Car hire websites ordered to come clean on charges

The competition watchdog is investigating two car hire websites over concerns that customers are being hit with unexpected fees.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which has not named the two comparison sites, fears they may be breaking consumer law by not accurately telling drivers the full price of their car hire before they book. Customers discover the true cost only when they pick up the vehicle abroad, so many feel they are left with little choice but to accept the fees.

The CMA said it had “not reached a final view” on whether the two comparison sites had broken the rules. It will now consider their responses to its concerns, and continue to monitor them. They could face legal action if they do not make any required improvements.

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The news comes as car hire companies ramp up costs for the half-term holiday, which is this week for many schools. For example, travellers will pay an average of £190 for a week’s car hire in Larnaca, Cyprus, compared with just £110 if they went away two weeks later. The figures come from iCarhireinsurance, which provides cover for the excess on car hire contracts.

The CMA has issued letters to 40 other websites that offer a car hire comparison service, instructing them to maintain standards and, where necessary, make improvements to comply with consumer law.

In particular, it wants the sites to: show all extra charges in the price first given to customers; clearly display fuel pricing policies, such as whether drivers need to return the car with a full tank; and give warnings about high excesses or deposits.

The CMA’s announcement builds on its investigation with the European Commission into the big five rental firms — Avis Budget, Enterprise, Europcar, Hertz and Sixt. It said this had resulted in savings of about £100m for UK customers.

driving test car hire or rental or new vehicle

James MacBeth, project director at the CMA, said: “No one should be misled or face unexpected charges, whether they choose to book directly with a car hire company or through a comparison site.

“We expect this sector to provide clearer information about the true costs, and to explain up front what customers will actually pay.”

When hiring a car, be sure to check the excess that will be charged if the car needs any repairs. This can be more than £700. Paying the hire company for a waiver of this excess could almost double the total cost of the rental. Excess insurance from another provider costs as little as £2 a day and works out even cheaper with an annual policy.

Beware of any stealth fuel charges. Picking up a car with a full tank and returning it full is generally the cheapest option, but some companies ask for cars to be returned empty and offer no refund for any unused fuel.

Always inspect the vehicle when you pick it up. Take photographs of any scratches or other damage and have a representative at the car hire desk to sign and date a document listing the damage.

The CMA has produced a check list for consumers, which can be found at
http://bit.ly/2yuBNet.

Last month the watchdog set out ground rules for the wider comparison website market after a year-long investigation.

It ordered the sites to be transparent about how they make their money, including commission; to be accurate in the information they provide to customers; and to be responsible over the use of personal data.

The CMA also opened an investigation into one website, understood to be comparethemarket.com, over contracts with insurers.

Nathan Gardiner