Bad experiences with car hire in Spain
The tourist industry is one of the pillars of the Spanish economy and delivering an excellent service is top priority for hotels, restaurants and other services related with tourism.
Unfortunately this does not seem to be the case with the car rental industry in Spain. Dozens of horror stories about bad experiences with rental car bookings can be found on the internet, particularly with regard to the price.
On virtually every travel forum there are comments about reservations where the total amount payable locally was many times higher than at the time of booking. Here are just a few random examples on three different forums, but there are many more:
It is there for no wonder that people have mixed feelings about booking a rental car for their holidays in Spain. Every day I receive emails with questions like
- “What should I look for when I want to hire a car in Spain?”
- “What is the best car rental company in my travel destination?”
- “Is it better to book directly with the rental company or through an intermediary?”
- “Which broker is recommended if I want to compare rental car rates?”
How can you find a reliable car hire company in Spain?
It is certainly not easy to find a reliable company offering the rental car for the exact advertised price, because the industry itself is not exactly transparent. Even for experts it is sometimes hard to know what is included and what is not included in the rental price without reading the rental conditions carefully.
Unfortunately most people don’t bother reading the fine print and simply book the cheapest hire car in Spain they find on the internet. That this can lead to unpleasant situations we already know from the cases mentioned above.
When you are looking for a reliable car hire company in Spain my single most important piece of advice is
Do not simply book the cheapest car
On the internet there are loads of price comparison websites which make it really easy to compare prices from different rental companies in a matter of seconds, because the cheapest cars are listed at the top of the page.
Besides saving money you also save time, as you do not have to compare all these prices yourself. So why is it not always a good decision to book the lowest price?
Why do car hire companies in Spain desperately want to be the cheapest?
Studies show, that on price comparison sites people usually book the cheapest cars offered without comparing the rental conditions of the corresponding car hire company. So the bulk of the bookings are done for the models listed at the top of the page.
As a consequence most Spanish car hire companies want their cars to be listed at the top of the page and constantly reduce their prices in order to keep the top position which guarantees a high number of reservations.
This price war can be so extreme that the best price for car hire in Malaga car for 7 days can be lower than the price for a rental bike in the same period. Hard to believe? Have a look at this practical case where car hire in Malaga is offered for less than 7€ per week which is much cheaper than bike rental for the same period. How can car hire in Malaga be cheaper than bike rental?
Now how can car rental be cheaper than bike rental?
If you are asking yourself how it is possible, that a car hire company in Malaga can rent a car for 1€ per day and still make money, the answer is simply: they cannot.
They must make the money when you collect the car locally by selling you all kind of services which are usually only mentioned in the terms and conditions, like petrol charges, additional insurances etc. And this is not only the case at Malaga airport, but also in other Spanish holiday destinations like Alicante, Barcelona, the Balearics or the Canary Islands.
People normally don’t read this fine print, so there you have the main reason why the internet is full of horror stories about car hire in Spain.
Read the fine print before you book
If you want to avoid financial surprises you must take the time to read the small print and find out what additional expenses you can expect locally when you collect the car.
So what to do in case you find a great price like the one we used for a 7 days car hire in Malaga in the example above? Unfortunately on the price comparison site where the car was offered I was unable to view the terms and conditions of the local rental company which is Interrent in this case.
If you do not want to book a car without knowing the exact rental conditions you should at least try to find them on the company’s website. Below I’ve listed the insurance conditions I found on www.interrent.com for a rental for the same period.
In this case Interrent (a subsidary of Europcar) offers three insurance packages with different prices:
- 55,90€ – “Super Cover”; reduces your excess to just €100/ €200 (depending on the car category) in the event of collision or theft, as accidents can happen to even the safest drivers. Excludes damages to windows & tyres
- 104,94€ – “Peace of Mind”; reduces the franchise to €0 in case of collision or theft, includes damages to windows &wheels/rims
- 139,93€ – “Premium Security Package”; includes “Peace of Mind” and Personal Accident Insurance
In general, the more expensive the insurance, the completer the coverage. My guess is, that in this particular case most travelers will probably opt for the “Peace of Mind” insurance priced at 104,94€* which includes damages to windscreens and wheels (these damages are not covered by the more basic “Super Cover package”).
* the prices for the “Peace of Mind” insurance offered by Interrent/Europcar are the same in Malaga, Mallorca or Valencia, with the exception of the Canary Island which have a different VAT regime.
What if you do not want to take the additional insurance?
If you already have a travel insurance which includes damages to rented cars, if you bought a third party insurance on the website where you booked the car or if you simply do not want to pay for the additional insurance offered by the local car hire company the staff at the counter will normally ask you to provide a security deposit to cover additional or exceptional charges that may occur during the rental period.
In most cases this deposit must be made with the same credit card as the one used for the payment or the rental. For the small model from the economy category in our example the amount is 1.900 euros according to the Interrent website.
That’s a fairly large amount so if you have a low monthly limit on your credit card you may find yourself in trouble when such a large amount is blocked during the rental period and cannot be used for other things like restaurant bills, entrance fees etc.
Do not forget, that the amount can be considerably higher if you’re renting a bigger vehicle from a superior category.
How to avoid paying a deposit?
The only way to avoid having to leave a deposit is taking the additional insurance of the car hire company itself. If we do a quick calculation we see immediately, that the car hire company is making more money by selling the insurance, than by renting the car.
It seems, that they’re not really interest in customers who leave a deposit, or customers who buy their insurance elsewhere.
This is one of the main reasons why travelers with an insurance from a third party are often told, that their policy it is not valid, does not offer the necessary coverage or is simply not acknowledged by the car hire company and that if they want to get the car keys they either have to take the insurance offered locally or have to leave the corresponding security deposit.
After a long flight with many hours waiting at the airport, the queue at the rental counter of the car hire company and unfriendly staff telling them they will not get the car keys unless they buy an extra insurance or leave a deposit most tourists just want one thing: sign the contract and get on their way as quickly as possible.
That’s why so many tourists renting a car in Spain end up paying twice for their insurance coverage: once at the time of booking on a comparison website and once at the time of collecting the vehicle.
What other unpleasant surprises can I expect when I collect the car?
Charging twice for the insurance, arguments with the counter staff about the rental conditions, aggressive sales methods and high security deposits are some of the most frequent complaints in travel forums. Other issues which come up again and again are the long queues at the rental counters with excessive waiting times or the petrol policy.
If you read the rental terms and conditions carefully and do not blindly flag the checkbox accepting that you have read and understood them, most of the aforementioned issues can be avoided.
Nevertheless one last thing we recommend you to check is the petrol policy of the car hire company. If you are unfamiliar with the different types of petrol policies applied in Spain please read the following article about fuel charges in Spain.