Car hire companies stand accused of charging excess fees for repairs that may never be made, at prices that rental companies refuse to prove is accurate, a Which? Travel investigation has found.

The consumer watchdog collected photographic evidence of damage from 12 car hire customers who believed they had been overcharged in locations across Europe.

The photos were then presented to Which? ‘trusted trader’ garages who quoted to repair the same damage – providing results that showed clear evidence of overcharging.

Of the 36 quotes received from the garages, only eight were equal to or higher than the car rental company’s repair charge.

In eight out of the 12 cases investigated, all three garages quoted less than the car hire companies charged. And in four of these cases, the car hire company charged more than double the average cost supplied by mechanics.

Which? admitted it was not quite a like-for-like comparison because the repairs would have taken place in different European countries.

However, Renault and Peugeot told the organisation that prices for parts in the UK will be similar to those in other major markets, such as France, Spain and Italy.

With insurance excesses as high as €2,500, repair bills can end up costing more than a holiday.

Many major companies, including Avis Budget and Hertz, admitted they do not always carry out repairs that customer pay for.

Repairs are often made at a later date, allowing companies to fix multiple problems in one go.

In the Which? Travel survey, 59% of customers who had been charged for damage said they never received any supporting documents from their car hire company.

Following a rental in France last year, a customer was charged a £1,154 for a windscreen chip that could have been fixed for as little at £35.

Europcar issued a refund after the charge was queried, charging £90 instead. It said it was “sorry that the original charge for a full windscreen replacement was made in error”.

Trading Standards investigated Europcar UK last June after allegations that the company had been systematically overcharging customers for repairs.

Europcar said that it was “fully co-operating with the authorities”.

Which? Travel said it had been told by industry insiders that a drastic drop in profit margins has led some car hire companies to look for new ways to make money from their customers.

Upselling overpriced additional insurance is one way, and excessive repair bills for those who don not take out that insurance is another.

Rory Boland, the consumer group’s travel editor, told The Times: “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 the costs were calculated.”

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