Car hire companies are taking consumers for a ride

Following an investigation Which? has discovered that some car hire companies are not being upfront about all the fees charged to drivers.

Our undercover investigation has revealed many of the top car hire companies are failing to disclose additional costs until after the booking has been confirmed, making shopping for the best deal almost impossible.

We investigated 10 of the major car hire and broker websites for a week long car rental inSpainand tried to establish the full costs, including for insurance and fuel, as well as optional extras like additional drivers.

We found that, even at the end of the online booking process, more than half (53%) of our researchers were not satisfied they knew the total car hire price.

The investigation also revealed:

  • Three quarters (75%) of those who had to pay a compulsory charge for a full tank of fuel didn’t know how much they’d need to pay when they picked up the car;
  • One in five (22%) didn’t know the amount of excess and 44% didn’t know the cost of the optional excess waiver to reduce the amount you’d have to pay if the car was damaged. This is crucial as such payments can add more than £100 to the cost of a week’s rental.
  • More than half (54%) didn’t know if the excess waiver covered them for damage to tyres, the windscreen or underneath the vehicle, with car hire companies faring worse on this than brokers (87% compared to 22%);
  • and some researchers were left in the dark as to how much they’d pay for optional extras like satnavs (28%) or an additional driver (28%).

Which? wants all car hire fees to be made clear to consumers upfront and before they make a booking. It is a principle of European andUKlaw that essential information, such as compulsory and other significant charges, must be clearly stated at the point of purchase.

Many of the smaller companies came out on top of our new customer satisfaction survey of car hire firms with Auto Reisen, based in theCanary Islands, trouncing big household name companies topping the table with a customer score of 89%. It scored top marks for the clarity of its terms and conditions and information on extra charges and insurance. Goldcar was bottom of our table with a customer score of 42%.

Economy Car Hire topped the broker table of ratings with 78%, with Argus Car Hire at the bottom scoring 52%.

We will be sharing details of our investigation and satisfaction survey with the car hire companies to encourage them to make improvements. We have also written to three companies (Avis, Dollar andEnterprise) to remind them of their legal obligations.

Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said:

 “The car hire industry is taking customers for a ride by hitting them with sneaky charges not included in the headline price.

“Not being upfront about the total cost makes it almost impossible to shop around for the best deal and leaves people on tight budgets paying more than they planned. Car hire companies must be more transparent and upfront about their fees so people can make an informed choice.”

Which? is calling for all car hire companies and brokers to clearly show all the fees and extra charges on their websites during the booking process including:

i)                   The amount of excess;

ii)                The cost of the excess waiver and what it covers;

iii)              The cost of compulsory fuel and the company’s fuel policy;

iv)              The cost of all the optional extras like satnavs and additional drivers.

Which? recommends you using a different company or calling before you book if you are not able to find details of all the costs.

Notes for editors:

1. In February 2013, we tested the clarity of 10 car hire websites most used by Which? members. Our researchers made a total of 120 visits – 12 to each website. They visited five car hire websites (Alamo, Avis,Enterprise, Europcar and Hertz) and five broker sites (Argus Car Hire, Auto Europe, Carhire3000, Economy Car Hire and Holiday Autos).

The proportion of Which? researchers who didn’t know what they’d pay after going through the booking process:









Excess waiver fee




Infant seat




Extra driver








Fuel costb




a Researchers who didn’t know, or were told they would pay when they arrived

b Researchers who were given the full/empty fuel policy with a compulsory charge

c Sample size too small

The proportion who didn’t know the excess waiver or fuel policies:





Excess waiver coverage




Fuel policy




2. Given the results of our investigation, we also reviewed the clarity of information provided during the booking process on the websites of all the car hire companies that featured in our customer satisfaction survey. This research focused on the disclosure of compulsory fees, the excess payable and the cost of purchasing additional insurance.

3. For our customer satisfaction survey, we asked 3,202 Which? members online in January 2013 about car hire. The customer score is based on a combination of overall satisfaction and the likelihood to recommend to a friend. Full tables available here.

4. For top tips on booking a car visit the Which? consumer rights website.

5. UK residents hiring cars and vans in the UK and abroad is currently worth around £2.6bn, estimated to rise to around £3bn in three years’ time.


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