Car rental concerns: when your tank's still half-full. Plus a cash query for India

Q&A: travel unravelled

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The Independent Travel

Q. We've just had a week's holiday in Lanzarote. We had pre-booked a car at a good price, but the Goldcar desk told us on collecting the keys that the car was full of petrol and we should return it empty. They charged €70 for this. We used less than one-quarter of a tank. What does the law say about charging us for something we did not have? Elizabeth Hayes, Leeds

A."Out full, back empty", is one of the most iniquitous of the means by which some car-rental firms seek to make more money out of travellers. For a start, it is difficult for the hirer to tell if the company has given an accurate figure for the value of a full tank. Next, when you rent a car you should pay for the fuel consumed; if you just drive from airport to villa and back, you should have to pay the same as if you had made several circumnavigations of the island. And as anyone who has ever tried will know, it is impossible to return a car entirely devoid of fuel.

So what are your rights? Well, you no doubt ticked a box saying you accept the terms and conditions, which few people ever read. They include the statement "In Goldcar we use a Full-Empty fuel system" – the company claims it has this policy because it "saves you time when returning the car, it's as quick as parking the car and returning the keys". Therefore all you can do is put it down to experience and perhaps seek out a company that uses the much fairer "out full, back full" policy, where you pay only for what you use.


Q. We are going to Goa. Should we change currency in the UK before we go, or take a small amount of Indian currency and exchange the rest in India? David Allen, Bristol

A. India's antiquated exchange controls means that rupees cannot be taken in or out of India by foreign citizens, so bureaux de change in Britain do not sell the currency. Just take Sterling notes (nothing bigger than £20, and all crisp and clean). Change some at the airport and then more at your holiday locations as you go along.