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Warning: Car hire ripoff bordering on scam.....

....the lawyers can decide which!

I've just found out about a problem that some german aquaintances had with car hire at a UK airport recently. They had booked a car in the Golf/Astra/Focus/308/i30 class. When they arrived they were presented with the UKs greatest contribution to the mobile fashion accessory trade - the MINI. This had nowhere near enough luggage space but the company was claiming it was in the same class and therefore valid in their terms, no other car in the class was available. In the end an extra £200 was paid for a bigger car.

The reason why no other car was available is that they wanted an automatic, this is usually the starter class for automatics. Manual gearboxes were available in numbers but only the Mini or bigger with an automatic gearbox. And this means US visitors are most likely to be caught by it.

The reason why I say ripoff/scam is that a Mini, even the 5 door version, is NOT in the same class as the cars quoted! So they should have been given a bigger car at no extra cost. If you have booked a Golf/Astra/308 sized car and the example list did not include Mini, save the link to this warning onto your mobile device. Or print it off together with one or more of the following UK published reviews which list other cars in the same class as the Mini. Then if they try this with you, present this evidence and tell them I will help you take the case to their local Trading Standards Office (which foreign visitors usually don't know about!). As you may have noticed, I am not happy!!

https://www.whatcar.com/mini/5-door/hatchback/review/

https://www.autocar.co.uk/car-review/mini/5-door-hatch

https://www.topgear.com/car-reviews/mini/hatch/verdict

Posted by
4596 posts

Every rental agency I've used includes the Mini in this category. I agree, it's not equal in terms of luggage space as a Golf, Astra etc but it is on a par power wise. As for getting an automatic in that class in the UK, that's quite a tall order, typically I only see automatics starting at the intermediate saloon class.

It's not a rip off, many people are quite happy with a Mini, in fact some agencies list it as a premium or fun car so clearly there's a demand for it. If you do not think that your luggage will fit in a class that includes a Mini then opt for a larger class, I've done so on several occasions.

Posted by
5539 posts

Hi Steve - it's wrong if a car is categorized and priced in an inaccurate size category. Is it fair to name the offending rental company? Also, I realize that people are usually wanting to get out of the airport and get on with their day, and not stand in another queue, but was it possible to go to any alternative rental companies at the airport and see what they had on offer, at what price?

I hope your German acquaintances get satisfaction from this, in the end.

Posted by
631 posts

my view is that if the website actually said Golf/Astra/Mini class then you are stuck with it. But if they don't mention Mini until they try to dump one on you it is a ripoff if you booked that class. The professional motoring journalists I linked to say the Mini is comparable to a VW Polo, not Golf, or Ford Fiesta, not Focus. I've got an Astra and know the Mini is nowhere near as big for luggage. If they want to put Mini in a special class and charge more for it being a style icon then that is fine.

Unfortunately they had paid in advance so couldn't just walk away - and their desire for an automatic will always limit choice.

Posted by
5539 posts

Yeah, paying in advance might limit their options . . . hope they got a really good starting price, even if it cost them £200 more in the end. Did they wind up with a better deal than if they'd committed to a competitor rental company's prices for the Golf/Astra/Focus/308/i30 class? My experience is that companies generally categorize vehicles by luggage space and interior passenger space. What company were your acquaintances using?

Posted by
16883 posts

Another factor that helps the rental company make their argument is that they under-promise on luggage space to begin with. You might look at the sample car photo for a Compact Automatic and think, "Oh, that's big enough," but the luggage icons only promise room for one (1) large bag and one (1) small bag.

Posted by
1217 posts

my view is that if the website actually said Golf/Astra/Mini class then you are stuck with it. But if they don't mention Mini until they try to dump one on you it is a ripoff if you booked that class.

Every car rental agency is going to include the dread 'or equivalent' language in their standard rental agreement because the nature of the business is that they need that flexibility when it comes to fleet purchases and management. And the agency's idea of 'or equivalent' typically has a fair amount of leeway.

Car exactly matching description is the realm of either outright luxury car categories of it you're super-elite in their program. So a high price to pay for an exact match.

Posted by
4639 posts

Which? lists the MINI as a small car, not a medium one (it isn't a 'mini' or 'city' one though). Rental groups with some agencies though are opaque as they have cost, prestige somehow folded in as well as size. Much better are those that have groups that are divided by size and separately by other factors, eg Economy and Premium ranges.

Although it is may be a necessity to some, automatic can easily be a 30% premium at the cheaper end. Yet in the 4x4 class it can be negligible.

Posted by
3586 posts

Unfortunately they had paid in advance so couldn't just walk away

This is the great drawback of using AutoEurope, prepay = no leverage. Of course there are other ways to prepay.

Posted by
631 posts

Keith is wrong to say that it is "ludicrous to suggest the Mini isn't in the same "class" as those other cars" because as Laura rightly points out, car rental company websites usually class cars by number of people and amount of luggage - and as Keith admits, the Mini fails in this respect. You show me a mainstream rental company that classes cars by driving experience. In the case that I know of they were ripped off, but it opens up the question of how often this has happened - which could lead to scam being a fair description.

