Car hire repair charges inflated in two thirds of cases, Which? finds
Two thirds of hire car customers billed for repairs are being overcharged, a Which? investigation has found.
Repair bills are typically three times larger than the actual cost of the repair, the consumer watchdog established in the study which looked at cases relating to multiple car firms across European countries.
In extreme cases charges were as high as 30 times the true cost of the repair, it found.
It comes after a recent Daily Telegraph investigation revealed that Europcar UK was grossly inflating the cost of repair work for customers by up to 300pc through secret deals with repair firms, which lawyers described as "fraudulent".
It is understood that an official investigation of the firm was passed from Trading Standards to the Serious Fraud office last year due to its huge scale.
Which?'s findings raise questions over whether such rebate systems may be in place to boost profits at customers' expense in other car firms across the world.
In eight out of 12 cases Which? investigated, independent garages asked for a quote for the same work said they would charge less than the car hire companies for the repair.
In four of these cases, the car hire company charged more than double the average cost suggested by Which? Trusted Trader mechanics.
Of the 36 quotes received from the Which? Trusted Trader garages, only eight were equal to or higher than the rental firm’s charge.
In one case, Europcar billed a customer renting a car in France £1,154/€1,293 for a small windscreen chip that could have been fixed for as little as £35/€39.
Europcar said the charge was a mistake and has now refunded the customer.
In addition, some drivers said they suspected car hire firms may have been charging multiple customers for the same minor damage to a vehicle.
Many major car hire firms - including Avis, Budget and Hertz - admitted to Which? that they often do not carry out repairs, even when customers pay for them.
Instead, they said they may delay repairs until a later date, allowing them to fix several problems at once, or simply leave the damage - taking a hit on the vehicle’s resale value.
The bill a customer receives may be purely theoretical. It’s based on what is known as a "damage matrix" of charges – essentially an estimate.
Rory Boland, Which? travel editor, said: “It's outrageous that car hire customers are being made to pay extortionate amounts for repairs that never take place. If repairs are required, customers should be sent clear evidence of how costs were calculated.
"Car hire firms now need to clean up their act and be upfront about the real cost of renting a car instead of offering too-good-to-be-true prices, then clawing back profits via ridiculous repair bills."
A spokesman for Europcar said: "Europcar takes the allegations very seriously and is conducting a thorough internal investigation. The company is co-operating fully with Trading Standards in its investigations."