John Hearne reports on a welcome move by big car rental firms to ensure greater price transparency for European consumers
Renting a car while on holidays has long been a major source of grief for consumers.
Withheld deposits, charges for phantom damages and punitive fees for the tiniest of extras have threatened to ruin holidays for years. In 2016 alone, over 2,000 European consumers reported that they ended up paying more at the rental desk than was made clear when booking online.
Now, thanks to concerted action from EU consumer authorities and the European Commission, the five biggest car rental firms — Avis, Europcar, Enterprise, Hertz and Sixt — have committed to changing the way they present their prices in order to make them fully transparent to consumers.
Until now, the companies concerned had not fully implemented commitments given in order for the European Commission and EU consumer authorities to consider them fully compliant with EU consumer law.
An assessment published by the Commission at the end of last month says that Enterprise and Sixt have now made all the required changes. Avis has committed to make the remaining changes by May 2019. Europcar, which now includes Goldcar, will implement the remaining changes by June 2019. Hertz have committed to make all the necessary changes at the latest by the first quarter of 2020.
Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Vera Jourová, said:
The companies have made three commitments. First, to include all charges in the total booking price. Consumers will now be offered a headline price on the website that matches the final price they will have to pay. This fee must include all additional costs such as specific fuel service charges, airport fees, ‘young driver surcharges’, or the ‘one way fee’ if the return location differs from the pick-up location.
The rental companies will describe the key rental services in the terms and conditions in all national languages. Consumers will not have to deal with unclear or misleading information about the main characteristics of the rental such as mileage included, fuel policy, cancellation policy and deposit requirements.
Finally, the companies have committed to making clear, in the price offer, the price and details of optional extras, in particular insurance waivers that reduce the amount due in case of damage. What the basic rental price covers regarding damages should be clearly indicated. If additional insurance or a damage waiver is purchased, what is or is not included should also be clearly indicated before the consumer signs up.
The European Commission and national consumer authorities in the European Consumer Cooperation network will follow the implementation of the remaining changes closely.
Although the companies involved in this action cover two out of three of all private car rentals in the EU, other traders, such as intermediaries and smaller companies play an important role in this market.
The authorities and the European Commission will also monitor all players to ensure they fully respect EU consumer rules.
And if the companies don’t play ball? The commission says that in that case, enforcement measures would be taken.
While these changes are welcome, the buyer still needs to beware when it comes to car hire. Contracts are long and complicated; you’ll save yourself a lot of stress if you take the time to ensure that you understand all of the terms, and in particular that the deal you make is the one that best suits your itinerary.
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A couple of additional things to be aware of: It used to be a standard feature of car rental policies that you return the car with a full tank of fuel. Increasingly however, and in Spain in particular, we’re seeing ‘supplied full, return empty’ contracts. Double check your contract before you act.
Also, there are increasing reports of consumers steering away from these ‘full to empty’ contracts. For one thing, you’re paying up front for fuel that you may not use. For another, the cost of that fuel is always way higher than you could expect to pay at a motorway petrol station.
You’re going to save yourself quite a bit if you opt for a one-driver contract.
Car hire firms typically charge you €6 per day for an additional driver, though there is usually a flat fee charged just for the privilege of having this facility.
When you pick up the car, take the company rep on a tour of the bodywork, noting any marks and imperfections so that you won’t be blamed for pre-existing damage. In the same vein, the first holiday snaps you take should be date-stamped ones of the vehicle from all angles, just so you can prove it wasn’t you who dented the bumper when the car is returned. Better still, take a detailed video of the car, zooming in on all of its imperfections, giving both yourself and the rental company as complete a ‘before’ picture as it’s possible to get.
If you have to return the car out of hours when there’s no company rep to check it, again, the photo is your friend. Take enough snaps to prove that you delivered the car intact and as agreed should any dispute arise. While you’re at it, take a snap of the fuel gauge to prove that you filled up, if that’s part of the contract, and keep any receipts for petrol or diesel.
If you do run into problems with car hire in Europe, and you can’t get satisfaction from the hire company, get in touch with the European Consumer Centre at eccireland.ie, or call 01 8797620. They’re there to help make sure that European companies deliver on their consumer obligations.
Car Hire Tips:
- A staff member should check the condition of the car when you collect it. At this time all damage noted will be indicated on a special check-list or diagram, and you will receive a copy of this document. If a staff member is not available to inspect the rental car, it’s very important that you inspect it yourself. If any damage is present, make a written note of this and have it signed by an employee of the car rental company before you leave the premises.
- Always request information on the policies in place in the event of the car breaking down or you are involved in an accident. Understand what’s covered under the insurance policy, also what excess may be charged to your credit card in the event of a claim.
- If the car breaks down, call the car rental company and follow their instructions. Do not repair the vehicle yourself without authorisation.
- If you have an accident, write down the names and addresses of everyone involved. If anybody is injured, or when there is a dispute over who is responsible, call the police. Contact the car rental company immediately.
- Try to return the car during working hours and have it inspected by a competent employee. The condition of the vehicle should be confirmed in writing and signed by the representative of the company and the consumer.
- Remember that rental cars returned outside working hours are inspected for damage the following day and therefore the excess can still be charged to a consumer’s credit card.
>Courtesy ECC Ireland