Murky car hire charges driving customers to distraction

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Car hire customers are still being caught out by unclear pricing a year after the industry pledged to clean up its act.

A survey by consumer group Which? found that despite the big six car rental brands agreeing to improve transparency around extras on their contracts nearly a third of prices are still unclear when booking online.

Avis, Budget, Enterprise, Europcar, Hertz and Sixt all committed to improve clarity in website bookings after the Competition and Markets Authority criticised their practices in July last year.

But contradictory, confusing and missing information mean that some customers are still being left in the dark over charges for everything from insurance to sat nav hire.

Which? checked the clarity of more than 300 online prices for car hire extras from airports in the UK, Europe, the United States and Australia with the seven car hire brands most used by its readers - Alamo, Avis, Budget, Enterprise, Europcar, Hertz and Sixt. It looked at prices for an additional driver, excess waiver insurance, GPS, one-way charges, infant car seat and child car seat.

It found that 32 per cent of all additional charges were not clearly displayed at the time of booking online, were inaccurate or conflicting or simply weren’t present at all.

Chief among the confusing options was excess waiver insurance, with 63 per cent of the inquiries unclear over the additional cover. Which? criticised the hire firms for not making it clear that this cover was optional and for telling some customers that their own third-party insurance was not valid.

So-called one-way charges, where a car is picked up in one location and returned in another, were the second most problematic, with 49 per cent of online inquiries unclear on the associated costs.

Which? found that Avis’ and Budget’s quotes for picking up a car at New York’s JFK and dropping off at Washington Dulles Airport didn’t include the mandatory £137 fee, and Europcar’s quote for picking up in Auckland and dropping off in Wellington didn’t include the £109 one way cost. Europcar blamed the omission on an “intermittent IT issue”.

Additional driver fees, sat nav hire and child car seat hire were also unclear in 30 per cent, 25 per cent and 14 per cent respectively.

Richard Headland, editor of Which? said: “Despite car hire companies agreeing to greater transparency over the cost of extras, customers are still getting a nasty surprise at the rental desk.

“Improvements have been made since the CMA’s review, but there’s still a long way to go. We expect car rental companies to be upfront about all charges so that consumers can make an informed choice at the time of booking.”

The study found that Avis was the worst offender, with 51 per cent of the online prices found to have clarity issues. Budget was the next-worst offender, with 44 per cent of prices proving problematic, and US-based Alamo in third with issues around 43 per cent of its quotes.