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Car hire firms’ double whammy strikes at both the young and the old

Cars parked in a Europcar rental lot at London City Airport
One reader faces surcharges when she hired a car from Europcar. Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images

Readers were left out of pocket when car hire firms failed to honour their bookings, one because he was old and another because she was young.

FH of Sheffield’s 24-year-old daughter lives in Italy and was returning to the UK for Christmas in December 2016 when she booked a hire car with Europcar via Orbitz. The fee was £156.

“She noted that the booking terms stated that ‘additional charges/restrictions may apply to drivers under the age of 25’,” FH writes. “She followed the Europcar link on the Orbitz website where it clearly stated that drivers aged 18-23 would be charged surcharge which was not applicable to those aged 24 and over.

“When she went to collect the car from Manchester airport the basic hire fee had risen to £336 and she was told she would also have to pay a surcharge of £32.50 a day.

“She showed her passport as evidence that she was over the age threshold and the surcharge was removed. “A few days later I noticed that Europcar had applied £487 in surcharges to my credit card which had been used for the booking.

“This was subsequently cancelled by Europcar and two additional charges of £586.59 and £210.56 were then applied. When I complained, they insisted the contract was with Expedia (no idea why). Expedia referred me to Orbitz which insisted that the surcharge was applicable.

“I registered a dispute with my card issuer under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act and the claims team concluded that the transactions of £586.59 and £210.56 were invalid and should be rejected.

“My bank notified Europcar of their decision, giving them 45 days to respond, but they did not. Eight months later I received two letters from a debt recovery company acting for Europcar demanding £586.59 and £210.56 within seven days.

“Europcar told me that if I cancelled the section 75 chargeback they would be able to resolve the complaint. I’ve now received a further letter from the debt recovery firm, this time demanding £210.56 but not £586.59.”

The most breathtaking aspect of this dismal saga is Europcar’s suggestion that it could resolve your complaint if you cancelled the chargeback made by your bank eight months previously and paid the disputed sum.

Six days after I contacted them – and 11 months after you first complained – they acknowledged that the terms and conditions had not been “updated” on the Orbitz website and that your daughter had been misled.

It also discovered the booking site had not included mandatory collision damage waiver (CDW) in the cost, which is why the basic hire charge more than doubled. It has now cancelled the surcharges and refunded the CDW as compensation.

It is also removing her from its sinisterly named “watchlist” on which indebted customers are blacklisted just in case she should ever want to do business with Europcar again. Orbitz, which has merged with Expedia, hence that red herring, admits to the Observer that the surcharge details were incorrect on its post-booking webpage and says they have now been amended.

JM of Sheffield had the opposite problem. The 76-year-old had to make an emergency trip to Northern Ireland with three elderly relatives when his brother-in-law became critically ill.

He booked a car with Avis for collection at Belfast airport.

“When we arrived I produced my valid driving licence and payment cardas required on the booking confirmation,” he writes.

“However, I was told that, as I was over 75, I needed letters from my doctor and my insurance company stating that I was fit to drive.

“There was been no mention of this in the booking confirmation or in the 44 pages of rental conditions.

“We faced being left stranded 40 miles from our destination in the dark and pouring rain.

“Fortunately, another company, Europcar, was prepared to hire us a car, but for £244 compared to the £43 we had paid to Avis.”

Buried in the 14-page location specific conditions document is a paragraph stating that drivers who are over 75 should advise Avis of the fact before collection. This vital information is not flagged up on the confirmation summary or on the website.

A month after you complained to Avis you were still awaiting a response and a refund. It was only after the Observer intervened that you were contacted with an apology.

Avis accepts that the condition should be made clearer and says it is “taking steps to make this information clearer and easier to find”.

It has now refunded you the £43 booking fee and agreed to pay the difference between that and the £244 charged by Europcar so that you are not left out of pocket.

The lesson here is to plough through the small print, however tedious, for car hire firms have differing policies on all aspects of a rental, including how long they’ll hold a vehicle if you are delayed.

This article titled "Car hire firms’ double whammy strikes at both the young and the old" was written by Anna Tims, for The Observer on Wednesday 10 January 2018 07.00am

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