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Turn detective with your hire car

Toy car on a mapHiring a car abroad? The small print can often allow car hire firms to bill your credit card for extra charges, as money journalist Sue Hayward found out to her cost.

I’ve just come back from Gran Canaria where I hired a car. 

As you might expect from a money journalist, I shopped around and read the small print so thought I’d got everything covered.

All went well until we tried to return the car.

We’d agreed a 6am drop off and with the car hire office closed till 7am we'd been told where to park and to simply pop the keys through the office door.

Parking plans go awry

This all sounds very straightforward - except entry to level D of the underground car park where we’d been told to park was barricaded off!

We're not talking about a couple of cones either, but full-blown locked barriers and cars double parked.

With the office closed and just one hour till our flight, we had to make a decision and parked on level C instead. 

We wrote the floor and bay number on the car park ticket and popped this through the office door with the keys.

Extra charges

Back home I received an email from the car hire company saying they were billing 2.85 Euros to my credit card because we hadn’t parked in the right place.

I later discovered there was another entrance to the car park which would have enabled us to reach level D and avoid the barricades.

Okay, so compared to some holiday nightmares a £2.50 car park charge isn’t much.

But as car hire small print often allows firms to bill your credit card for extra charges, here’s some savvy ways to protect yourself.

Take video and photos

With some companies, you simply get shown round your hire vehicle and asked to inspect it for damage.

With others you’re just given the keys and told where to find it.

The beach may be beckoning but take time to check over the car.

Point out any marks, scratches or damage to the car hire representative if they’re with you, and make sure they’re logged on the rental agreement.

If you’re picking up the car by yourself, this is where your mobile phone comes in handy.

I always take photos of each side of the hire car, and a video of the outside on my phone. My phone automatically dates any pictures taken.

This way there’s proof of damage that’s already there, as some unscrupulous companies have been known to try and bill for the same dents and scratches time after time.

Take an airport tour

Why? Well, when you return your car one, or even two weeks later, it’s easy to forget how to get back to the same spot or which car park entrance to use.  

And if you don’t park in the designated parking area you can get billed for car park charges, as I did, or worse still you run the risk of incurring clamping fees in unauthorised parking areas.

Even small airports can be confusing, and if you’re late returning the vehicle you risk a late delivery charge.

So jot down any landmarks and signs on arrival to help you get back easily.

Keep petrol receipts

Some companies charge upfront for a full tank, along with a surcharge. Others expect the car back with the same level you started with.

If refuelling is down to you keep those receipts.

This way if the company claims the fuel level is lower than when you started and tries to charge you a penalty fee, you can produce receipts showing how much you put in and when.

I’ve even gone as far as taking photos of the petrol gauge before driving off, making a note of the mileage, and doing the same again on my return.

What do you think?

Have you been stung by by unforseen car hire charges - whether at home or abroad?

We want to hear from you! You can share your views on the message board below.




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Sue Hayward

Carl Chambers

Sue Hayward is a personal finance broadcaster, journalist and author. Sue talks and writes on money matters including chatting on BBC Radio & TV as well as contributing to magazines, websites and newspapers. Sue's also written two books; the latest of which is 'How To Get The Best Deal'.

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