A Traveller’s Guide to Beating Rental Cars Ripoffs
21 June 2014
Renting a car seems a simple enough thing to do, but it can be fraught with ‘gotchas’, insurance exclusions, hard-to-read contracts and more. Excess woes
Insurance excess is a common source of frustration among car rental customers. Major car rental companies routinely fail to tell drivers that a hefty excess applies until they pick up the keys. They then sell “excess reduction” schemes that can be as much as forty dollars per day.
Consumer advocate Choice recommended that drivers bypass the car rental company’s excess reduction scheme, and instead take out a domestic travel insurance policy which covers car rental excess. Some premium credit cards cover car rental excess automatically. Check you do not have to purchase it before you pay for the car, however.
Even with insurance, insurers typically do not pay for damage to rental car tyres, windscreens, under-carriages and roof, the places most likely to need insuring. It can pay to handle the car a little more gently than usual.
In rural areas, drivers may need to take even more care. Rental cars are typically not insured on unsealed roads, in bushfires or flood, or for animal damage, all situations with a higher chance of happening in the country.
A common ‘gotcha’ when renting a car is a location premium charged by airport car rental desks. It can be as much as 23%. Choice found that a location premium was even charged to a Tasmanian couple on top of the excess they paid for a minor accident.
Other gotchas can include a daily per-person charge for extra passengers, even though it costs the rental company nothing, and a fee for over-the-counter bookings.
To spy out hidden fees, Choice recommended a dummy run through the booking system before paying.
When renting abroad, it pays to be alert to unconscionably high charges. One driver reported getting a charge of Euro 368 to fill a returned fuel tank already three-quarters full! In the United States particularly, municipal authorities are turning to taxes on car renters as an income-raiser. Check what taxes may apply to your contract.
A good way to avoid outrageously high European fees, even when you’re in Europe, is to book online via a US or Australian version of the rental car company’s website.
To avoid paying for someone else’s damage to the vehicle, Choice’s advice is:
Inspect the vehicle thoroughly before you set off, and
Take time-stamped ‘before and after’ photos of the car.
To be even surer, get the sales assistant in the photo, and get them to sign off on the inspection!