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An early experience of hiring a car... By Philip Suter

After having trouble free car rental experiences for several years, in late 2000, I was fined by the car rental for damage I never caused and many other renters had similar problems in Nice France.

I had rented cars on many occasions for family holidays from the early 1980s. These were normally arranged via a recommendation of the self catering villa company or through a local contact and I would normally hire a small car like a Fiat /Seat Panda or Ford Fiesta. I experienced hiring a car in Corsica, Majorca, Portugal, Spain, Turkey and the USA. In fact anywhere that was easier to fly to.

With all these rentals, I never experienced any problems. There were concerns a couple of times, like in the Algarve, Portugal with the Mini that did not have an awful lot of tread left on the tyres and the door key mechanism would come out when you locked the car.

It was a different story back in October 2000 I rented a very reasonably priced Mercedes A class car in Nice France. To cut down on costs the rental company operated from a section of a multi storey car park a short distance from the airport and there was a check in zone, with a couple of computers where you could also make on line reservations if you had not booked in advance.

The company's pricing policy meant that normally if you booked in advance, the hire car would be cheaper.The car was great for the week's holiday and was stopped in a car park in Villefranche Sur Mer by a German who wanted to know where to get one of your cars as the Mercedes he was renting was about three times as expensive per day.

When I got my next credit card bill there was a £150 charge from the online car rental company. I was able to find out that the charge was for alleged damage under the car.

I requested a copy of the inspection report and the two previous renter's inspection reports, but had no reply. They did reply that I had signed their rental agreement and as I had not had it thoroughly examined after I returned it, there would be no refund. So in other words, "too bad". I was not prepared to have to pay for something that I knew I was not responsible for.

I was not alone with "being charged for damage" and the company was subject to a long feature on BBC television's Weekend Watchdog in late November. I taped the programme and posted it off to Nice Matin newspaper. There had been hundred of complaints to the programme over the issue; some people even had to get their MP to intervene.

I also contacted the Trading Standards department in the part of London this company was based at and I took up the issue with Simon Calder, The Independent's travel writer early in January 2001.

I used the same rental company again in December and this time spent ages filming the car when I collected it and making sure it was thoroughly checked when I returned it and it was signed off as being in order.

As there had been so many complaints about the deduction for alleged damage, excess mileage etc from different rental locations and the media had been investigating I, probably like many others received a refund of the £150 charge.

I still continued to use the company and have the vehicle thoroughly checked on collection and return for another couple of years, but was always nervous that I could get penalized; however since the media attention in December 2000, their policy certainly had changed a lot.

As Holiday Autos was offering an excellent selection of different priced car hire vehicles by then, I started to use them and the original company I had my dealings with using the Mercedes A class has now being transformed into another very successful global car hire broker.

In October 2004 my wife discovered an article about buying car hire excess insurance and I immediately went on line and purchased one of these policies. Basically they are easy to purchase going to a web site like www.insurance4carrental.com and choosing a provider who has advertised there.

The car rental agreement normally includes cover for Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) and Theft, however the renter is still liable for the Excess on CDW and Theft. When a rental car is damaged or stolen, the driver is asked to pay the first portion of the repair or replacement costs. This is known as the Car Hire Excess. If the car is damaged or stolen, the car rental company will charge the renter's credit card for the Excess amount and the renter then claim for reimbursement on the car hire excess insurance policy. If only this had been about in 2000.

I certainly will continue to take out a car hire excess insurance and as I rent several times a year, find it much more convenient to take out an annual policy.

(November 2009 ©jmlpropertyservices - Philip Suter)

N.B. This information should not be relied on for accuracy and is presented here without the responsibility of jml Property Service and the website it is being displayed at. jml property Services 11-09

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See also:

Car Rental Terminal at Nice airport - Location de voitures à l'aeroport de Nice Côte d'Azur - June 2011

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