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The Car Hire Gambit

Car Hire

A recent article in the trade press highlighted the the issues of car rental firms and their charges for "damage" to vehicles, suggesting that these charges were a new revenue stream for the various car rental firms.

There has always been an issue with the cost of repairs - along with the issue of the cost of fuel, if one has to return - or simply returns a vehicle with an empty tank. The amount charged for fuel is invariably astronomic. True, the rental firm does not wish to have to fuel cars, but even so, charging the prevailing rate for fuel along with a (already advised to the client) "refueling charge" would be a much fairer way forward.

As to repairs, this has been a bone of contention for rental car customers as much as it is for those who have to pay car insurance. A great chunk of the cost issue has less to do with who is, or who is not, a careful driver, as much as it has to do with the grossly inflated costs, charged by car manufacturers, for spares.

Spares are a major earner for manufacturers. A headlamp cluster for a Land Rover Discovery 4, for example, costs £1,800. A door panel costs £900. Need a replacement key? You are looking at over £200. Part of all this cost is also due to cars becoming to technical; too much to go wrong and far too much to go wrong that is not mission-critical for any given car to function. In olden days, for example, a car key was simple. You put the key in the keyhole and turned it. If you needed a replacement, this could be done at any number of places and the cost was maybe around £10, if that.

As such a simple thing as a key is now so technically involved, a new one has to be matched to the car's systems and that is quite a major operation. Is it any better? No.

As to repairs, though car rental firms can be rather cavalier with regard to charges, one does need to be mindful that, given the complexity of modern vehicles, such charges are not really all their fault. Cars are becoming, perhaps, far too high tech and so, relatively minor damage or breakdowns can involve significant repair costs.

Customers should, of course, do as much as they can to protect themselves. Always look around the car before signing off any agreement. Record any scratches and especially any blemishes on alloy wheels, using a smartphone. By "looking" I mean *really* looking closely at any vehicles and from different angles; it is too easy to miss minor bumps by simply looking at the wrong angle. Record *any* marks or scratches and make sure that they are duly annotated on the car rental documentation.

If there is an accident or damage during the hire, then it is always better to be straight forward about the issue. Once again, the need is to photograph the damage and agree the damage before completing the hand-back. It may not be possible to agree the cost, but it is certainly possible to agree the extent of any damage.

This raises the matter of insurance and that it is, in my opinion, always best to take whatever insurance is going. The reason being that, given the complex nature of modern cars, then any given damage is likely to become expensive.

A little bit of time checking before the rental and the additional cost of extra insurance, mitigates any later damage repair costs and that time checking, means that if there is damage, you will not have to cover the cost of someone else's damage!

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