This is an article about renting cars when travelling. Some people have asked us which company to choose to rent a car at any location. We have rented hundreds of cars in the last twenty years travelling around five continents. According to our experience, all car rental companies are same awful. The expensive ones are too expensive and the cheap ones use tricks to make their business profitable. Simple as that. With tricks, we mean extra costs very well hidden on the reservations, even in the contracts that costumers sign, or surprising charges in the moment of getting back the car and even later on as well.
In this article we will explain what the logic is behind those tricks, which bad practises (in our opinion and according to our own experience) companies do and some solutions not to get cheated (that much at least).
The logic behind a particular way of business
Once upon a time, there were just a few car rental companies. It was a business mainly focused on business trips and high-class tourism. When travelling became extremely democratic and affordable for the working class, especially during the nineties with the boom of the low-cost flights companies, part of the business shunted to be focused on the mass tourism. That situation brought more costumers but soon also more concurrency. Those clients were looking for cheaper prices and many new companies (small ones and not that small) broke in that market smelling the opportunity to fill the gap of the car renting for a budget. Those new companies try still today to reduce their costs to keep offering low fares to those clients, since they compete with prices not with quality service. That means hiring less people than needed (to attend at the office, to check the cars when they are got back…), they hire offices outside the airports where the client has to arrive by a van (sometimes difficult to find) and they abuse of some tricks to get some extra incomes at the moment of signing the contract or post-service when you have returned the car.
But why they do that?
Suddenly there were a lot of tourists and travellers who were looking for cars all over the world for many travelling purposes: adventure, a romantic weekend, a vacation on an island…). Then, some metasearch webpages appeared to offer services to those clients in order to let them compare among the different offers of the companies. Even those metasearch engines provide some filters and possibilities; obviously, the clear majority of the clients look for the cheapest option among all, on the dates and destination they have already decided. Moreover, car rental companies of course know this. Therefore, they compete among them to appear on the searches as the cheapest option to engage the client, even if that is not profitable for them.
Then… How do they make that profitable?
Elementary, my dear Watson, using some tricks and bad practices we have collected for you.
Tricks and bad practises
We won’t include as bad practises all the extra services or devices that companies can provide for an extra cost, when those extras are cleanly offered for our experience (as GPS devices or children seats, etc.) so the client is aware and free to accept. We only include those practises that the average of the clients have suffered and experimented as tricky, since they are not warned upfront or they are clearly hidden in the terms and conditions of the contracts.
Collect (curious) personal information
Have you ever noticed that when you arrive to the car rental office with a reservation, the first step is to answer some personal questions? Professional or leisure trip, where you go, to whom you join, if this is the first time in town or on the island…
Once I realized that the girl behind the desk was jotting down my answers to her gentle small questions, I decided to ask why she was doing that. She was too young to have had long labour experience. She hesitated and she answered that she was told to do that with every client. She didn’t care about my personal life, she just simply was told to do that. Then, why the company wanted that information? I asked one of my colleagues that had personal experience working on a car rental company and she told me that the official answer for that question was for statistics, but when there is a doubt about to charge something or not, to refund because of a claiming or not, they used that information since it’s not the same thing if you are from a company that ensure many rentals per year or you are a naïve couple on a romantic weekend where you might never be back.
|Tip: Give as less personal information as you can and never say you are there for leisure and it’s never your first time there.|
The always-needed full insurance (especially for them)
As we said before, probably they will ask if this is the first time with them in that location. You probably will answer yes and then you will open the door to a scary fairy tale about the road conditions or how dramatically dangerous is the local weather.
On Fuerteventura Island (Spain) an emotionally awkward German guy described to us the road conditions as if we were in the medieval period and on Iceland they even showed to us pictures about the weather disasters and tough accidents on the island, only to mention a couple of examples.
