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Posted by Joseph Clement on 6 May, 2018

I have decided to write about car rental services to help you understand the potential problems, and issues, that can arise when renting a vehicle. With so many things to consider, including insurance, getting the best value for money and making sure you perform all the necessary checks before pulling away in your hire car, it’s easy to make bad choices.

There are a lot of people out there who have grievances with car hire companies. Some of the main issues include unexpected charges when collecting, or returning, a vehicle, pushy salespeople and long wait times when collecting a car. However, one of the main gripes that people have is the cost of that cheeky additional insurance option to waive the excess fee that is payable if you damage a car that you have rented. A lot of people think that type of insurance should be included in the cost of the rental, but unfortunately, most car hire companies wouldn’t agree. Additional charges for things like child seats, additional drivers and fuel are how they make their money and I doubt that’s about to change any time soon.

Car hire companies are competing with each other for the top spot on comparison websites and this means keeping the base price of their car rental services low. Cheaper prices attract customers and the way the car hire companies make up for those cheap prices is through additional charges.

The good old days when a customer would simply present their document, sign for the car and drive away are well and truly over. Nowadays you had better prepare yourself for a high-pressure encounter with a salesperson who is eager to secure a tasty commission in exchange for you signing up to one, or more, additional services that, of course, carry an additional charge.

I remember a time when my girlfriend and I arranged to rent a small car for one day and ended up paying approximately £60 in additional charges for a collision damage waiver (CDW). For those of you who don’t know, a CDW basically means that the car rental company waives its right to claim compensation from a customer if they damage a rental vehicle. However, you’re still likely to end up paying some kind of excess. Also, every agreement is different so make sure you read the terms in full so that you fully understand what you are paying for.

I wasn’t very keen on taking the CDW as it felt like extra charges were being added on at the last minute, which I didn’t like, but my girlfriend deployed more of a “better safe than sorry” attitude towards it, and I can’t blame her for that. I’m sure there are a lot of you out there who have thought the same thing as her and ended up taking the CDW for peace of mind, which is exactly what we ended up doing.

If you decide not to take the extra cover mentioned then you can expect the car hire firm to ask for a deposit on your credit card in case you damage the vehicle. This deposit normally ranges from £200 – £1000 depending on the company you use. Most of the time the deposit will be ring-fenced which means the money is held on your credit card so you cannot access it. However, some firm’s will take the money and then return it upon the safe return of their vehicle.

My opinion is that many economy car rental companies are praying on the fear that customers have of renting a car, crashing it and subsequently paying the rental company hundreds, maybe even thousands of pounds in damage costs. I think that if you have a fleet of rental cars then you should have comprehensive insurance for that fleet which covers your customers. I would prefer that a rental company provide a quote that includes everything I need to drive away with peace of mind, rather than making me pay for the booking and at the point of collection saying “you can drive away without paying me additional charges, but if you do you could end up paying me thousands…do you want to take that risk?”. Some of you will say “If you don’t want to pay the additional charge, then don’t pay it.” but then I am left at risk of paying well above the £30 or so that I paid for the car rental booking.

To summarise, I would be happier to receive a higher quote in the first place that includes fully comprehensive insurance, rather than being drawn in by a price that seems like it offers value for money and later being hard sold comprehensive insurance and all the other optional extras the salesperson ‘recommends’ I take.

I actually feel there is an opportunity in the budget car hire market for an ‘honest’ car rental agency. What I’m talking about is an auto hire company that wants their customers to feel confident in the fact that ‘the price you see is the price you pay’ and that any extras the customer may want to be included are confirmed before the day of collection. This hypothetical company may cost a bit more in comparison to their competitors and they might miss out on the extra revenue generated by pushy sales staff from the sale of extra services, but I think they would make up for that with the number of people who would jump on the chance to use this ‘hassle-free’ service. In a nutshell, this company would be the ‘We Buy Any Car’ of the car rental world.

That said, I’ve not used every car rental company that exists. Maybe there is already a company out there that offers higher levels of transparency and I just haven’t come across it yet. I have formed an opinion from my own experiences and stories that friends and family have told me. Maybe you have rented cars from some amazing firm’s? If so, please share your story in the comment section at the bottom of the page.

Anyway, another ‘extra’ that my girlfriend and I paid for was the full-to-empty fuel policy that gives you a full tank of fuel if you pay in advance. There are a couple of things to consider when looking at this option. The first thing is the cost of the fuel, which in many cases ends up being much more expensive than the price you would pay at the pump. However, the company we used actually offered very competitive pricing that was close to what we would have paid at a petrol station. Secondly, if you are not sure whether you will actually use a full tank of fuel it may not be worth it. My partner and I were travelling from London to South Yorkshire and back so we knew that we would end up using a full tank, therefore, it made perfect sense. But, if you are highly unlikely to use a full tank you may want to look at a full-to-full fuel option that would only require you to top the car back up to full before you return it.

The last thing I want to talk about is the collection process. When picking up your rental car you will have a chance to check the vehicle for any damage. My advice is that you take a good amount of time to check everything thoroughly, including the windscreen, bodywork, bumpers, wing mirrors and wheels. Take pictures of the car from all four sides and make sure the car hire representative you are with makes a note of any scratches, damage or discrepancies you notice. And obviously, if you find that the vehicle isn’t in full working order (e.g. the brakes don’t work properly or the clutch is burnt out) or you experience technical issues, you should notify the car rental company immediately.

Hopefully, you will come away from reading this with a better understanding of the potential pitfalls, issues and problems you may encounter when renting a car. I want to close by saying that you should always book as early as possible and shop around to make sure you are getting the best deal.

If you have a story to tell about car rental services you have used, please tell me about it in the comment section below. Whether it is a positive story or a negative story, I want to hear from you.