Travel — 14 April 2011
'Cowboy' hire car operators rope in vacationers - report

'Cowboy' hire car operators rope in vacationers - report.

Thousands of travellers are putting themselves at risk by booking cheap car hire through “cowboy” brokers. A report by Holiday Autos, “Car Hire Uncovered”, which investigates consumer opinion around car hire, found that nearly one-quarter (23 percent) of UK adults admit they would consider booking their hire car through a brand or website they’d never heard of if the price was right.

With dozens of new ‘back room’ car hire brands having started up in the past three years, travellers are urged to carefully consider who they book with as they may end up paying the price in the long run. With complaints about car hire increasing by 30 percent since the start of 2010, Holiday Autos is working alongside an industry body to create a code of conduct for car hire brokers to help regulate practices within the sector.

The report shows that nearly half (43 percent) of those that have hired a car in the past said price is the most important factor. Only 5 percent said service was most important to them, while less than a quarter (23 percent) consider reputation to be the be all and end all. However, they often pay the price for doing so – one in ten (10 percent) UK adults who hired a car in 2010 reported having had a bad experience.

The research shows that many consumers do not research car hire companies prior to booking. Of those who have hired a car in the past, 70 percent have never checked if the company has a 24 hour customer support service, and 76 percent have never looked into whether family or friends have heard of or would recommend the company.

Mystery shopping conducted in the last month amongst a number of recently launched car hire firms reveals that a significant proportion are not providing their customers with enough support during and after a booking has been made.

  • Half (50 percent) do not have a customer support centre
  • Only two fifths (38 percent) allow customers to amend their booking online
  • When questioned, two thirds (75 percent) would not disclose the age of the vehicles loaned to customers
  • 50 percent have no 24hr point of contact in the event of a problem or emergency
  • Only 10 percent have been given industry recognised awards

The report reveals that a significant number of travellers have been exposed to rogue practices. These include travellers arriving at the pick-up desk to find that the car they booked was no longer available, being sold insurance that they later realised they already had or didn’t need, or in the worst cases, being told that there was no evidence of their booking.

Alison Rice, travel and tourism commentator says: “In order to avoid getting taken for a ride by a rogue car hire broker, I recommend that customers think harder before clicking the “book” button:

Cheap is not the same as value for money, she said. Cut-price car hire companies may add costly extras when you pick up the car. They may even be compromising on vital vehicle maintenance. It’s also worth checking if the pick-up desk is at the airport or a shuttle bus ride away as, while it may be cheaper, the extra distance will add time and hassle to your journey.

Beware the hidden extras – book with companies willing to agree all costs in writing when you book. Arriving at your holiday airport tired and anxious is not the time to negotiate insurance costs. Also make a note, if you are not paying in sterling, to check that the exchange rate used to calculate the end cost is in line with the current rate.

To download a full copy of the Holiday Autos “Uncovering Car Hire” report, visit

Image via Wikipedia.


About Author

Richard Lee

Richard has been traveling since he took a year off from college, where he was doing a BA in Journalism. He traveled half the world, backpacking with his girlfriend (now his wife). They spent time in South America, Asia, Greece and much of Europe. After writing about his experiences for several airline and travel magazines, he never went back to college.

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