Normally, those descriptions are over-exaggerated. Anyhow, it’s up to you if you prefer a coverage with full insurance or not. Just let me say that, as we will write afterwards, those coverages are pricy and there is a much better solution in having an external full insurance than say yes to the offering of the car rental companies.
|Tip: Use a yearly Car Hire Excess Insurance with an external company for around 60 euros per year and forget about the full coverage insurances provided by car rental companies.|
The scratches’ game
I have almost 25 years of driving experience and I have never had an incident with my own car. Even though, the list of chargeable incidents after a short period with a rental car is long. I have asked some other travellers about their experiences on scratches with rented cars and it’s very similar to mine. Seems that rental cars are jinxed or have a special magnet for all kind of scratches and diseases, including those so microscopic that you never noticed.
Since I believe more in statistics than in jinxes I guessed something was wrong once in Bergamo Airport, after checking the car twice before delivering back the keys into a mail box at 4 a.m., one of the biggest international companies charged me 323 euros for a scratch I could have swear was not there. Since I had no proofs, I demanded them to send me a picture and they did. On the picture, it was an ugly deep seven centimetres long scratch next to the front light. I should have seen it, I thought, and demanded a picture where was visible the scratch and the registration plate of the vehicle. They never sent it, but they charged anyhow. Therefore, I went to the administration bureau for consumers to complain but there they let me know that car rental companies do not accept the arbitration of the administration (at least in Spain).
If all were crystal clear, why not to accept the administration mediation like all the other kinds of companies?
I got two conclusions: first, the contracts with the car rental companies are armoured and the states allow that even against the rights of the consumers; second, scratches are part of the business.
How many times you receive a car with scratches? Many, right? Why they don’t fix them if the scratcher paid for that?
I have been charged for so microscopic matters that I have properly earned my right of feeling free to think that, if rentals are so cheap, a percentage of the clients will pay to make the business profitable either with full coverage insurances either because of scratches. Try not to be you.
|Tip: Take always pictures when you get the car and when you return it and send them to the car rental company. Drive good and safe and have always updated a Car Hire Excess Insurance with a trustworthy company of your election.|
The (too) smart return policy
This is a very common trick about the fuel. Some companies hide very good in the moment of booking a special service they charge in the moment of signing the contract. They charge for the service of filling the tank so (they say) the client doesn’t need to worry about filling. They charge no matters what is the level of the tank at the end of the contract.
When you rent a car, you receive the tank with some fuel in (normally full) and you have to return on the same level you got it. Good, that is fair.
If a client (Client A) does not do that and return the tank empty, someone has to go to the petrol station and fill it for the next client (Client B). In that case, everybody can understand that the client pays for the cost of the fuel missed and for the time of whom is going to fill it, right?
Ok, some years ago was possible to charge Client A for getting back the tank at 50% either for the fuel missed and for the filling service, even if afterwards the company gave to the next Client B that same tank at the same 50% level.
Nevertheless, currently now they can try to charge even if you return the tank full. Of course, for a service you never demanded because it is unnecessary. Does not sound nice?
|Tip: Check always the field Fuel Policy on your booking and if that is not written there, ask the company about it. Return always the fuel at the same level you received it; besides the filling service they applied their own prices to petrol.|
The (unexpected) premium office
Since the low-cost flight companies broke in the market, many tourists arrived just for weekends or short trips even to secondary airports. That scenario brought possibilities to small companies to catch clients and set up new offices to rent cars. However, the small infrastructures of some airports were not ready to fit that crazy increase of the passengers. Therefore, there were not enough space for more offices or to rent them outside in industrial areas some kilometres far from the airport was really worth in terms of costs.
Yes, that was the moment where the annoying courtesy buses or pick up points arrived. The client started to play hide and seek with cryptic instructions to reach a meeting point or needed to call someone to be picked up after waiting a bit on a visible point outside the building in winter or while raining.
