staff member said.
"Therefore we will be processing a credit in the amount of €130.01 to your MasterCard Account."
In a statement to Independent.ie, a spokesperson for the company said "we do not discuss individual cases with third parties. We have dealt with the complaint and have no further comment to make."
The retired pilot also warned customers to be wary about taking insurance with car rental companies as sometimes it is not as transparent as you are led to believe.
"Another thing car rental companies do is they lead you to believe your 'full insurance' bought on their websites means 'full'. It does not, and they'll try to get more money out of you when you arrive to pick up the car and they inform you that 'full' cover is actually another €20+ per day," he said.
Customers are regularly caught out by their insurance cover, research by company CarHireExcess.ie found.
A recent survey showed that 40pc of holidaymakers experienced excess charges at the car hire desk.
Along with being charged for damages they claimed they weren’t responsible for, they were being charged excessive and expensive rates to cover this excess.
John McDonagh, who lives in New York, returns home to Galway to visit his family at least three times a year and rents a vehicle each time.
In May, he was charged €969.41 by Hertz for scuff marks on tyres of an Audi he rented at Dublin Airport.
Mr McDonagh wasn't informed of this when returning the vehicle and only noticed the charge on his account when he returned to the United States.
He had also taken out "super cover" insurance with Hertz but was later informed that this insurance didn't cover fuel contamination, keys and/or damage to the rims of the wheels.
He said there was a significant lack of transparency as the invoice he received when returning the car at the airport was for €846.95.
However, there was also a section that said ".01 damage to vehicle".
He assumed this meant one cent, but it ended up costing him nearly €1,000.
"When you return your car to Dublin after you’ve just driven from the west of Ireland, you’re tired, you look at your invoice and I didn't see anything unusual. But I also didn't understand that .01 is code for damages to be assessed," Mr McDonagh told Independent.ie.
"I had full insurance on the car when I rented at Dublin Airport but apparently the insurance on the tyres and rims is separate. I find it strange that if you have the car insured and you crash the car your fine as long as you don’t scratch the rims."
The damage report from Hertz said "chunks taken out of tyres".
Mr McDonagh argued his case with Hertz and was later issued a full refund. He said he's normally "very satisfied" when renting a vehicle with Hertz and this was the first issue he had.
"Following a review of the case file, taking your comments into careful consideration and in an effort to seek an amicable resolution we have decided to no longer pursue the material damage claim in the sum of €969.41 as a gesture of goodwill," Hertz said in an email.
"We should point out this is in no way an acknowledgement of responsibility and solely in the interest of good customer service."
Independent.ie has contacted Hertz for comment.
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission said that since January it has received 177 contacts relating to car rental issues and 108 of these were from consumers who were looking for information about charges, payments and deposits.
"More specifically, we received 14 contacts in which individuals had encountered difficulties with what appeared to be pre-existing issues with their rental cars," a CCPC spokesperson said.
The Car Rental Council of Ireland, the representative trade organisation for the car rental industry in Ireland, urges tourists to inspect the vehicle carefully on collection by walking all the way round it looking for any signs of damage.
"Check the spare wheel and the tools. Make sure that any damage or missing accessories are notified to the rental company before you leave the rental compound. Allow plenty of time, particularly at busy rental sites, when checking the vehicle on return. Make sure that the vehicle is inspected by the rental company and that you both agree, note and sign for any damage on all copies of the damage report.
"The rental company expects you to take good care of their vehicle. You will be liable for damage to the vehicle arising from misuse, off road driving or other acts of negligence which are regarded as breach of contract. These charges will include loss of income arising from a vehicle not being available for renting. This also applies to the theft of or from the vehicle."
The rental companies emphasised that the customer has a responsibility to ensure the vehicles are returned in the same manner they were rented.
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