Lessons learned renting cars

By John Towler
This item appears on page 22 of the August 2015 issue.

My wife, Lorna, and I travel to Spain every year, often renting a car from either an international or national firm or one local to our destination.

For a trip in April-May 2014, I began the online booking process early in the year using Economy Car Rentals (www.economycar rentals.com). I chose them because I saw that their prices included unlimited mileage and all taxes and fees, with full insurance, collision damage waiver and zero deductible. 

The vehicle I rented was to be a Citroen C1 or similar, to be provided by Record Go at the Málaga airport. Record Go sent me a voucher for a Ford Fiesta; it stipulated the same coverage I had expected. On arrival at the airport on April 8, I was given a (similar) Hyundai 120.

With this rental, the cost would include a charge of 76.98 for extra insurance because I was over 70.

When I arrived at Record Go’s airport agency, I was told that the “full insurance” did not cover wheels, tires, undercarriage and glass. Upon booking, I had seen that this coverage could be obtained for 3 (near $3.30) per day, and I had a copy of that offer, but I was told that Record Go’s rate was 6.50 per day. I objected but was told that they would not rent the car without my paying 6.50 per day for this additional insurance or providing a deposit of 300. I agreed to provide a deposit.

I later complained to Economy Car Rentals, whose website guarantees no surprises, only to be told that they had no control over charges like this.

The most troubling surprise — the contract stated that even though I had rented the car for several weeks, before I drove it more than 2,000 kilometers I would have to return it and get a different car. Every car had to be returned within 2,000 kilometers, and going over that distance would cost an additional 2 per kilometer. 

A 22.83 handling charge was added onto the cost of the first tank of gas, for a total of 88.38. I also was told that the car had to be returned with a full tank of gas. [This was true only when exchanging a car, as explained below. — Editor]

As I expected, we did approach 2,000 kilometers before the rental period was up and had to return the original car to Record Go and exchange it for another one (which we got at no extra cost).

When paying for a rental car with a Visa card, Visa limits you to 48 days per rental. My wife and I needed a car for more days than that, so at the end of the first contract period, on May 24, we had to rent another car on another contract for six more days. Choosing not to rent another car with Record Go, we looked for a different firm.

I again used www.economycar rentals.com and selected Delpaso Car Hire because a good price was offered. Economy Car Rentals’ contract for Delpaso simply said that the minimum age for the driver was 21; there was no mention of an upper age limit and, thus, no charge for extra insurance related to that.

We went to the Málaga Airport to collect the car. Although the Economy Car Rentals form and the Delpaso voucher said that the collision damage waiver was included, I could not rent the car unless I left a deposit of 300. Also, they had the same rule that the car had to be returned by 2,000 kilometers. We signed, paid and drove off to our villa.

A few days later, Lorna happened to look up reviews of Delpaso Car Hire on the Internet and was alarmed to read accounts of customers having been charged huge amounts when, upon the return of each car, it was discovered that the car key would not go into the keyhole on the door. Of course, no customer was aware of this, since everyone used the electric key fob to open and lock the car.

I immediately went to our car and, sure enough, the key would not go in the door. However, I could see that something was stuck in the lock, so I used a screwdriver to break through it and push it out of the way, then oiled the lock. 

When we returned the car, I was amused to watch the clerk use the key in the door and find that it worked. I found the look on his face priceless. 

But I was still worried about getting my 300 deposit back. I was told that the refund would take several days to process and it would be sent after five to ten days. We had read of customers who had never received their refunds, so I insisted that it be given to me on the spot. I was very firm about this and had the time to wait. After a half hour, the 300 was credited to my card.

For anyone considering renting a car, here are some tips.

• Take detailed, dated, close-up photos of the entire car when you get it. Be sure to take a picture of the odometer reading. Some firms no longer inspect the car and do not note damage, including dents or scratches, when you pick up the car. Unless you have photographic proof of its condition, you can be held responsible for any blemishes.

• Be sure that you take a complete set of photos when you return the car. Do this where they can see you doing it and before you turn it in.

• If you run into problems in Spain, demand to see the rental firm’s complaint book. By law, every firm must have one, must have it available and must produce it when asked. Making a complaint causes them a great deal of trouble, triggering an investigation, and they may make concessions to avoid the hassle.


Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

Editor’s note: ITN emailed copies of Mr. Towler’s account to Record Go (customers@recordrentacar.com), Delpaso Car Hire (customer
and Economy Car Rentals (customer
. Only an automatic reply was received from Record Go, and there was no response from Delpaso Car Hire. From “Renée” of Economy Car Rentals, ITN received a detailed response by email, including screenshot illustrations from the website www.economycarrentals.com.

Renée wrote, “Thank you for giving us the opportunity to review the case of John Towler. In order to explain the procedure, I have made an online booking with Record Go for the same location but for different dates so that I can send you screen prints of the website. 

“At Economy Car Rentals, it is very important for us to show final prices on the website, so we add all charges in the prices.”

Referring to Mr. Towler’s copy of his Economycarrentals.com order form for his Delpaso Car Hire rental, Renée wrote, “In our terms, we mention…  [the fact that] any optional insurances/options purchased locally are handled with the car rental company.”

And in the example booking that she did with the other car rental company, Record Go, she shared with ITN a screenshot that showed which items were and were not included in the car rental, according to the Economycarrentals.com order form.

Renée wrote, “[Regarding] the additional insurance to cover the wheels, underside and glass, we would like to point out that on the website we offer a refund service [under the heading “Wheels, Tires, Undercarriage and Glass Coverage,” basically a type of in-house insurance — Editor]. The cost for it is 3 per day, offered online. This was not added by Mr. Towler at the time of [his online] booking.”

Renée shared a screenshot of Economy Car Rentals’ optional refund service, which states, “Your liability is protected by the car rental provider against damage and theft (zero excess), except for wheels, tires, glass and undercarriage. It is common for the vast majority of car rental companies not to extend coverage to include these parts, because car rental companies consider these types of damage as negligence by the renter, so Collision Damage Waiver does not cover these parts. Our coverage provides protection for damage to wheels, rims, tires, undercarriage, windscreen, rear side windows and mirror glass.”

Regarding those same items, the copy of Mr. Towler’s printout from his Delpaso Car Hire booking states, under Economy Car Rentals’ in-house refund-service option, “Be aware that the vast majority of car rental companies do not extend cover to include these parts.” 

That statement (and the similar statement, above, about “any optional insurances/options purchased locally”) implies that coverage for those items is likely to require purchasing additional insurance with the car rental company, which may offer the option of leaving a refundable deposit. Be aware that the cost of that insurance (or the alternative of leaving a refundable deposit) may not be noted in the final price of the online quote.

In Mr. Towler’s case, a screenshot explains the deposit (of 300) that he had to pay when renting from Delpaso: “Our local car rental partner may reserve an amount of up to 800 (depending on your selected car group) as a guarantee, which will be released after the end of the rental period if no damage/theft has occurred.” 

Regarding fuel charges, the Economycarrentals.com order form states, “Customer prepays a full tank of fuel at the time of car pickup. Customer may return the car empty of fuel. If not, the car rental company will refund for remaining fuel in the tank. Please note! The above is only valid for rentals of four days or more… . Excluding from that compensation is the amount related to the fuel administration costs [fee].”

Though a car rented for more than four days may be returned with an empty fuel tank, that is true unless that car is to be exchanged for another car due to its approaching the 2,000-kilometer limit.  

The rental contracts of both companies state, “Before doing 2,000 kilometers, you have to return the vehicle with a full tank at the rental station and get another vehicle ready to do up to 2,000 kilometers more, at no extra charge.”

The car received in exchange will also have a full tank.

When exchanging his first Record Go car for his second Record Go car, Mr. Towler had to return it with a full tank. Mr. Towler later told ITN, however, that after returning the second Record Go car, he was not refunded the cost of its remaining fuel. Renée later noted, “Mr. Towler should have been refunded at the rental end for the remaining fuel in the car except for the 24 administration cost.”

Renée wrote, “To Mr. Towler’s point about the negative reviews, we evaluate each car rental company every day and with every booking made online. We send an evaluation form to each of our customers to know their experience. 

“The average of each company is calculated on a 14-day period. If a company doesn’t meet our minimum average, we contact the managers of the companies. If the average doesn’t get better in the following 14 days, the company will be banned from our system. 

“Of course, not all customers are always 100% satisfied with the service of the companies, but we always give the opportunity to our customers to contact us and redirect the booking to another car rental company. 

“The average of the evaluation is shown on the website, so customers can check the latest evaluations from previous customers. 

“We feel very sorry for the inconvenience caused to Mr. Towler, but we try hard to provide all information on the website and avoid misunderstandings.”

RENÉE, Customer Service, Economy Car Rentals

In a follow-up email on May 23, 2015, Mr. Towler wrote, “We have arranged three car rentals in Spain this year with Malagacar, and none have had the 2,000-kilometer rule. The only disturbing note is that by not taking their insurance and relying on our Visa card’s insurance with CDW, we were asked to leave a deposit equivalent to the total cost of the first rental, and this increased to a flat rate of 800 for the second and third rentals.”