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Why car rental bills cause surprises

Why car rental bills cause surprises

08 Jan 2013 BY Dominique's Villas

Whenever they receive queries about items on monthly statements, credit card companies refer specifically to extra charges that appear on car rentals: a reflection perhaps of how often their final bill is larger than the customer had expected.  Some simple precautions, however, can usually avoid this unpleasant surprise.

Many car rental organisations work on a franchise basis, which means that the local operation has a large degree of autonomy. Their prices can be higher or lower than the best rate for car hire in France quoted in the UK. Do not assume, therefore, that even so-called “special deals” will necessarily beat the rate available at a particular local outlet: it is always worthwhile contacting the office direct where you want your rental car to be available, to check its best price.  The lack of uniformity equally can work to your disadvantage. A special rate agreed in the UK may be disregarded when you arrive in France. It is easy to overlook this discrepancy when you come to collect the car, in a crowded rental office under stressful conditions.

Until recently rental companies tended to take a deposit from the renter at the start of the rental, the equivalent of £500.00 or sometimes more, and determine the final bill when the vehicle was returned. This gave the renter a second opportunity to query the account, at the end of the rental period. Now, however, whenever a vehicle is rented on an unlimited mileage basis for a week or a fortnight, unless challenged many car rental companies will put through the entire charge on the day the rental starts, even though the renter has not specifically authorised them to do so. This may also have the effect of bringing forward by one month when the renter has to reimburse their credit card company, always unwelcome. 

Until the vehicle is actually collected from the chosen location, a car rental reservation is far from being assured. Although this has the advantage that the renter can cancel the rental agreement without penalty, and may not even be penalised if he or she fails to show up, by the same token there is little effective redress if the rental outlet cannot supply the correct model or even a car at all. Problems of this kind are more frequent that is usually realised, especially in busy periods, when stock may be depleted at the last minute through breakdowns and accidents or because the previous renter keeps the vehicle for a longer period than stipulated. 

To avoid such problems, it is advisable to book early, especially for rentals taken in high season; make sure that the rental quotation includes everything you are likely to need, such as extra insurance against theft of the vehicle (see our March 2005 edition) and the inclusion on the rental agreement of any additional drivers; ask for the quote in Euros and in writing and make a special note of any code number attached to it; ask the outlet where you intend to collect the car for confirmation by fax or email that it will be available; before you collect the vehicle, verify that the estimated charges match those given to you when the vehicle was reserved; and agree a specific deposit that can be taken from your credit card, rather than the entire estimated cost.

An option frequently offered by the rental company is for it to refill the tank at the end of the rental, to save the renter from having to do so.  However the amount charged per litre is higher than the prevailing rate at most petrol stations, and with a service fee to pay in addition, the convenience of not having to fill up is far outweighed by the cost.