Otherwise, some companies, very proud of keeping a nice office inside the airport started recently to charge an extra for it. This extra is not included in your booking with a broker and is not always visible when you make your booking.
|Tip: Ask the broker or even better directly to the company before booking if any extra is going to be charged in the moment of signing the contract. Check always the contract before signing and make sure there is not any surprise there.|
The cleaning service
It’s very nice to receive a clean car. Everybody appreciates that. In addition, it is fair to get back the car at the same condition. Good. Some companies expressly warn that you have to do it. Then, check the terms and conditions of this cleaning service as an extra because most likely they will expect from you a professional cleaning inside or outside the car. If you haven’t done that they will charge four or five times a complete cleaning.
|Tip: Check always the terms and conditions of the contract and if needed make sure the car is properly cleaned.|
The non-demanded upgrade
Sometimes car rental companies run out of small cars since many clients want the cheapest option. Then, they usually try to convince you for an upgrade on your booking once you arrive to the office. They can use very creative reasons.
But this is not that bad. Worse is when they try to charge either you accept or not. If you keep on the terms and conditions of your reservation, they will give to you an upper category car since they don’t have any other solution. Sometimes they try to charge for the upgrade anyway adding the difference on the contract.
|Tip: Check on the contract the concepts. Make sure about how much is the caution they have to give back to you and what could be an unwanted extra service.|
In countries where the highways are charged via electronic systems, companies offer to include the tolls on the contract. In this case, the client can forget about paying the highway occasionally but he can be sure that has already paid it for the whole year or more.
|Tip: Check if you can exclude this option of your contract. Don’t add any optional option you didn’t want upfront in the moment of signing your contract. Stay on what you have already decided.|
Some companies charge for crossing borders, even inside the European Union. The client has to know that they cannot forbid any border crossing. They are actually charging because of the insurance coverage. Since all the vehicles need a third part coverage insurance mandatory to be driven, you can cross legally any border with your basic third part insurance if there are no specific requirements on the arrival country.
There are even companies that charge a concrete amount for every country you want to reach.
|Tip: Before booking, check if the country you will reach with your rented car has any immigration restrictions that include cars or if you need to bring any document or you must pay a tax. Check also with the company the terms and conditions of crossing borders, before booking.|
Fine management service (an extra fine)
Some companies include a mandatory service of fine management. When you drive a rented car, you can be fined. The company must identify you for the police and the police send to you the fine. In some countries, they charge the fine directly to the rental company and the company passes the cost on to the customer.
Some companies charge just for the action of identifying the driver. That is what they call fine management. In many countries since this pretend to be a service the companies are obligated by law to include odds for the client that make this a proper service like a claiming management for fines, etc.
|Tip: Drive good and safe and check before booking if the company has and charges for this service. If you have the bad luck of receiving a fine and you are charged for the service, ask which other services are included in this fine management service you have paid.|
If you rent a car often for your trips you need a strategy not to pay double than expected.
1- First step is to plan carefully which kind of car you need, when you need it and decide what kind of extras you want and how much it’s worth for you to pay for.
2- Once you have this decided and according to that use always a broker to compare the prices. There are many brokers you can easily find on Google: Carjet, RentalCars, Kayak, Skyscanner. We mentioned here some of them, since we don’t represent none of them we will be happy to include more if you ask us to do it.
You can check after searching on the broker’s webpage if the price is better or worse comparing with the webpage of the company. If you decide to book with the broker, you will have an external and independent reservation with terms and conditions that the car rental company must follow and keep.
3- In parallel, the best prevention from microscopic scratches and the high prices of the full insurance coverages provided by the rental car companies is to have a Car Hire Excess Insurance. These coverages cover the extra costs on a car rental contract caused by accidents of all kind. Those insurances are yearly cheap: around 60 euros per year. Many companies provide this kind of insurances like Questor, Icarhire, Worldwideinsure, AIG. We mentioned here some of them, since we don’t represent none of them we will be happy to include more if you ask us to do it.
4- Once you arrive to the office stay with your plan. Nobody will know better than you what you need and what is better for you. Don’t accept any extra or insurance coverage you didn’t plan to take before.
5- Check the car twice and take pictures of it from inside and outside. Let them know if there is anything missed on the damages sketch.
6- Do your part. Drive good and safe, don’t break the rules and treat the car good. This article is to prevent you from being cheated not to learn how to cheat.
7- Take more pictures about the car when you get it back and if possible check it with a worker of the car rental company.
If you miss any trick or you want to help with more solutions just let us know and we will be happy of including them on this article.