Excess charges, insurance, hidden costs. Sometimes renting a car can turn into a nightmare. We went to Italy, one of the countries with the most complaints, to discover what are the most common problems and how to protect your rights.
“We rented a car for our holidays in Italy and when we returned it we put the keys in the drop box, as nobody was there. When we went back home we had a nasty surprise; we had been charged 600 euros without any explanation,” says Salvatrice Bufalino..
Nearly one year has passed by since Salvatrice, a French woman, went to Catania on holiday with her partner. Hers is a very common case; it was her word against the car rental company’s. Her complaint will now be examined by an Italian court, which means finding a lawyer and additional costs to try to get her 600 euros back.
“Following my complaint we received some photos. We don’t know when they were taken, but if you compare my contract with them, you can see the crosses. Basically the car was already damaged when we took it. It’s just a rip-off, they didn’t compare these photos with the contract. I hope this document will demonstrate that I don’t owe them anything,” she says.
Salvatrice’s case was followed up by European Consumer Centres in France and Italy. Monica De Gregorio is the expert for car rental complaints in the Rome office and explains that she handles an average of 80 international cases per year:
“We had already closed this case, as the car rental company gave us a negative reply. They said that when the clients rented the car, the agency was run by a company that went bankrupt . We don’t have any enforcement powers. Therefore we can only try to resolve it in a friendly way, out of court,” says De Gregorio.
When keys are left in a drop box the customer is responsible for the car until the car rental employee closes the contract. Salvatrice complains that she was never informed that another company, Car Net, was behind the brand she contacted for her car rental.
“It’s surprising because I signed my contract with Budget. Today they tell me that Car Net has gone bankrupt, but I have never heard of it. I signed with an international company that should protect me from this kind of bankruptcy problem. But it actually doesn’t. I feel like they have lied to me,” she says.
Avis, which took over Budget last June, replied that they have no information on the case, in spite of them being contacted by the European Consumer Centre. Their French branch agreed last July to refund the customer, then disappeared.
So what can a customer do to avoid being driven round the bend? Beware of fuel charges; if the tank is not 100% topped up, you risk to be stung with an inflated price for the missing fuel. Beware of off-limits areas and remember that a fine is often increased by administration charges, as this car rental manager explains:
“In our case it’s 50 euros. For every fine the client also has to pay an administration fee of 50 euros,” says Auto Europa’s Giorgio Salvatori.
Basic insurance often does not include damages to all parts of the car, like windows, tyres and the roof and the super collision damage waiver can work out to be very expensive. Experts suggest buying excess insurance independently online. Then carefully read the contract, including the small print. Car hire insurance policies are usually riddled with catches.
“In Italy there is a problem linked to regions considered a high theft risk. In these regions some car hire companies apply double excess in case the car is stolen. These regions are Campania, Basilicata, Molise, Puglia and Calabria,” warns Monica De Gregorio.
When it is time to return the car, it is important to hand the keys back to the person at the desk and then check the car together. Some car hire companies might jump at the chance to charge you for damage to the car you have hired.
“Among the complaints that we receive a really small percentage are closed with the consumer being refunded. Often when it happens car rental companies don’t admit their fault,” says De Gregorio..
And when your holidays are over, always keep the paperwork and check your credit card statement.