EU-wide clampdown as half of car rental websites broke rules

EU-wide clampdown as half of car rental websites broke rules

The investigation, by EU members plus Norway, found a host of issues on more than half of car rental websites. It is now up to national authorities to deal with the problems. Stock picture

Authorities across EU member states are to clamp down on websites brokering car rentals, as 55% of 78 sites were found to be in violation of EU law.

Under the coordination of the European Commission, authorities of ten EU members, together with Norway, checked 78 websites brokering car rentals, including airlines' websites, to check whether the major brokers operating in Europe comply with EU consumer protection rules.

Only 45% of the sites assessed met the standards, while the others were plagued with issues such as the company names not being clearly stated, or other vital information being absent.

The sweep involved a series of checks simultaneously carried out by national authorities on sites to uncover breaches of laws that are in place to protect customers.

The investigations operate in two steps: Websites are screened for violations, and then legal enforcement authorities in different countries pursue traders to ensure corrections are made.

The probe into car rental sites found that:

  • On almost a third of the websites, it was not clear if consumers needed to contact the broker or the rental company if they had a query or needed to make a complaint; 
  • In 28% of the websites, the broker’s company name wasn’t clearly visible and it was not clear to consumers what would be covered in their insurance; 
  • In 32%, it wasn’t clear that the company would be bound by rental terms and conditions.

The European commissioner for justice Didier Reynders said: “Many consumers will soon go on holidays and rent a car. Often, they do so on a hotel booking or airline websites. 

"Consumers need to be provided with information in full transparency about the conditions of the rental and the role of brokers.

"For example, consumers need to know which company they should contact if their flight is postponed. 

They also need to receive clear and complete information about the full price of the rental and insurance — to avoid bad surprises when picking up the car.

Other violations that were discovered included optional pre-paid services being pre-selected on 21% of the sites. 

Authorities also found issues in relation to price information, such as inadequate information on mandatory charges for young driver fees, and one-way fees.

National authorities from the countries involved in the sweep will now contact the traders who were found to be in violation of EU law and ask them to bring their websites in line with regulations. 

If the companies fail to do so, authorities will then initiate enforcement actions in line with their national procedures.

Last year, the European Commission conducted a sweep of online consumer reviews to detect misleading practices in 26 members as well as in Iceland and Norway.

Of the 223 sites that were screened in the operation, authorities found that 104 do not tell consumers how reviews are collected, 118 didn’t explain how fake reviews are prevented, and 176 didn’t mention that incentivised reviews are prohibited by their internal policies.

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