How to avoid holiday car hire scams | 31.07.2017

The number of Brits complaining about being scammed by holiday car hire firms has risen by more than a third over the past year, with Spain, Italy, Iceland and Malta said to be the worst offenders. With this in mind, and seeing as holiday season is now in full swing, we thought it useful to give some practical advice on how to protect yourself when hiring a vehicle abroad this summer.

A picture paints a thousand words

Many Brits have claimed that they’ve received bills for damage to hire vehicles weeks or even months after returning from their holidays. Many of these are accompanied by photos of the damage. However, these photos could easily have been taken after the vehicle was returned. Therefore, when you pick up your rental vehicle, make sure you take photos of its condition before you leave the rental firm’s car park.

Likewise, when you return it, take more photos to show the vehicle’s condition when you left it with the rental firm. It’ll be even better if you could timestamp the photos to show the vehicle condition on a specific date. That way, if a nasty bill does make its way through your letterbox, you’ll be armed with photographic evidence that any damage wasn’t caused by you.

Get it in writing

Similar to photographing the vehicle’s condition, if, when you return your hire car, there is someone present in the rent company’s office, get them to give the vehicle a once over and sign it off as returned in good condition. Then keep hold of that paperwork in case, once again, you get an unwelcome bill in the post.

If you pick up the vehicle and see some damage before you even leave the car park, get the rental office to note down on your paperwork that the damage already existed before you hired the vehicle. Take photos of the damage on your phone and also get pictures of the rental paperwork saying the damage wasn’t your fault, in case the original copy goes missing. You must do all this before you drive away – otherwise, don’t be afraid to ask for another, undamaged, vehicle.

Be aware of your fuel

Many car hire firms operate a Fuel to Empty policy, which basically means that you pay for a full tank of fuel before your even leave the rental company’s car park, and then can return the car with an empty tank. Sound like a good deal? Unfortunately, many firms will charge an inflated price for the full tank. Furthermore, if you don’t end up driving much, or you’re on a small island like Malta, you may not end up using an entire tank. Some companies will refund you the unused fuel, but this can come with a hefty service charge attached. Ideally you should look for firms that allow you to return the vehicle with the same amount of fuel it had when you collected it.

Keep an eye out for hidden charges

We all love a bit of smallprint, right? If there’s a good time to read the smallprint, it’s when you’re hiring a holiday car. If you’ve been driving under a certain amount of years, to an admin fee for any theft and damage, or a surcharge for a second driver, there’s lots of ways a company may try to levy extra charges on your car rental. Similarly, insurance usually comes as standard with any hire vehicle, but can incur hefty excess charges if you’re not careful. It’s worth checking out the extras you may be charged when looking for your dream holiday hire firm. Oh, and never buy at the desks in airports, always do your research beforehand and book a firm online before you fly out. That doesn’t just save you a whole heap of money in rental fees, it also helps ensure you’re front of the queue when getting your vehicle in peak times. Otherwise you may be left with little choice but to take an unsuitable vehicle that’s hideously overpriced.

When travelling with young children, it may also be tempting to hire child seats along with your rental vehicle. Sames goes for a sat-nav. But many airlines will let you take luggage such as prams and child seats on-board with little to no extra charge, and certainly less than what a holiday hire firm will charge you. Before you leave, check with your airline on what you can and cannot take with you, and pack your sat-nav…or use a map.

Any good holiday requires a bit of prior preparation, and the same goes for your holiday car rental. To save yourselves a headache whilst you’re out there, or even months afterwards, make sure you research rental firms thoroughly before you leave, make sure you’ve got your paperwork in order and always take photos of your vehicle’s condition. Otherwise your dream holiday may very well turn into a driving nightmare.