Car rental companies have come under fire for unclear terms and conditions, surprise fees and penalties.
Consumers face hundreds of pounds of additional charges as a result, according to an investigation by consumer group Which? Travel.
More than 40 car hire contracts from 18 providers, both in the UK and abroad, were probed with unnecessarily complicated documentation found to be common practice across the industry.
Which? highlighted “concerning” terms on deposits, late vehicle return and collection, refuelling and admin fees.
The findings are to be submitted to the Competitions and Markets Authority as part of a call for the industry to improve and act on these practices.
In a recent Which? survey, only 14% of consumers surveyed said they read through their rental contract in detail, which could result in holidaymakers agreeing to terms that could leave them facing steep unexpected bills.
The consumer body discovered a culture of rising deposits across the industry. Spanish company Goldcar has increased its deposit for a car in Malta from €1,200 in 2015 to €2,500, while in Spain, Del Paso demands a deposit of up to €5,000, the highest found.
Faced with such sky-high deposits, consumers are left with the option of either taking the providers’ costly cover – with some charging an excess waiver of up to €20 a day – or paying thousands that few can afford.
The investigation also found that even an unavoidable traffic jam could lead to costly fines – with several companies such as Avis, Budget, Europcar and Interrent penalising customers for returning a vehicle more than 29 minutes late.
Outside of this timeframe, Avis and Budget impose a £12 fee in the UK, plus a whole extra day’s hire.
On late collections, one instance was discovered where a couple who arrived at Europcar found that their pre-booked and pre-paid vehicle had been reallocated because they had not picked it up within an hour of the agreed start time. Not only were they have no refund, but they were offered a replacement at double the price.
Europcar was unable to comment on this specific example but told Which? that its policy for pre-paid cars is to keep them for two hours after the reserved time or until close of business – whichever is sooner, unless it has been given a flight number, in which case it will hold the vehicle until the flight has cleared.
On refuels, several companies were found to charge excessive fees for a vehicle returned without a full tank. Goldcar, for example, demanded €50 on top of the price of fuel, while Interrent charged €35. Solmar even imposes a €30 fine if users are unable produce a receipt from a petrol station 10km from the drop-off point.
Investigating car hire contracts, Which? also found:
· Goldcar contracts state it can retain a customer’s deposit for up to 30 days after the vehicle’s return, despite Visa telling Which? of merchant obligations to return it within just five days
· Caught speeding? Interrent – Europcar’s low-cost brand – imposes a £50 charge in the UK if it has to pass your details onto a third party, while Goldcar charges €40 in Spain.
· Forgot to print your confirmation? Solmar will charge you €24 for this simple mistake
· Which? learned that Interrent had charged €200 to repair a plastic wing mirror cover, before adding an additional €42 admin fee on top. Elsewhere, Goldcar demands a €150 additional damage fee for its Greek rentals
Rory Boland, Which? travel editor, said: “Few people have the time or inclination to read these lengthy, clunky contracts. Alarmingly, this could lead to consumers being slapped with steep, unexpected charges that can ruin a trip.
“The industry must act on these troubling findings and make its contracts as fair and as clear as possible. We would urge consumers to stick to our recommended providers and check out our top tips online to avoid being stung.”
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