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How we assess car hire services

Our scoring and methods for assessing the five major car rental companies.

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Ready for a road trip? We went through all the steps required to book a hire car through Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz and Thrifty, to assess ease of use, the rental contract and damage coverage provided by the rental company.

Ease of use score

We went through all the steps required to book a vehicle via a web browser, on desktop and mobile devices. We did not assess each company's app, as it seemed unlikely that potential customers would download and install an app to book a vehicle, when the service is also available through web browsers.

We assessed ease of use as follows:

  • Entering a pickup location and rental details (duration, age, country of residence etc.).
  • Selecting a vehicle type and model.
  • The supplied information and level of detail.
  • The degree to which prices change from the advertised cost to the final payment (e.g. hidden fees or extras).
  • Payment options.
  • Other available features such as member bonuses, flight information, discount codes.

Contract score

This score is based on the level of detail in the contract, the amount of information provided, and whether it's delivered in language that's easy for the average consumer to understand. We look at:

  • Ease of locating a complete copy of the rental contract on the website (rather than an abbreviated version).
  • Ease of understanding the contract, including layout, length and terminology used.
  • Whether the rental company explains that their coverage is not the same as typical car insurance.
  • Whether they detail pre- and post-rental inspection processes in the contract.
  • Whether the contract clearly explains the length of time after the rental that damage or other charges can be made to the renter's credit card.
  • Other admin and usage specifications.

Coverage score

We look at the level of detail provided in the contract, to see if the collision damage waiver/loss damage waiver specifies what is and is not covered. We look at the basic cover included in rental price by all these companies. We look for:

  • Specific mention of parts likely to be damaged such as tyres, lights, windscreen etc.
  • Specific mention of damage scenarios, such as single or multiple vehicle accidents, or contaminated fuel and whether towing is covered.
  • Specific mention of damage caused by natural disasters.
  • Specific mention of loss or theft.
  • Mention of underbody and overhead damage cover.
  • Any additional coverage options.

The score is created based on how these are covered by the rental company:

  • If the contract specifies that a particular aspect/incident is not covered, then the contract scores no points for that aspect/incident.
  • If the contract specifies that a particular aspect/incident may be covered but it is up to the discretion of the company, then the contract scores one point for that aspect/incident.
  • If the contract specifies that a particular aspect/incident is unconditionally covered, then the contract scores two points for that aspect/incident.

We then add up all the points for all aspects/incidents for each company to calculate the total coverage score.

Scores

The overall score is made up of:

  • Ease of use: 20%
  • Contract: 30%
  • Coverage: 50%

Why we don't recommend any car hire services

You don't need to look far to find car rental horror stories. Damaged vehicles, dodgy contracts, outrageous additional fees billed to the driver once the car has been returned – these sorts of stories pop up in the news and on social media all the time. All the companies we reviewed had several aspects that could be improved whether that be annoying booking processes on your mobile, right through to poor coverage for damage meaning renters are left with hefty bills.

But in the past five years, car rental companies have been investigated for (and some have admitted to) anti-consumer practices. During that time, the ACCC has clamped down on the industry and even gone as far as to prepare extensive guides on how to operate a car rental business under Australian Consumer Law. Yet we continue to hear negative feedback, and it's usually directed at individual outlets or staff members.

Though we acknowledge that the industry has improved, ongoing negative feedback means we will not be recommending any services. However, people continue to use them, so we chose to assess their performance and usability on the grounds that many of our members will likely rent a vehicle in the near future.

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