Hiring a car has the potential to cause all kinds of stress – especially if there is a dispute about damage to a rental vehicle, and doubly so overseas.
This is the situation one This is Money reader faces. He was charged a chunky sum of cash for scratches on the side of his Audi rental car.
What was even more frustrating for Jason Willems, 45, was the vehicle was scratched at the entrance of the Europcar car park when returning it – having already had it for one week in Madrid with no problems.
After he explained what happened to Europcar, the company valued the damage at the precise excess amount of €870 plus VAT, pushing it beyond €1,000.
One This is Money reader is in a dispute with Europcar over damage costs for his rental car
The VAT was a 21 per cent Spanish tax that Mr Willems was not advised would be added on and could not find any mention of in Europcar’s terms and conditions.
He disputed this amount with Europcar as he believed the excess should be the maximum possible charge – not the default amount charged for damage.
However, the rental firm refused to budge and insisted he pay the full amount for the damage.
Although he had advised them he was disputing the charge and taking time to look through all of his options, Europcar still took the full €1,052.70 from his credit card.
Luckily, Mr Willems, who is now retired, had taken out a car hire excess insurance policy through website, carhireexcess.com.
A car hire excess insurance policy ensures you are covered for the excess should you need to make a claim on your car insurance.
Mr Willems also complained to Madrid’s City Council which has a consumer complaints process under which anyone can submit a complaint about any business.
However, this can take many months to process and he only had one month to make the claim with his car hire excess firm.
Damage: These are the scratches the rental car obtained when entering the Europcar car park
Although he could immediately claim through them, this would invalidate his complaint to the City Council and potentially leave him out of pocket.
The car excess policy he took out works on a pay and reclaim basis so if he did decide to pay the damage costs and thus, invalidate the complaint to the Council but the policy decided for any reason they would not pay him back, he would have no other options for getting his money back.
However, if he didn’t pay and the City Council complaint also comes back in agreeing with Europcar, he would still have to pay the damage costs and would have missed the window to claim back through his car hire excess policy – which is only valid for 31 days after the incident.
Mr Willems commented: ‘It’s a really confusing circular argument with high risk stakes, and it’s left to the most inexperienced party, the consumer, to make the decision. This is an opaque system that must trip up so many people unfairly.’
In an attempt to help Mr Willems, This is Money tried multiple methods of contact to speak to carhireexcess.com but unfortunately were ultimately unable to.
We did manage to speak to Europcar about the incident and Mr Willems has since seen his excess bill cut by over half the original amount quoted to €328.39.
Hiring a rental car can come with difficulties – especially if there is a dispute over payment
A Europcar spokesperson said: ‘Europcar Spain is sorry for the inconvenience caused to Mr Willems following his rental in Madrid.
‘The company can confirm that staff at the station had requested that the car be left outside the entrance of the car park to avoid Mr Willems having to drive through the narrow entrance.
‘Unfortunately it appears he did not remember this when returning the vehicle.
‘The estimate for the damage to the rear right wing was calculated based on the company’s pricing matrix with an accredited automotive repair centre in Madrid.
‘The estimate fell within the bracket of €1525.88 + VAT which is why the excess of €870 + VAT was applied.
‘However, given the circumstances, as a gesture of goodwill Europcar Spain has reduced this amount to the lower bracket of €328.39 + VAT.
‘The company has contacted Mr Willems to confirm this and will refund the difference of €655.35 +VAT which will be in his account within 10 to 14 days.
‘With regards to the 21 per cent Spanish tax, this is standard sales tax for Spain and is always applied to any charges for damage repairs.’
Unfortunately, in the situation Mr Willems found himself in, he has to pay out no matter the circumstances – whether that be to the car hire excess policy who would then hopefully refund him or to Europcar and hope the City Council rules in favour of the consumer.
This could be seen as an unfair system as the consumer is punished despite potentially not having done anything wrong.
Despite the offer from Europcar to significantly reduce his excess bill, Mr Willems has made a counter offer, asking for the firm to reduce the total to €200 as he still believes he is being overcharged by the rental firm.
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