Something To Declare: Car hire – a service that makes budget airlines look good

 

What is the most high-performance car on the road? According to P J O’Rourke: a rental car. “It’s an all-terrain vehicle,” he writes. “Mud, snow, water, woods – you can take a rented car anywhere. True, you can’t always get it back – but that’s not your problem, is it?”

He wrote that in the 1980s. Times have changed. Today, we treat a hire car as we would a vintage Bentley with our week-old twins on the back seat holding our prize porcelain collection. Carefully, in short. That’s because if you put a scratch the length and breadth of a proton on the bodywork, your car-hire company is probably going to sting you and sting you good.

The pricing structures at some car-rental companies make the big six energy firms look like your friendly local farm shop. After five minutes examining your final bill following a few days in a hire car you’ll conclude Ryanair are models of open-handed, corporate generosity.

Take my recent fly-drive in Athens. I paid €50 for the satnav. It turned out it hadn’t had a software update since Sophocles and it kept trying to drive me into the sea. They also told me it would be cheaper not to bring the car back with the tank full. This was not, how shall we say, true. I filled up the car from empty for less than €80 on the road. I returned it with quarter of a tank left and they charged me €74.14.

More worrying, there was a supplementary “road fund licence charge” for €213.84 that I knew nothing about.

The Post Office recently did a comparative study of the “extras” headaches you encounter around the world. Top of the world for pain is Oslo, where the £271.30 basic cost of a week’s hire became £520.60 by the time you add Excess Damage Waiver (EDW) and additional driver and petrol. Best value was Florida, mainly because EDW is included in US bookings.

Driving a hire car is rarely a pleasure. High performance? It’s like trying to get some thrust out of a sponge cake. But they go like Maseratis in comparison with the check-in process.

Travel has automated. We can whisk through airports and sail through hotel lobbies in seconds. But in car-rental land it is still 1955. In Bulgaria. You queue. And queue. You fill in forms. And more forms. There is an electronic check-in machine, but it is purely symbolic.

They believe in face-to-face service, do car rental firms. That’s because they want to “upsell” you. Two hours after landing you stagger from the desk clutching the keys to the BMW X5 you’ve been “upgraded” to rather than the Fiat 500 you actually paid for. To some car-hire companies, the fee you pay online is merely a small downpayment on the fee they actually plan to charge.

One day there will emerge a decent car-hire company which has transparent, all-inclusive, pre-paid prices. With everything paid for and all your details in the system, you will simply pick up your keys. Then off you fly – literally, because by the time this happens, rental cars – in common with pigs – will have wings.

Mark Jones is editorial director of British Airways ‘High Life’ and Best Western ‘Do Not  Disturb’ magazines

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
ESPN footage showed a split-screen Murray’s partner Kim Sears and Berdych’s partner Ester Satorova 'sporting' their jewellery
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - Franchised Main Dealer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee