Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 5 July 2020

Why car rentals may leave you deflated

Hiring a car can become a hazzle and even put brakes on your holiday plans.
Some of the cars available for hire. Courtesy Newspress
Some of the cars available for hire. Courtesy Newspress

If you’re anything like me, it will be one of the last things you sort out before travelling overseas, particularly if you’re going home for a couple of weeks: hiring a car.

It’s a necessary evil for me, as my family lives about a 90-minute drive from Manchester Airport in the UK and the same goes for Mrs Hackett. That, combined with the fact that they all live about half an hour from each other in all directions, means we need to be independently mobile and on Anglesey, as in many parts of rural Britain, public transport is rarely anything other than a bus service that is sporadic at best. We need a car when we’re on holiday.

And so it was, a week ago, that I entered into my annual battle of wills at the car rental desk – the default company because, whenever I bother to check, it’s the least expensive.

And, like every year since I relocated to the UAE, this battle of wills was with a rather po-faced woman whose name escapes me, unlike her demeanour and her steely determination to squeeze as much money as possible from my cold, lifeless hands.

I thought I’d been clever this year by booking the car through Emirates’ own website after my flight tickets were emailed to me.

I thought, incorrectly, that because I’d signed up for proper insurance cover this time, that my costs would not increase by a single penny. But as this woman verbally destroyed every bit of self-confidence left in me, I realised the hard way that this wasn’t to be the case.

My insurance, which was arranged and paid for through a third party, was dismissed as basically worthless. Yet I’d paid the equivalent of more than Dh1,000 for the cover.

She said that in the event of any accident or damage, I would still be liable for the cost of repairs, and that I would have to claim these costs back from the company that insured me. Even writing this now is making my blood boil – why can’t it be a simple, transparent process to pay a company for the use of a car over a given number of days? What she wanted me to pay for insurance, for a two-week rental, was more than I used to pay annually for my own car when I lived in the UK.

She battered me to the point where I was prepared to pay the money just to shut her up, but I only relented when it came to covering breakdown recovery. And I only did that because, this year, my wife will also be using the car to get around and I didn’t want any grief if she had a blowout or worse.

That cost me an extra Dh300, which I reasoned was value for money for the peace of mind it offered.

It’s bad enough in the UK, where consumer rights are always high on the agenda, but it’s much worse in other countries, where you basically hand over your life’s savings at the rental desk in return for a beaten up machine that’s worth less than your rental costs.

This happened to me on a visit to Jordan once, as I foolishly thought that international companies and all the rest of them adhered to the same standards of whatever country you happen to be in. What I ended up hiring was little more than an expensive lesson in safety.

When you emerge from the fuselage of a plane after a long flight, with all your luggage and an exhausted spouse in tow, the last thing you want to be doing is looking over the small print of a rental agreement and arguing the toss over how much money you should be paying.

But the problem appears to be getting worse rather than better, especially when it comes to fuel surcharges if you return a car with anything other than a tank that’s full to bursting.

Next year, I’ve promised myself, I’ll get it sorted well in advance to avoid any unpleasant surprises. But I probably won’t, so I’d best start putting the money to one side right now.

Updated: July 23, 2015 04:00 AM