Unfortunately hiring a car on line is as big a financial minefield as booking a low cost flight because there is an inevitable range of confusing add-on charges and exclusions all designed to generate additional revenue.
Sixt in Iceland have come up with a brilliant wheeze. I thought that I had purchased fully comprehensive insurance but the desk clerk told me that the cars suffered so many stone chips because of the gravel roads in Iceland that this had now been excluded and could be purchased at an additional cost of €9 a day under the description ‘gravel damage’ and just to be safe I agreed to buy it.
This is like excluding burglary from a house insurance policy or heart attacks from medical insurance. Brilliant business for them. The customer buys insurance but they exclude the things that you might need to claim for!
Then it became almost surreal when he explained that further cover was available at €10 a day for volcano damage. Volcano damage – WTF? I wondered if I was on ‘Caught on Camera’ or something!
On enquiry he told me that if a volcano explodes it can generate enough heat to strip the paint off the car and that this was not covered either. Sixt provide this explanation and justification for this additional level of insurance cover:
“Due to volcanic eruptions in Iceland in recent years there is still a great amount of ash in the highlands that tends to cause damage to vehicles in windy weather. Any damage caused by volcanic ash is not covered by any insurance or terms and conditions in Iceland. We do what we can so that our customers can travel our beautiful country without a care and this is why we now offer all customers to purchase sand and ash protection and Gravel protection, specially made to deal with our unique Icelandic conditions.”
Well, I considered this for a moment and came to the conclusion that if I was close enough to an exploding volcano for it to strip the paint off the car then it was almost certain that I was likely to be in a lot of trouble and great personal danger and the last thing that I was going to be worried about as my flesh melted into a puddle of grease and my bones were surely burnt to a blackened cinder was the condition of the paintwork on the hire car (gravel chipped or not) so I declined the offer to purchase the additional cover and quickly paid up just in case he next tried to sell me snow or rain insurance in case the car got wet!
Sixt are good at this sort of thing. Last year in Ireland I returned a car and a member of staff carried out an examination and satisfied himself that there were no bumps or scrapes, no chips in the windscreen and that the tyres weren’t flat and punctured, nothing that is that he could charge me for, and we turned to walk away but were staggered when he called us back and said that there was some sand in the carpets and that there could be a potential £60 cleaning charge.
“£60” I protested and almost choked and he defended this bit of daylight robbery with an explanation that this sort of sand was especially difficult to deal with. I covered my nose because I noticed that there was funny smell and I reminded him that I am Sixt Platinum customer and he backed down and said not to worry because the quantity was on the margins of acceptability and he would not charge us this time.
Just as well because if he had I would have asked for the keys back and taken it to a vacuum machine in the next door garage and sucked it up myself for £2 no matter how difficult it might have been (not). In case he changed his mind I actually thanked him for not mugging me but quickly returned to the car and wiped the steering wheel with a wet-wipe just in case there was a charge for removing fingerprints!
These thieves will try anything to generate additional revenue.
So, what is the solution? There is an alternative. Buy some cheap car hire insurance in the UK and when under pressure at the sales desk think of Captain Kirk and raise a force field around yourself to resist the hard sell. It usually means leaving a deposit on the credit card to pay for damages but this can then be claimed back from the cheaper insurer.
It works. This year I went to Ireland and one day had the misfortune to get a puncture. I was really annoyed about that because I hadn’t bought tyre damage insurance from the car rental company; I always buy tyre damage insurance and I have never had a puncture so I cursed my misfortune on that day. I needn’t have worried. When I got home I made a claim on the cheaper ‘buy before you go’ option and they promptly paid up!
The puncture story reminds me of another. In 1986 I went to Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands and mid-way through the holiday hired a car, a little blue Seat with an open top and on the first day set off into the mountains in the interior. This turned out to be rather hard work as the road looped in extravagant sweeping motions around deep valleys and gorges and followed a precarious route to the top.
Actually, we didn’t get to the top because after an hour or so we got a puncture and I had to change the wheel at the roadside. We were high up and close to the edge and part way through the process the car started to slide off the jack and I wondered how I was going to explain to the hire company just how the car had fallen off the road and disappeared into a ravine.
To my eternal shame I didn’t own up to the puncture but just put it in the boot without even pumping it up and left it. I have always felt guilty about that!