In a review of the contracts and fees of seven of the nation’s largest car rental companies, CHOICE discovered plenty of dubious clauses and hidden fees and charges.
Fees and charges: Vehicle registration, e-tag service, and administration fees, and a premium location surcharge (PLS) of up to 18%.
Excess: Standard excess at a non-airport location $3000, at an airport $3560. Reduced to $340 for around $27.50 per day (non-airport), or $400 for $30 per day (airport).
The fine print: Excess per incident, but Avis provide details of the final cost of repairs and refund the balance. Despite the fact you will pay a premium location surcharge and higher excess and excess reduction from airports, you are actually still charged your PLS on top of the total bill of hire.
Verdict: Avis’ policy of refunding the difference between excess and their costs of repair is better than most, and problems experienced by CHOICE members were relatively minor. Watch out for the huge price-hikes at their airport branches - you may end up paying hundreds, if not thousands of dollars more than you expect.
Fees and charges: Interstate driving and e-tag rental fees.
Excess: $3000, reduced to $300 or $50 by paying $10-15 per day.
The fine print: Excess is payable for each occurrence of damage, and you’re liable for everything from lost wheel covers to defaced decal stickers, at fault or not. Bayswater’s special deals may seem cheap, but all is not as it seems. When CHOICE checked their specials online, Bayswater listed a $20 per day deal and urged customers to 'go straight to our Instant Quote and Booking Page', but it was nowhere to be found. A phone call to the Sydney office revealed that the special required a $3000 deposit, and couldn’t be booked online.
Verdict: Their rates are some of the lowest, but we are unimpressed with their policy of charging consumers for not-at-fault accidents. Where the other driver is located, any costs would already be covered by their insurance, so it’s double dipping.
Fees and charges: Vehicle registration recovery, e-tag service and administration fees, and PLS of a percentage in the high teens in some locations.
Excess: $2850 (non airport location) or $3360 (airport), reduced to $342 (non-airport) for $28 per day or $400 for around $31 a day (airport).
The fine print: Excess is paid per incident, but the company refunds the difference between excess paid and the final cost of repairs. But as with some of the other companies, despite the fact that you will already pay more for renting from a PLS location, you will also need to fork out the PLS and administration fees on top of the entire cost of rental, including any miscellaneous expenses, such as from an accident.
Verdict: Of the concerns raised by CHOICE members about Budget, most were about minor issues. While most of Budget's contract seems reasonable, renting from a premium location incurs a slew of incredibly high fees.
East Coast Car Rentals
Fees and charges: Debit card surcharge, and a 9.95% administration fee for all charges.
Excess: $3000, reduced to $200 by paying an extra $8.80 to $21 per day. Only the premium reduction waiver (from $16.60 per day) covers drivers for single vehicle accidents.
The fine print: According to their contract, the company gives no implied warranty as to the condition of the vehicle and equipment, or their fitness for purpose. In plain English, this means they think they can rent you a car that doesn’t work. And while most companies specify that they can repossess your vehicle if it is being used outside the terms of the agreement or illegally, East Coast goes further, stating that they can also demand the vehicle’s return before the end of the contract, without condition. Driving beyond their very restricted areas of use incurs a surcharge. And that 9.95% administrative fee is charged on the final cost of the rental, including any damage.
Verdict: With an insurance policy riddled with exceptions, a huge administrative surcharge and what seems like an illegal attempt at eroding consumers’ legal rights, East Coast Car Rentals has some of the nastiest fine print out there. CHOICE is reporting the relevant clauses to the ACCC.
Fees and charges: PLS of up to 18%, and licence and administration fees.
Excess: $3850, reduced to $385 or nil by paying a surcharge of around $28 per day.
The fine print: Commercial vehicles such as utes aren’t covered by insurance when driven in reverse. Hirers forfeit their excess regardless of whether they are at fault or not.
Verdict: CHOICE is unimpressed with Europcar’s policy of charging for not at fault accidents. Consumers hiring utes or commercial vans should be very wary of the lack of cover for reversing vehicles. Interestingly, while we don’t know how many of our members regularly use each of these companies, several of the complaints we received were about Europcar.
Fees and charges: PLS up to 23%, vehicle registration and administrative fees.
Excess: $3300, reduced to $400 for most cars or nil (at limited locations) for around $25 to $30 per day. Unless you’ve taken out maximum cover, single vehicle accidents and water damage attract a surcharge from $2200. In Tasmania, customers are liable for an excess of $9900 on unsealed roads. Excess reduction policies cover tyre and windscreen damage.
The fine print: While Hertz states that if repairs cost less than the excess paid, the difference is refunded, the contract also states that hirers are responsible for damage regardless of whether they are at fault. Cars rented in NT and some areas of WA and SA are not insured for damage from collision with an animal between sunset and sunrise. And that PLS and any admin fees are charged on the total cost of hire, including any charges resulting from an accident. Not that this is technically in the fine print - CHOICE couldn't find any mention of this clause in the contract, and had to ring Hertz for clarification.
Verdict: There are plenty of exceptions in the insurance, and a confusing policy of holding hirers responsible for not at fault accidents, but refunding the difference between excess paid and cost of repairs. A few members complained about having to pay for damage that they claim they had not caused. And CHOICE was not impressed by the difficulty of locating a policy on the application of the PLS.
Fees and charges: Administration, e-tag and vehicle registration recovery fees, and PLS of up to 16%.
Excess: $990, reduced to nil for around $20 per day. Web specials excess $3300, reduced to $330 or nil for around $22 or $30 per day (respectively).
The fine print: Redspot vehicles are fitted with e-tags. By selecting drive away, no more to pay rates, customers reduce their excess and automatically receive cover for windscreen, tyre and overhead damage, and get unlimited e-tag use. Otherwise, customers can either pay for unlimited e-tag use for a daily rate of between around $7 and $17 depending on location and length of rental, or can pay for tolls individually, but this option incurs a $15 surcharge per toll. Redspot does not allow their cars to be used on unsealed roads “unless reasonably unavoidable”.
Verdict: Redspot offer a good excess reduction policy at a reasonable rate, but add-on costs let them down. We didn’t receive any feedback from CHOICE members about this company.
Fees and charges: Vehicle registration and administration fees, and PLS of up to 19.5%, in some locations an e-tag fee.
Excess: $3300, reduced in limited locations to $385 or nil for around $27 to $33 per day. There’s an additional single vehicle accident recovery fee of up to $2200, which applies to non-metro locations, but this is waived with the ultimate protection policy.
The fine print: While most companies will penalise you with an increased excess for accidents where a car is being driven by an unauthorised driver, Thrifty specifies that their vehicles must only be driven by an authorised person, who must be present at the time of collection. They also apply the PLS to the total cost of hire, including charged incurred in accidents or for accessories. But CHOICE had some difficulty determining this, as no mention was found in the contract, and only after insisting on a second opinion at a Thrifty call-centre were we able to verify the existence of this policy.
Verdict: The excess is high and PLS policy is non-transparent. While a couple of people wrote in to complain about Thrifty, the issues were relatively minor.