The first step to protecting yourself against the car hire scams is to download the Car Hire Shout app. It's completely free to use:
See how to use the Car Hire Shout and how it can help protect you the next time you rent a car.
We all love a good deal and when we're booking our hire car, it's no different. With many price comparison sites available to us, it's easy to enter our dates and pick the cheapest deal. However, not all deals are the same. You must check things like what insurance is included, fuel policy and whether unlimited mileage is included. It's worth taking a little time to check this and make sure the deal you're going to take is right for you. If you don't you may find yourself being charged per mile, get hit with extra insurance or a full tank of petrol.
Rental cars can be cheap. Rental cars can be found online for as low at £2 per day. In many cases this is where the rental car scam begins. With these "cheap deals" there's a sting in the tail. You're quotes a bargain price but when you arrive at the counter, you'll be sold many extras such as expensive insurance (which if you refuse you'll have to pay a hefty damage deposit), airport taxes and diesel taxes to name a few. By the time you've got the car, you'll very likely have racked up significant expenses you weren't told about when you booked.
Be aware that the great deal you booked, will likely have been booked by many others and possibly at the same time that you arrive. There's many complaints online of people being forced to wait hours in queue's to pick up their car. As a way to bag more profit and take advantage of you once you've arrived, there's usually an option to pay an extra fee and jump the queue. However, your cheap hire car deal won't be so cheap and from the moment you arrive could start looking like a bad deal.
This is where the battle begins, the agent will ask you if you have insurance. Insurance is perhaps the biggest rental car scams next to fabricating damage claims. If you take out your own excess insurance, you may find the rental car agent will try and tell you that it's not valid or tell you lots of scary things about how if you damage the car, you'll have to pay for it yourself and then claim from your excess insurance policy. They will then move on to pushing you to buy their very expensive insurance which if you don't take, you'll be forced to leave a hefty deposit (as much as £1,500 in some places). Depending on what you're comfortable with, you may just want to buy the expensive insurance policy and not have to worry about any damage that may be done to the car. Just be aware, you'll be paying well over the odds at the counter than if you were to take an excess policy out online before hand. If you're more price conscious, take out a rental car excess policy before you go. Check all the limits and terms before you buy and just be aware that if you damage the car, you'll have to pay the charges up front and then claim back from the policy. If you're told at the counter that the policy isn't valid, that likely isn't actually true.
If you don't take out an insurance policy with your rental car company, they'll ask you for a deposit. I've seen this anywhere from £300 to £1500. Some companies will block this amount on your card and only charge your card, if there's any damage to the car. Others will debit the account and actually take the money. When you return the car, without damage, they'll then refund. However, Goldcar have found a way to create a rental car scam from this, should-be simple transaction. They will debit your payment card in your home currency and return it in local currency. There will be a difference in that amount and they pocket the difference. Watch this video to see exactly how the scam works. If you're a victim of it, contact your card company as they will likely refund you the difference. The other scam some companies will try, is that they will tell you that the card has been refused and they can't take the deposit. In which case, they will force you to buy their expensive insurance policy. Either be prepared to call your bank and confirm that the transaction was blocked or have a second card ready. Make sure your credit limits or deposited funds are enough to cover the charge.
To confuse you even more, you'll likely be offered a choice for fuel use. Bring it back full, or bring it back empty. You'll be told that if you bring it back empty, you just buy a tank of fuel at a discounted rate and you can bring the car back empty. The problem with this is, you're not refunded anything for any fuel that you have remaining. Therefore, you may find yourself driving around on empty for the last day or two as you don't want to leave any fuel in the tank! You'll also generally have no idea how much fuel is if you're in a foreign country so the Car Hire Shout app will tell you. So download it here, it's FREE! In my experience, it's easier to pick up full and return full. Just make sure you do actually fill up or you'll be charged a service fee (I've seen this to be around £35) and an inflated price per litre.
Many renters complain online and suggest not signing an ePad for your rental as here lies another rental car scam. Some rental car companies have become so bold that even if you refuse their insurance and other such additional items, they will ignore you and include them anyway. By the time you sign the ePad where you can't see what you're signing for and often the amount, your card has then been charged for the non-refundable additional fees. Insist the contract is printed out on paper and you get a signed copy of it with a breakdown of costs. Should you need to fall back on this if there are any additional charges, you'll have a signed contract.
