As we drove along a perfectly maintained asphalt road I congratulated myself on my earlier decision not to fall for the volcano damage insurance trick but very soon after that I was glad of the fact that I had agreed to pay the gravel damage insurance scam.
Eventually we came to a sign that told us that the tarmac road was about to end and we about to join an unpaved road full of lumps and bumps, potholes and significant gravel damage danger so I was glad that we had taken out the additional insurance especially when cars approaching from the other way inevitably sent a shower of stones towards us as though we under machine gun fire aimed at our little vehicle which, quite frankly, was totally unsuitable for this sort of journey which made me think again about car hire companies and their underhand tricks.
Earlier in the year I hired a car in Italy (again from Sixt) and despite signing up for comprehensive insurance I was then told that this didn’t cover the roof, the windscreen, the tyres, the floor or, most bizarrely of all, the clutch. Comprehensive means comprehensive in my book and not one that is qualified with lots of exclusions and ‘get out’ clauses.
A few years ago I had another unpleasant extra charges experience with Sixt at the car hire desk in Karlsruhe-Baden in Germany. There was a pleasant young man on duty called Herr Schmidberger and he examined my hire details and then sighed and furrowed his brow and adopted a concerned demeanour, “You have a booking for a vehicle without the winter tyres” he said, “are you sure you want a car without the winter tyres?” I had no idea what he was talking about and must have given him my best blank expression because with that he rolled his eyes so far back into their sockets that if had laser vision he would have surely fried his brain.
The winter tyres were an extra €55 and I was beginning to detect a well rehearsed scam so we took a while to consult with each other on the proposal of paying the extra and this started to test his patience.
I enquired why I might consider going to the unnecessary additional expense and although this was his opportunity to inform me that since May 2006 German motorists have been required by law to use the most appropriate tyres for the weather conditions and that driving on snow covered roads is permitted only if a car is equipped with winter tyres, but instead he became even more theatrical and said “Look at the snow, you can see the snow, in just two minutes you can see the snow!”
Obviously I could see the snow but I still failed to understand why he was so insistent (unless it was a scam and I was becoming more and more sure of that). He could have told me that in Germany motorists are obliged to make sure they have correct tyres to suit the winter weather conditions and if a vehicle becomes stuck because the tyres are unsuitable drivers are liable to an on the spot police fine, and furthermore if the vehicle causes an obstruction or aggravation to other traffic, the fine may be doubled. Instead he gave a look that suggested that I was the craziest customer that he had ever dealt with and that driving without winter tyres in snow was madder than wrestling with alligators, swimming in shark infested waters or sky-diving without a parachute.
I asked about the weather forecast and whether he thought it might be snowing in the Black Forest (which at over a thousand metres was an absolute certainty and a really dumb question) and then his eyes started to swivel from side to side like the symbols on a fruit machine and he was clearly losing his patience with me now. He might have explained that winter tyres use a tread rubber compound that is softer and a tread block pattern which are specifically designed to retain flexibility in low temperatures and give good braking and traction performance on snow and ice covered roads but instead he just keep shrieking “Look at the snow, you can see the snow, in just two minutes you can see the snow!”
By now we were beginning to understand that he thought snow tyres were a very good idea so finally agreed to the additional charge and he immediately calmed down and set about allocating us an appropriate vehicle for the conditions.
We quickly found the bright blue Nissan Micra hidden under a blanket of snow, cleaned it down, examined the tyres which, at this time not understanding about the special rubber compound, looked quite normal to me and fairly soon after setting off I was certain we had been scammed. And we had been of course because at €13.45 a day I calculate that if they are on the car for a third of the year that is an extra €1,600 or €400 a tyre and I could not believe that they can be that much more expensive than a regular tyre. And of course they are not because when I got home I checked and they can be bought for as little as €40 each.
But, I digress, so let’s get back to Iceland where Sixt seem to excel themselves at ripping people off and I found this from a victim on Tripadvisor (http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowTopic-g189964-i4363-k5758239-Sixt_rent_a_car_Keflavik-Keflavik_Southern_Peninsula.html):
“After a lovely week in May of this year we dropped our hired Chevrolet Spark off at this same office where it was thoroughly checked and deemed to be fine. Two days later we received an email saying that they were sorry but sand damage had been found and they had taken over £2500 from my credit card.”
A representative from Sixt responded with this rather lame excuse:
“I would like to assure all Sixt customers that Sixt Iceland tries to handle all damage cases with great care and do not charge customers for damage lightly. There are times when damage cannot be seen until after cleaning and in such cases we contact the customer to let them know about the damage found. We gather all information we can to prove all damage. By taking photos and with an estimated repair cost from an independent garage we are able to provide the renter with a good proof of damage.”
What is that funny smell?
Interestingly, even if you take out the volcano damage insurance this only limits liability to repair costs exceeding €1,500 and that is a staggeringly large excess liability! I don’t think I will be hiring a car from Sixt again, especially in Iceland!
Thankfully the gravel road experience didn’t last very long and soon we were back to tarmac for the final ten kilometres or so of the journey towards Þingvellir.