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Consumer advice organisation UK European Consumer Centre has launched a campaign aimed at equipping UK consumers with the tools to be well-prepared when hiring cars elsewhere in the EU.

Complaints to the UK European Consumer Centre about car hire in the EU have continued to rise over the past year and UK consumers are being urged to follow the UK ECC’s advice when hiring a vehicle and to do everything they can to ‘know before they go’.

Car hire complaints went up last year (2015) by almost 7% over the previous year. The 7% rise is against a backdrop of an overall rise of complaints by UK consumers to the UK European Consumer Centre of 2%.

Andy Allen, UK European Consumer Centre (UK ECC) director, said: “Complaints about car hire the previous year (2014) rose by just over 23%, so it’s good to see that the rate of increase of car hire complaints has started to drop but disappointing that the figure is still rising at all.”

The European Commission announced in July 2015 that the top five car rental companies operating in the EU – Avis-Budget, Enterprise, Europcar, Hertz and Sixt –  pledged to better align current car rental practices with consumer legislation, set out by EU rules on consumer rights, unfair commercial practices and unfair terms.  

The pledge from the top five came after work by the European Commission and national consumer protection authorities (led by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority – CMA) and means that consumers should benefit from clearer contract terms on insurances and tank refuelling options, fairer handling of damages and greater price transparency. The action was triggered by the rising complaints relating to car rentals received by European Consumer Centres. Unfortunately, the UK ECC receives complaints about many car hire companies.

Some of the main improvements pledged by the top five include:

  • Improved transparency when making a website booking or reservation :
    – information about all mandatory charges and (cost of) optional extras;
    – information about key rental terms and requirements, including deposits charged on the consumer’s credit or debit card
  • Better information at the booking stage about optional waiver and insurance products, including their prices, exclusions and applicable excesses
  • Improved and more transparent fuel policies
  • Clearer and fairer vehicle inspection processes
  • Improved practices for taking additional charges from customers: consumers are given a reasonable opportunity to challenge any damage before any payment is taken

Andy said: “Like any transaction, car hire has risks associated with it, but in the light of the undertaking by these car rental companies, we hope that the whole process will start to go more smoothly for UK consumers in 2016. Although there is no specific EU legislation relating to car hire, as a consumer shopping in the European Union UK consumers have certain rights. Their ‘basic consumer principles’ include: buy what you want where you want; if it doesn’t work, send it back; contracts should be fair to consumers; you should not be misled, and effective redress for cross-border disputes.

“On a positive note, we hope that the European Commission’s work with the top five car rental companies to review their practices towards consumers will start to pay dividends as 2016 progresses.

“In a bid to help consumers further, the UK ECC has also joined together with other partner consumer protection organisations this Spring (2016) to run a consumer awareness campaign on car rental, in advance of the main holiday season when people often decide to rent a car.”

The campaign aims to publicise tips and advice for consumers on what to look out for before, during and after renting a car, and where they can go to for help with a problem.

Advice to UK consumers about car hire abroad is included in a leaflet called ‘Trains, planes, cars and boats.’ It gives motorists hints and tips to protect themselves. Consumers can download a copy from the UK ECC’s website.

The UK ECC advises consumers to:

  • Do pre and post-rental vehicle inspections (with photos where possible) and ensure both parties sign these documents at the time and retain a copy.
  • Shop around for the best rate (if booked online, you have no right to cancel and claim a refund). Prices may also vary according to the time of year.
  • Read all paperwork before signing, including terms and conditions.
  • Check what is and isn’t covered on the insurance.
  • Confirm the company’s fuel tank policy. There may be compulsory refuelling service charges or penalties for returning the car with insufficient fuel.
  • Check any extra charges you may be liable for.
  • Allow enough time to drop the car off.
  • Research the country’s highway code and local road legislation.
  • Request evidence of disputed charges.

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