Car hire firms are charging customers more than double the going rate for repairs – and even overcharged one customer by almost £1,000, a Which? Travel investigation has found.
The consumer champion collected photographic evidence of damage from car hire customers across Europe who believed they had been overcharged.
The photos were then shown to three Which? Trusted Trader garages who were asked how much they would have charged for the repair.
In eight out of 12 of the cases that were investigated, all three garages quoted less than the car hire companies charged for the repair.
And in four of these cases, the car hire company charged more than double the average cost suggested by Which? Trusted Trader mechanics.
Of the 36 quotes received from the Which? Trusted Trader garages, only eight were equal to or higher than the rental firm’s charge.
In one case, Europcar billed a customer renting a car in France £1,154 for a small windscreen chip that could have been fixed for as little as £35.
At best Europcar applied a markup of more than 300%, and at worst the bill equated to more than 30 times the actual cost of repair.
Another driver was charged £854 for a minor door dent and bumper scratch after hiring a car from Green Motion at Stansted Airport.
But one of the experts Which? spoke to, said the damage could have been fixed for £186.
A separate survey of more than 150 readers who’d been charged for car hire damage pointed to unfairness around car hire repairs and widespread sharp practices.
More than four in 10 (44%) told Which? researchers that they had been hit with an excessive charge and almost two in 5 (18%) said they had been charged for damage they knew nothing about.
Nearly three in five (59%) customers who had been charged for damage said they had never received any evidence of how the charge was calculated from their car hire company.
Some drivers said they suspected car hire firms may have been charging multiple customers for the same minor damage to a vehicle.
Many major car hire firms – including Avis, Budget and Hertz – admitted to Which? that they often do not carry out repairs, even when customers pay for them.
Instead, they said they may delay repairs until a later date, allowing them to fix several problems at once, or simply leave the damage – taking a hit on the vehicle’s resale value.
The bill a customer receives may be purely theoretical. It’s based on what is known as a ‘damage matrix’ of charges – essentially an estimate.
Industry insiders have told Which? that a drastic drop in profit margins has led some car hire companies to look for new ways to make money from their customers.
Tactics include upselling overpriced insurance, excessive repair bills and topping up takings with an additional admin fee when repairs are needed (as much as £129 in these case studies) and a ‘loss-of-use’ charge (up to £42 per day).
The latter seems particularly unfair in cases where the repairs were not made and the car remained in service. Worse still, additional charges are not always covered by excess reimbursement insurance, so there is no way to claim them back.
Rory Boland, Which? Travel editor, said:
“It’s outrageous that car hire customers are being made to pay extortionate amounts for repairs that never take place. If repairs are required, customers should be sent clear evidence of how costs were calculated.”
“Car hire firms now need to clean up their act and be upfront about the real cost of renting a car instead of offering too-good-to-be-true prices, then clawing back profits via ridiculous repair bills.”
Notes to Editors:
- Which Travel_Car Hire Investigation table (3)
- See more photos of the damage supplied here: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2018/03/customers-being-charged-double-for-car-hire-repairs/
- In September 2017, Which? Travel researchers surveyed 153 Which? members who had been charged for damage to a hire car to share their experiences.
- Case studies were collected from Which? members who could supply documentation and evidence of damage incurred to a hire car in the previous 12 months. Examples of damage with the clearest photographic evidence were sent to three Which? Trusted trader garages in the UK, and were asked how much they would charge to put that damage right, either through repairs or replacement parts. Their quotes included parts, labour and VAT. The experts were not told how much the car hire companies had charged.
- Mechanics in different countries will charge differing amounts, but car firms Renault and Peugeot both said that prices for parts in the UK “will be similar to those in other major markets, such as France, Italy and Spain”.
- Which? is sharing its findings with the Competition and Markets Authority and urging the regulator to investigate the car hire firms that are repeatedly overcharging customers and why customers are still not receiving clear evidence of how costs are calculated.
- In June 2017, Trading Standards investigated Europcar UK after allegations that the company had been systematically overcharging customers for repairs, raking in profits via secret agreements with its suppliers. That investigation, now in the hands of the Serious Fraud Office, could well end up costing the company around £30m.
- Hertz said that the ‘damage matrix’ measure is accepted throughout the industry as a reasonable estimation of the loss incurred to the vehicle’s value as a result of the ‘damage’.
- 5 of the eight overcharged case studies received a full or partial refund. Europcar refunded the customer who was charged over £1000 for a small windscreen chip, when he queried the bill, charging him £90 instead. It said it was “sorry that the original charge for a full windscreen replacement was made in error”.
- If you’re charged for any disputed damage, complain to the car hire company within 14 days. If the dispute isn’t resolved, make a claim against your excess insurance or your credit card under Section 75 (see which.co.uk/s75).
- Disputed damage on UK rentals should be referred to the BVRLA, and EU rentals to the European Car Rental Conciliation Service – find out more at which.co.uk/carhirecomplaint.
Press Release: Car hire