English law would actually make this a fairly easy case to fight in court, you wouldn't even need a lawyer. But you would need to spend about time filling in forms and writing letters before turning up at court 3-6 months later - something which a foreign visitor would probably not be able to do. UK credit/debit card issuers could be held liable if pre-payment had been made. But add in the complexities of booking with a UK company via the site of a foreign partner with a foreign card and life gets difficult.

The case of AutoEurope might work in your favour. As I understand it they are brokers, if they offer to get you a car based on the normal rules of capacity and their agent pulled a trick like this you might have a claim against them. And if you are a US resident with US card, taking action against a US company would be easier than trying to use English law.

Posted by
1217 posts

You show me a mainstream rental company that classes cars by driving experience.

Doing a quick search of Hertz for a LHR-based rental turns up a 'Prestige Collection' 'Green Collection' Family Collection' and 'Dream Collection' of cars as well as the opportunity to reserve both cargo vans and specific luxury cars. Of course the cost on the Aston Martin DB9 or Ferrari Californa T (described as 'call to book') is likely ten times the cost to rent a generic econobox class, but that's how it rolls.

Posted by
631 posts

They seem to be just ways of filtering out other types in limited cases. When you click one it then mostly goes into the usual "this or similar" classes with comparisons done by capacity.

Interesting that in some expensive cases there is a model guarantee. But if you want a simple Golf sized compact you are back to "Class C, Renault Captur or similar, 5 Passengers , 2 Large Suitcases, 1 Small Suitcase" - and if you click on the "or similar" it says "will be comparable in size". Which is where this argument started, because a Mini isn't.

Posted by
27485 posts

How long is a piece of string.

I think you're on a loser here....

A Mini Countryman at 4,299mm is bigger (longer) than a Ford Focus at 4,065mm. Even a Clubman at 4,253mm is.
Golf/Astra/Focus/308/i30
4,258mm for a Golf is about the same but a tad shorter.
4,370mm for an Astra is about 71mm longer - about 2 and 3/4 inches, probably not noticeable by a casual observer.
The 308 is a bit longer than its other class-mates - 4,253 to 4,585 mm, as is the Hyundai i30 at 4,340 to 4,585mm, but still within the range, don't you think?

They are all listed as a 5-seater (I wouldn't want to be number 5 in any of them - I'm not as young as I used to be).

Posted by
4596 posts

I've rented a BMW 1 series that was in the same category as a Golf and a Focus yet on collection it transpired that the boot space is significantly less than a Golf or Focus. It seated the same number of people though and was a comparable drive. This was a pre-paid reservation but fortunately I was able to change cars.

Had we been travelling differently, i.e. all with carry on baggage only then I'm certain that we would have been able to fit it all in but we were on holiday with two kids and so we were travelling with a couple of large suitcases stuffed with the usual non-essentials.

I think the major problem with the OP's acquaintance's requirements was the need for an automatic. It would appear that the Mini was the only vehicle in their chosen class with an automatic transmission (highly typical of European car rentals), the other choices being larger, more expensive cars. I'm sure that there would have been plenty of larger capacity cars in their chosen class that had manual transmission however I'm assuming they were declined. I'm sure the majority of European drivers are experienced with manual transmission so whilst I accept that there may have been some trepidation about driving on the left with a manual it is not something that is a big issue and is easy to become accustomed to. It appears that the crux of the issue is that the renters wanted a small car with automatic transmission and an adequate boot space, quite a tall order in Europe. The OP doesn't state how many occupants there were but if it was only two then the rear seats in the Mini fold down to increase boot capacity, more than adequate for a couple of suitcases.

Posted by
1894 posts

As a general rule....

The "list" is "examples" not "you wil get one of these (which the terms and conditions tell you so I am not sure you have a "case" to take anywhere)

Your perceptions of "economy" " midsize" etc.... are NOT the same as the rental car companies. Generally they run small!

Posted by
631 posts

Nigel, nobody mentioned a Countryman. That's the bigger lumpy thing built in austria. Had it been one of those it would have been OK.

Posted by
5336 posts

We have booked an Astra for our four week drive tour of Wales and England starting in two weeks. Because we are taking such a long tour, we will each bring one large airline qualified suitcase each as well as my carrying a small briefcase and wife a hand bag. We don't want to be spending every fifth day in a launderette washing clothes.

I hope this story doesn't become my problem, since I would not want a mini. I booked an automatic with a nav system and want a a Mini.

We pickup our car after an early arrival at Heathrow, hopefully this scam won't happen for us.

Posted by
4596 posts

We pickup our car after an early arrival at Heathrow, hopefully this scam won't happen for us.

It's not a scam despite what SteveB claims.

An Astra should be fine although you might possibly have to take out the parcel shelf depending on the size of your suitcases. However because you have booked a small automatic there is a possibility that you will be offered a Mini as automatics, particularly in small cars, are relatively rare in European car rentals and therefore the inventory that they have to offer you is considerably curtailed. If offered a Mini either ask for an alternative or accept a manual. You might be upgraded to a larger vehicle or you might have to pay a fee.

