Car hire

Disputing car hire charges: What are your rights?

Photo of Joey TysonPhoto of Joey Tyson
By Joey Tyson

12 April 20185 min read

A smartphone in focus as a woman photographs a car accident, which is blurred in the background

It’s an all too familiar story. You return home from holiday to find a charge from the car rental firm on your credit or debit card.

Of course, sometimes a charge is fair. You might even be expecting it. However, there are times when that deduction can come as a complete - and rather unpleasant - surprise. What’s more, you don’t think it’s just.

If that’s the case, there are steps you can take to dispute the charge. Read on to find out how.

If you did not expect the charge and you want to dispute it

Companies that work in a transparent and fair manner should send you an invoice detailing the charge. Unfortunately, not all car rental firms act this way. We have heard of many unscrupulous companies simply charging the credit or debit card you paid with and leaving you to spot the extra payment on your statement.

Extra charges might be taken for fuel, an upgrade, damage, or car hire excess insurance, which is also known as super collision damage waiver (SCDW).

After renting a car, keep an eye on your bank statement over the coming weeks. If the rental company takes a payment that you were not expecting, you can do the following.

Get in touch with the rental company

The first thing to do is get in touch with the company. Ideally, you should do this within 14 days of discovering the charge.

The BVRLA is the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association. Andrea Davies, of the BVRLA, says: “If the customer rejects a charge, they should raise a formal dispute with the vehicle rental company concerned.

“In accordance with the BVRLA Code of Conduct, we expect members to justify any damage charges by providing the necessary supporting documents, including the pre- and post-rental reports, photographic evidence of the damage and a repair estimate or quote from the damage rate matrix.”

Keep all contracts and documents

When you return your rental car at the end of your holiday, take time to check the car thoroughly, doing so with the attendant present.

If there’s a problem, you should be informed and asked to sign a document outlining the issue. If there isn't a problem, some companies ask you to sign a document stating that the car was returned in an acceptable condition.

Europcar’s terms and conditions, for example, state: “When you do return the vehicle to Europcar you must take the opportunity to inspect the vehicle together with the Europcar agent or its representative and countersign a vehicle restitution damage report. Europcar shall give you a signed document where Europcar declares that the vehicle was regularly returned to Europcar.”

It’s essential to keep hold of any signed documents as you might need them as a part of a dispute.

Some car rental firms do not have a representative at drop off. If you notice any issues with the car at this point, it's important to notify the car hire company at the on-site desk. If there are no problems, take photographs of the car with a digital camera or your phone (so it has a time stamp), which could later prove that there was no damage when you dropped off the car.

It's also wise to take photographs and notify the staff when you pick the car up if there are minor bumps or scrapes that aren't noted on your paperwork.

You might have credit and debit card protection

If a charge you disagree with has been taken, you might be able to claim through your credit card provider under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.

Contact your credit card provider as soon as you discover the charge and clearly say that you want to make a claim under section 75. At this point, you should be given a form to fill out.

If you made your purchase with a debit card, you might be able to claim using the Charge Back scheme, although this is not enshrined in law. Contact your bank directly if this is the case.

Seek out the right conciliation services

There are a number of organisations that you can use to escalate your claim if you feel you’ve exhausted the above options.

If your issue is for a UK rental, look to the BVRLA. “If a customer remains dissatisfied with the outcome of a dispute they can use the BVRLA’s Conciliation Service, which is a government approved Alternative Dispute Resolution service,” explains Andrea. “This is available to BVRLA members’ customers free of charge. Cases are resolved within 30 days.”

For claims abroad, look to the European Car Rental Conciliation Service (ECRCS). Note that only companies that subscribe to the scheme are bound by its decisions. Several major car hire companies are members of both. Some smaller companies, however, might not be.

Both of the agencies provide a list of the rental firms they work with.

If you knew the charge was coming but want to dispute the amount

Unfortunately, overcharging for routine repairs is another common rip-off in the car hire world. In some cases, the repairs don’t even happen, but the consumer is charged all the same.

You are within your rights to dispute the charged amount, if you think it’s unfair.

“The vehicle rental company must provide customers with clear justification for any end-of-rental charges that have been raised, together with a summary of how they have been calculated. They should ensure that charges are assessed in a transparent and proportionate manner,” says Andrea.

Once again, the first step is to dispute it with the car rental company. If you’re not happy with the outcome, raise a claim with the appropriate conciliation service.

Help with your claim

If you need help fighting an unexpected car hire charge, there are a few options.

Resolver, an independent, free tool backed by Money Saving Expert, can help you with your claim. The tool offers impartial advice, explains your rights, helps to prepare emails and creates a case file for you.

The Citizens Advice Bureau might also be able to help you with free, impartial advice.

The UK European Consumer Centre can also give you free information about your consumer rights in Europe.

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