When you pick up the car, you'll be expected to look the car over yourself and mark off damage on a sheet of paper with x's. If there's damage on the car but it's not marked on the paper, there's a good chance you'll be charged for that damage on return whether you caused it or not. Make sure you take your time and carefully check the car and put an "x" on the paper for all damage, no matter how tiny. Take photos of the car, from all angles, the windscreen, the wheels and the top of the car. Take photos of the interior too so there can be no suggestion of damage on the inside. Use the Car Hire Shout app and upload those photos to verify the date and time, which you can show if there's any dispute when you return the car. It's free! Lastly, check the fuel gauge and make sure the fuel tank is full.
This is a problem that seems to be more in the US. Your rental car company seemingly force you to buy a digital box that will pay for the tolls as you pass through them but the rental car scam is in the form of an overly inflated "administration" fee for every day that you pass through the tolls. Unsure of the way to fight this so if you have any advice, please leave a comment below.
If the car is damaged in your possession and you have excess insurance from a third party, you'll need to make a claim. Firstly, take photos of the car, damage and include the registration number where possible. Secondly, make a police report. This can be more difficult in a foreign country but it will be needed for the claim. Keep your rental agreement, accident report, bills, charges and any other related paperwork. You'll need it for the claim. If your car may have been broken into and any personal items stolen (it happened to me once in Mallorca), you'll need to provide receipts for the items. Be aware, there will be limits on what you can claim from an insurance company for personal items.
Firstly, don't be late! If you return the car later than the time printed on the rental agreement, you'll likely be charged a full day and it won't be the day rate at the deal you got online but their published daily rate which most of the time is much higher than what you probably paid online. If there's claims of damage, use the photos (that you hopefully posted on the Car Hire Shout app) to dispute any unfair damage claims. If you disagree with the damage claim, do not sign anything as you'll likely have to fight it when you're home. If you're accused of damage, take photos of the damage and upload it to the Car Hire Shout app, so future renters won't be charged for the same damage. Take more photos of the car when you return it, just in case there are any damage claims once you've left the airport and get home. There are many cases that this happens and you can't fight your case so easily. Keep all your paperwork for 60 days as there are many stories of damage charges appearing on credit cards, after the car was dropped off and given a clean bill of health. Take a photo of the fuel gauge to show it's full and if you've got another phone on you, pull up a news website that shows the date and time.
This is the worst scam of all in my opinion. To see the full scale of how low some companies will go, such as RecordGo, watch this video. Some companies will charge you for fake damage, once you're home where it's harder to fight it. The worst car rental company for me, RecordGo, did this with my family, which is what actually prompted me to build Car Hire Shout.
Disputing rental care charges is a frustrating process. In my experience, most of the time, you won't get very far with the rental car company. If they've fraudulently charged you in the first place, common sense dictates they're not going to admit it and refund you. If you receive photos of apparent damage, firstly, look very closely at the photos and compare them. I have seen cases where supposed damage appears to be actually painted on in something like Photoshop or in my own case, it's clear that it was two entirely different cars. Some companies will have no shame in how they go about this scam so take a little time and look closely.
One last important point, where possibly never use a debit card to book and pay for your rental car. With a UK credit card you carry automatic protection when you make purchases of over £100, so if your rental car company makes a fraudulent charge on your credit card, you can contact your card company and dispute the charge. This is usually a reasonably simple process, where you'll have to send what paperwork and documentation to prove that the claim is fraudulent. Once the bank reviews this, they hopefully will reverse the charge and credit you. With a debit card it's not quite so easy as the cash is debited immediately. There is a debit card chargeback scheme in the UK that may help you recover funds so it's worth knowing your rights with this. You can find more information on disputing payments on both credit and debit cards here.
To make a complaint where you've been charged fraudulent or excessive charges, contact your credit card company or bank. With a credit card you can dispute the charge using Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 and with a debit card, ask about the chargeback scheme and see of there is anyway of recovering your money this way. If you rented from any of the car rental companies below in Europe, you can contact the The European Car Rental Conciliation Service (ECRCS). The ECRCS work to resolve disputes and the companies signed up agree to adhere to the decision:
Renting a car isn't the most pleasant experience for most of us and rental car scams are many. At almost every turn, there's a scam or some way of being ripped-off. Use the Car Hire Shout app to let others know of your experience and together we can clean up this industry.
It's completely free to use: