7 Car Hire Scams and Rip Offs to Avoid

Renting a car for your next holiday can sometimes get complicated, as there are some sneaky car hire scams out there that can catch you out if you’re not prepared.

Here’s our guide to help you spot the red flags and avoid getting ripped off.

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How To Avoid Car Hire Scams and Rip Offs

Before we cover the list of potential car hire scams and rip offs, we do want to remind you of the most important thing you should do when booking any car hire.

Take your time and read the terms and conditions.

Many of the upcoming scams are lying in plain sight, with rental companies hoping that customers won’t read the fine print – so don’t let that be you!

Right, now let’s get into what you should be keeping your beady eyes out for.

The Damaged Car Hire Scam

This is one of the biggest car hire scams that people run into when renting cars. Some companies may overcharge for a tiny scratch or bill for pre-existing damage that you didn’t cause. Companies sometimes don’t even repair the damage but still charge customers. With so many rentals, staff might miss pre-existing scratches or dents, leading to unfair charges.

To protect yourself from car hire scams like this one, thoroughly check the car, take photos and videos, and make sure all damage is noted in the rental agreement before driving away. This way, you have proof if there’s a dispute when you return the car.

Late Pick Up Car Hire Charge

This is less of a car hire scam but more of a reminder that some car hire companies will charge you a fee for just about anything! For example, if your flight is delayed just enough to push past the rental company’s operating hours, you might end up slapped with an out-of-hours fee.

Even if your flight delay is still within opening hours, you could find your reserved car given to another customer by the time you reach the rental desk, leaving you with the choice of upgrading to a more expensive car or paying the walk-up rate. Rental companies often have a policy of giving away your car if you’re more than 59 minutes late, and lately, some are using flight delays to cash in on extra charges.

Jet2 Plane on Tarmac at Airport

To avoid these surprises, make sure to include your flight details and pick-up time when you book, so the staff can anticipate delays. It’s also a good idea to directly inform the rental company if you know you’ll be arriving late.

The Car Hire Excess Insurance Rip Off

Car hire companies may suggest you buy extra travel insurance from them – often at a premium. However, it’s worth noting that in Europe, car hire always includes basic insurance. This cover includes damage, theft and third-party liability.

But this basic insurance often comes with a high excess fee, sometimes up to £2500, which you’ll need to leave as a deposit. That, and if something goes wrong, you’ll be charged the cost for repairs up to that massive fee! Rental companies often use these high excess amounts to encourage you to buy additional insurance from them.

However, don’t fall into this trap. While in Europe there’s no legal requirement to buy extra insurance, you can get your own excess insurance from a third party instead. Just make sure to check that your car hire company accepts this.

Never have to pay for that expensive insurance offered by the car rental companies again!

The Hidden Fuel Fee

Rental companies have several different policies on fuel and so make sure you check which one you’ve booked, and the potential hidden fees that come with it.

Pay for a full tank up front

For us, this is the fuel policy with the biggest red flag as it’s when a rental company makes you pay for a full tank of fuel upfront and then ask you to return the car empty.

Some may overcharge for the fuel in the first place, and since it’s almost impossible to bring the car back completely empty, you end up paying for fuel you didn’t use and won’t get refunded for either.

Same to same

Our second least favourite policy is ‘same to same’ when you have to return the fuel at the same level it was when you picked the car up. Whilst it’s not a scam, it can just be harder to get the right amount back in the car without overspending! That, and if you’re under the amount, you could get hit with a refuelling fee which often comes with an admin fee too.

The other big flag on this one is to check that the amount of fuel on the dashboard aligns with the amount on the paperwork – we’ve seen these not be the same in the past!

Full to full

This is the fuel policy we try to opt for because not only are you starting with a full tank, making it quicker to get on your merry way, but it’s much easier to fill the car back up to full on your return.

Of course, if you return it less than full you could also be hit with a charge, but the fuel gauge on most cars does appear ‘full’ for a few miles allowing you time to fill up before you pick up, and drop the car off.

Our top tip is to check that nearby petrol stations will be still open when you’re due to drop off – as you could get caught out if ending your rental late at night or early in the morning.

Light grey Citroen C4 Cactus car hire scams

The Car Hire Extras Rip off

Some car rental companies charge excessively for extras like sat nav, car seats and additional drivers.

To avoid these charges, use free GPS apps like Google Maps, Apple Maps or Navmii on your smartphone and bring a phone holder with you. And don’t forget to download your map so you can access it offline, just in case your data doesn’t work when you arrive!

Or bring your own child car seat (airlines like easyJet and Ryanair let you bring them for free). Also, choose rental companies that include the second driver at no extra cost.

Car Out-of-Hours Drop Off Scam

One common car hire scam can occur when you drop off your rental car out-of-hours at a closed rental office. Since there’s no staff to check for any damage when you return it, the company may later hit you with a charge for a scratch or damage you didn’t cause. Without anyone there to verify the car’s condition when you drop it off, it’s your word against theirs.

Car Hire Selection Checks in Lisbon

To avoid these kinds of car hire scams, take lots of detailed photos and videos of the car when you return it, and email them over to the car hire company on drop off so you have a time stamped documentation of the car’s condition. It doesn’t hurt to get a photo of the car in situ either, so you can prove these photos were taken at drop off.

The Website URL Rip-Off

Some companies charge significantly more if you book through a UK website rather than using a local site. To avoid this price difference, just change the website URL to match the country where you’re renting – like switching from Hertz.co.uk to Hertz.com for the US site.

But make sure those prices are truly comparable and keep an eye out for insurance add-ons or exchange rates that might cancel out any price differences.

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How To Avoid These Car Hire Scams

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