Have car, will travel

There are basic things that every rental car consumer should consider – from before driving off the car lot to the post-return period.

A woman drives a car in Riyadh Saudi Arabia (photo credit: REUTERS/FAISAL AL NASSER)
A woman drives a car in Riyadh Saudi Arabia
My favorite bespectacled commentator of current events is John Oliver, whose Emmy-winning show Last Week Tonight takes an acerbic view on a variety of topics. Recently he devoted an episode to corporate consolidation, where unfortunately his myopic observation on US rental companies led one to believe that Hertz, Avis and Enterprise, the three corporate behemoths he mentioned, held a large, potentially unfair market share outside of the US.
Consumers traveling to Europe have found that this Big Three are successfully challenged by such companies as Europcar and Sixt. Savvy consumers also have discovered a variety of local rental companies scattered throughout Europe that offer rates far below the market leaders. However, whether you’re renting a car from Hertz or Alamo or Gold Car or Europcar, the pitfalls to avoid are the same.
Do I believe that everyone who’s trying to rent you a car is trying to scam you? No but the complaints received by consumer bureaus around the world sadly show that the odds that you may be taken advantage of are quite high, so one should follow the core advice of buyer beware.
There are basic things that every rental car consumer should consider – from before driving off the car lot to the post-return period.
1) Do you need to purchase insurance? You might already be insured, either by your automobile insurance policy or by a benefit of the credit card you use to rent the car. First, check with the company that issued your credit card to ensure that rental car insurance is included as part of your contracted benefits before you decide whether or not to purchase insurance from the credit card company; and find out whether or not that insurance is primary or secondary.
If booking from a travel agent, have your consultant walk you through all the taxes. For example when renting a car from an Israeli travel consultant, the rates quoted include every possible tax except for Personal Accident Insurance. You will be covered for all airport fees, for Collision Damage Waiver and for Third Party (if you injure someone with your vehicle). What you’re not covered for is if you’re injured in an accident which your traveler’s insurance will cover you for.
If for some reason a rental car company claims that you are responsible for damage to the car, it is better to have them challenge the credit card company than your insurance company, which could possibly raise your vehicle insurance premiums as a result – even if the damage was not your fault.
2. Ensure that you are covered.
If you do decide to purchase insurance from the rental car company, read the fine print and exclusions of the policy carefully, as you might not be covered for certain items after all if anything should happen. For example, damage to a tire will most likely not be covered under collision insurance.
3. Check the policies of the facility from which you rent.
Carefully check the policies of the rental car company – such as when returning a car after hours, for example – as different rental car companies have different policies.
Sometimes different locations of the same rental car company can have different policies as well.
4. Inspect the vehicle.
Walk around the car and inspect both the interior and exterior thoroughly. This includes bumpers, grills, tires, seats, floor mats, the carpeting under the floor mats, the glove compartment, lenses for the lights, trunk – everywhere on, in and even under the vehicle.
5 Check the vehicle for any damage – no matter how minor.
If you see a minor scrape, rub it with your finger or cloth to ensure it is dirt and not a scratch. If the scrape is indeed a scratch, record it either by writing down the location of the scrape on the vehicle, or take a photograph or video of it – or, preferably, do both. Take clear photographs of areas of the car where damage is most likely to be ‘discovered’. On returning the car, insist on its being inspected and signed back in without further charges.
6. Report any potential incongruities for which you could be charged.
Report any quirk you find to the rental car attendant before you leave the facility and ensure that the attendant records it in your contract, as well as initials the findings.
7. Obey all traffic laws.
While the vehicle is your responsibility, take care to obey all traffic laws. This may sound like obvious advice; but if you are driving down a highway that electronically records your speed without you knowing about it – and is equipped with hidden cameras that will photograph your car in the midst of it exceeding the speed limit – you could very well be surprised with a fine plus charges and fees upon your return home.
The same caution should be exercised any time you arrive at a traffic light where cameras might be installed as well. Many drivers find entering and exiting a traffic roundabout without committing an offense is difficult to avoid. Unless you have some irrefutable evidence to the contrary, fighting the fine and contesting the charges and fees could prove little more than futile.
Moreover if you do cause damage to the vehicle or to a third party as a resulting of breaking the law, no insurance covers you.
To elucidate, driving intoxicated and involved in a traffic accident voids your insurance. Ditto if you innocently ran that red light or drove over the speed limit.
A too-common stratagem is to find new damage when the car is returned and charge inflated prices for repairing it. Too often the best teams find new damage on returned vehicles – helping themselves to a commission for “spotting” the damage.
8. Stand your ground and do not waiver Do not allow yourself to be coerced into being a victim.
If you believe you are being scammed by the rental car company, record every detail you can regarding your experience to either contact the corporate office of the rental car company, the police, a consumer advocate organization – or even the media, if necessary. You can also dispute the charges with your credit card company – which leads to the final word of advice… 9. Routinely check your credit card statement Always check your credit card statement; be particularly vigorous the month after the conclusion of the car rental to ensure that no surprise charges have been added.
Keep in mind that some car rental companies are more stringent than others. Your car rental experience will be uneventful most of the time; if you are asked to pay more than you should, it will most likely be due to an honest mistake on the part of the employee of the rental car company. However, all it takes is one time to be scammed – and if that happens to you, the cost in terms of time, effort and money can potentially be enormous.
Do yourself a favor and be fully prepared before you rent your next vehicle, as with renting from any rental car company, caveat emptor.
Remember: People don’t take trips – trips take people.
The writer is CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem.
For questions and comments email him at [email protected] ziontours.co.il