British travellers to Spain risk seeing the cost of a rental car trebled by “hidden fuel charges”, researchers for Which? Travel have found.
The traditional model for car hire is that the vehicle is expected to be returned with same amount of fuel as when it was picked up: usually “out full, back full”, occasionally “out empty, back empty”. But with competition between rental companies intensifying, many firms in Spain have moved to an “out full, back empty” rule – with customers paying inflated rates for petrol or diesel that they may not be able to use.
A researcher in Malaga was told that the cheapest initial car-hire price including basic insurance was €30 from Goldcar, compared with €78 for Avis. But when fuel was added on arrival, the Goldcar price rose to €94. In order to use all the fuel in the Fiat 500, Which? Travel calculated it would be necessary to drive 140km every day for a week.
The magazine also found that the price used to calculate the value of the fuel was often inflated. A company called Record Spain, which provided the car booked through Holiday Autos, charged the equivalent of €1.98 per litre – one-third more than the price on Spanish forecourts.
Chris Gray of Which? Travel said: “No-frills airlines have their hidden card surcharges. In car hire, the hidden charge has become fuel. Consumers should not be in a position where booking a car rental commits them to paying an unavoidable charge with no refunds, with no idea how much the charge may be.”
Holiday Autos, the leading UK car-rental broker, tells customers: “At the booking stage of the online process, there is a sub-heading of 'important information'. Under this section you can locate the fuel conditions for the specific car-rental partner that will provide your car.”
One reader told the magazine that he was so determined not to give fuel back to the car-hire company that he drove 50km with the gauge on empty.
Road-safety campaigners have raised concerns that the policy could lead to holidaymakers running out of fuel on the motorway to a busy airport. A member of an online travel forum has suggested: “There is a good business opportunity for a tank-siphoning operation at each Spanish airport”.