Car rental is one of the top areas of consumer rights complaints in Europe, especially in relation to damage charges, insurance coverage and fuel policies. Currently there is no specific EU legislation that regulates the car rental sector. Instead, consumers are protected by other instruments which ensure that you can avail of basic consumer rights when it comes to car hire.
Basic EU consumer rights apply when you rent a car in another EU country. These include:
- the right to clear pre-hire information
- the right to a fair contract
- access to alternative dispute resolution for disputes
- non-discrimination, i.e. different prices based on nationality/residence
Car rental contracts and policies may differ greatly based on how you go about making the booking. When you book a car, different contracts apply if you rent the car from:
- car rental companies
- third-party agents: intermediaries/brokers, online travel agencies, comparison sites/metasearch engines
Third-party agents do not provide the rental car service; they book a car in your name with the rental company. In case of disputes, the rental company is the one responsible for the implementation of the contract, unless stated otherwise in the contract.
In order to have a hassle-free car rental experience, follow the advice below:
Before making a booking to rent and drive a car in another EU country, you must check that your driving licence is valid there. Prices offered for the vehicle will also be influenced by the driver’s age and type of driving licence. Check restrictions that apply to the vehicle or the jurisdiction when it comes to age and driving licences.
If you’re planning to drive your rental vehicle in several countries, in the EU, EEA and outside of these, you must inform the rental company when booking the vehicle. This is to ensure that the vehicle documentation, insurance, traffic rules and breakdown cover are compliant with rules in every jurisdiction you drive in.
Contracts’ Terms and Conditions must detail all the conditions for hiring a vehicle, including cancellation and fuel policies.
PRICES AND EXTRAS
Prices at first instance quoted on- and off-line only contain the basic rental package. Extras added to the basic rental cost can be airport/ location-specific surcharges, extra insurance cover, child seat, additional driver.
Fuel policy is one of the particularities of car hire contracts:
- COLLECT FULL RETURN EMPTY POLICY implies that no refunds will be paid for unused fuel even if the whole tank was paid for upfront.
- COLLECT FULL RETURN FULL POLICY means that the vehicle is provided with a full tank of fuel. Unless the consumer was clearly notified within the Terms & Conditions when booking the car, fuel should not be prepaid. It should be a consumer’s responsibility to refuel the car with the correct fuel type before it is returned. If the vehicle is not returned with a full tank, the consumer bears the cost of refuelling.
All rental cars should be inspected by both rental company employees and renters before driving off. Usually, a checklist/diagram details the state of the car at collection. If a staff member is not available to inspect the rental car, it is very important that you inspect it yourself, note or photograph any damage present before you leave the premises.
Rental vehicles must be covered by the third party liability insurance valid in all EU countries. This insurance should be included in the rental price. Make sure you know how much you will be liable for in the event of an accident.: what is covered and what is not covered.
You can also take out optional insurance, covering other risks, e.g. injuries to the driver, damage to your vehicle, theft of your vehicle/its contents, vandalism, and legal assistance.
Before signing a car-hire contract, make sure you know exactly what the mandatory (plus optional) insurance contract covers.
Familiarise yourself with all the applicable policies in the event the car breaks down or you are involved in an accident. This must detail what is and is not covered under the insurance policy, and what excess may be charged to your credit card in the event of a claim.
When driving a rental car you must ensure you are compliant with the Terms and Conditions of the rental contract, as well as the traffic rules and road safety rules of the country you are driving in.
If the car breaks down, call the car rental company and follow the instructions provided. Do not repair the vehicle yourself without prior authorisation.
In case of an accident, you should always note down the names and addresses of everyone involved. If there is a dispute over who is responsible for the accident, you should notify the local police and the car rental company immediately.
Try to return the car during the working hours of the car rental company and have it inspected by a competent employee and all damage is recorded.
If returning outside the working hours take pictures of the vehicle as confirmation that it was returned in good condition. As a rule, cars returned outside working hours are inspected for damage on the following day and damage costs can be charged to the consumer at a later stage.
DISPUTES AND REDRESS OPTIONS
Disputes on ‘extras’ and damage surcharges after returning the car are the most common problem in the car rental sector. If this happens, you should contact the car hire company in writing, seeking an explanation and evidence of damage, in the form of a repair certificate or invoice. If the company does not respond or dismisses your complaint, contact your credit card provider outlining your complaint and check on the possibility of a chargeback.
If you don’t receive a response from the trader or the response is unsatisfactory then you can do the following:
- If the trader is a member of the European Car Rental Conciliation Service, you could lodge a complaint for assessment.
- Contact ECC Ireland (if you’re resident in Ireland and the car rental company is based in another EU/EEA country) for free advice and, if required, further out-of-court assistance.
- Take legal action via the European Small Claims Procedure which allows you to pursue a cross-border claim (up to €5,000) via your local court for a fee of just €25.