CAR HIRE – Avoid unfair damage claims
By Peter Rosenfeld
I have recently been the victim of an unwelcome charge to my credit card a couple of weeks after arriving home for “damage” that I was unaware of after returning a hire car. This has led me to a bit of desktop research that I would like to share with you to provide an essential checklist to ensure you avoid car hire pitfalls:
- Excess Waiver Insurance – On arriving to pick up a hire car, a rental company will try to sell a range of extra products and services on top of the rental cost. The most expensive of these is excess waiver insurance which protects a hirer from having to pay the excess if the hire car is damaged or stolen, which can be as much as £2,500.
These excess fees have been steadily rising across Europe. Buying this from a specialist insurance company before you travel costs less than £2.99 a day or under £45 for an annual policy. If you wait until you arrive to pick up the car, and wish to avoid being exposed to excess charges, you will have no choice but to buy the rental company’s insurance, which costs ~£20 per day. A separate excess policy might also be required for tyre and windscreen damage. Purchasing both policies can add up to £150+ to a week’s rental.
If a consumer chooses not to buy the rental company’s excess waiver policies they will usually need to leave the excess amount either in cash, or more usually on a credit card. They will still need to do this if a customer has an independent car hire excess insurance policy.
- Check the Vehicle and Take Photos of Damage – To avoid unfair damage charges, car hirers should check vehicles thoroughly at pick-up and take photos of any existing damage on the vehicle. A recent survey found that a whopping one in five hire car drivers found damage on a hire car which was not highlighted on the checkout sheet.
There are various travel apps that takes date and time stamped photographs which can then be used as evidence in the event of a dispute or claim. These can all be filed under a specific journey name, and then broken down into before and after the rental period, making it simple to reference at a later date if necessary.
- Fourteen Day Rule – To contest a damage claim made by a rental company, the hirer should query it within fourteen days with the company. If a satisfactory outcome is not reached, complaints can be directed to the BVRLA in the UK, whose members are expected to adhere to its mandatory Codes of Conduct, or the European Car Rental Conciliation Service (ECRCS), which also offers a free service to help with unresolved complaints. The ECRCS’ member companies are bound by the decision reached by the conciliation service and include Avis, Alamo, Budget, Europcar, Hertz, National Car Rental, Sixt, Firefly and Enterprise. Unfortunately, there is no equivalent body in the US.
Also in Europe, the European Consumer Centres Network (ECC-Net) will advise consumers on their rights and assist with complaint handling.
- Use a Credit Card – Make it the main driver’s if possible. This protects the consumer under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, making the credit card company jointly and severally liable for any breach of contract or misrepresentation by the retailer or trader.