An Early Experience of Hiring a Car in Late 2000

Since the 1980s, I had rented cars for family holidays on numerous occasions. These were typically arranged through a recommendation from the self-catering villa business or through a local contact. I would usually hire a small car, such as a Fiat/Seat Panda/Ford Fiesta. I have had the pleasure of hiring a car in Corsica and Majorca, Portugal. Spain, Turkey, Portugal and Spain. It was much easier to fly to any other place.

None of these rentals caused any problems. A few times there were concerns, such as in Portugal’s Algarve with Mini that had not a lot of tread and the door key mechanism would pop out when the car was locked.

In October 2000, it was quite different. I rented a Mercedes A class car at a very reasonable price in Nice France. The rental company operated out of a single section of a multi-storey parking garage located close to the airport. They also had a check-in zone with computers and a few computers where you could make on-line reservations if necessary.

According to the company’s pricing policy, a booking made in advance would normally get you a cheaper car hire.

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The car was perfect for the week-long holiday. A German man stopped by the car in Villefranche Sur Mer to ask where he could rent a Mercedes.

When I got my next credit card bill there was a £150 charge from the online car rental company. The charge was due to alleged damage to the vehicle.

I asked for copies of the inspection report and inspection reports from the previous renter, but they did not reply. They replied that I had signed their rental contract and, as I hadn’t had it fully examined after I returned it to them, no refund would be given. In other words, it was “too bad”. I wasn’t prepared to pay for something I didn’t do.

I was not the only one who was “damaged”; my company was also featured in a lengthy feature on BBC television’s Weekend Watchdog, which aired in November. Nice Matin newspaper received the taped programme. The issue was the subject of hundreds of complaints. Some people had to even get their MP involved.

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I also reached out to the Trading Standards department of the London area where this company was located. I discussed the matter with Simon Calder (The Independent’s travel writer) in January 2001.

In December, I used the same rental agency again. I spent hours filming the car at the time of collection and checking it thoroughly when I returned it. It was then signed off as in good condition.

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.

Although I continued to use the company, and had the vehicle thoroughly checked upon collection and return for another couple years, I was still nervous about being penalized. However, after the December 2000 media attention, it became clear that their policy has changed significantly. Holiday Autos offered a wide range of cars for hire at very affordable prices. I was able to start using them, and the company with which I first had contact regarding the Mercedes A Class has been transformed into a global car rental broker.

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My wife found an article on buying excess car rental insurance in October 2004 and we immediately purchased one. Basically they are easy to purchase going to a web site like and choosing a provider who has advertised there.

The rental agreement usually covers Collision Damage Waiver, (CDW), and Theft. However, the renter remains liable for any excess on CDW or Theft. The driver is responsible for paying the first part of any repair or replacement costs if the rental car is stolen or damaged. This is called the Car Hire Excess. Renters can claim reimbursement on excess car insurance policies if the car is lost or damaged. This would have been possible in 2000!

I will definitely continue to have car rental excess insurance. However, as I rent multiple times per year, I find it easier to get an annual policy.