Posted by
631 posts

JC : where did I claim it was a scam?? I said it WAS a ripoff when it happened, it could be a scam if done widely. We will have to wait and see. But despite what the armchair experts here have said about how big a Mini is, the professional opinions on the subject are linked at the top. And as I said, I've got an Astra and I know how much bigger than a Mini it is - if it has the standard reinflation device instead of spare wheel you can get two people in the trunk without removing the cover!

But whatever type of car you have booked, print off (or save the link in your phone) the capacity definition, as in the number of seats, doors and suitcases. Your contract is for what they defined, and it can be used in either direction.

Posted by
4596 posts

JC : where did I claim it was a scam??

In the third paragraph, "The reason why I say ripoff/scam".

My experience and understanding of car rentals is that the classes are not distinguished solely by luggage capacity. I could rent a prestige car and find it has a tiny boot or alternatively have a car that can fit four large suitcases but both cars would be similar in terms of performance and value. A Mini is a considered a premium car with many agencies and I have no doubt that many renters would be quite happy to receive one and as such it's difficult to view it as a rip off/scam.

I'm afraid if you restrict your options so narrowly it's difficult to complain when your requirements aren't fully met. Good luck with a legal claim!

Posted by
631 posts

another quick response of the car rental industry.....

if the website defined classes by capacity then a legal claim would be simple if you were able to hang around in UK. Consumer Rights Act 2015 makes small print "or anything we say" type clauses invalid.

And as for my words which you quote, they were preceded by the words "the lawyers can decide which".

Posted by
27485 posts

So are you actually hiring lawyers to try and get something for your friends? But you aren't the aggrieved party. So how do you do that?

Or are you the barrister / solicitor yourself?

Posted by
4596 posts

if the website defined classes by capacity then a legal claim would be simple

But it doesn't because they don't define their cars solely by capacity! I don't know why you seemingly fail to understand this. The crux of your argument is that classes of rental cars are defined by capacity which clearly isn't the case. I can find an Audi TT in the same class as a Mercedes E Class, two clearly distinct cars with very different boot capacity. Is the rental agency trying to rip me off if they offer me a TT instead of an E Class?

Posted by
631 posts

JC, on every rental company I've looked at this week, once you've cut through all the attempts to make them look exciting and different, just before you choose an ordinary car they give an example and then say it will be "similar to this, with x doors, y seats and space for z suitcases, a type of transmission (and sometimes air con)". Except for Hertz, who for a small number of specialist cars gave a guarantee that you would get what was in the photo.

So when you select the car and continue to confirm the booking you are entitled to x doors, y seats and space for z suitcases with the agreed transmission and air con if promised. Yes they can change the make and model because they made that clear before you clicked but the other parameters are part of the contract. They cannot randomly say that in their opinion a car is similar because it has the same retail price or goes just as fast despite not delivering the promised x, y and z. On the other hand, if they do deliver x,y and z etc. they would be entitled to substitute a Hyundai or Peugeot for the sample VW which may annoy some people. And they usually have a clause which say they may subsitute something that delivers more than x,y and z without you paying more, which most people would be happy with but could be annoying if you were heading for narrow Scottish roads and really wanted a small car.

Why don't you want people to expect what they paid for? Why should they meekly accept something that doesn't meet the agreed contract? And for our non EU visitors, clauses in the very small print of the type "we can do anything we like if we need to" haven't been valid for nearly 20 years. Pro-forma contracts issued by companies to individual retail customers cannot contain terms that give a signficant imbalance in rights to the company -and it doesn't matter how many signatures they ask for!

And who in their right mind would click a Pay button without knowing whether they would get a TT or an E Class?

Posted by
1217 posts

And who in their right mind would click a Pay button without knowing whether they would get a TT or an E Class?

Someone who is willing to take a significant discount in exchange for opaqueness in their booking- aka the Priceline model. We don't prepay for rental cars because the pricing is typically screwy enough that I'll change reservations 3-4 times as better deals come along, but I have reserved the 'premium grab bag' car class before and found myself talking my way out of the Mustang convertible (we'd flown into Las Vegas) and into a more sensible Ford sedan for the 1,000+ mile national park trip we were taking.

Posted by
631 posts

that's a fair reason and worth doing. But it's not the normal full price booking process where this problem occured.

Posted by
5775 posts

Sort of ironic that your German acquaintances were offered a Mini (Cooper). Mini Cooper is a subsidiary of a German company (BMW - Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, not British Motor Corporation).
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mini_(marque)

Interesting that your German acquaintances needed an automatic. My German friends prefer manual transmissions.

Posted by
4596 posts

just before you choose an ordinary car they give an example and then say it will be "similar to this, with x doors, y seats and space for z suitcases, a type of transmission (and sometimes air con)"

But if you look at the small print it will say "up to x number of suitcases" and that this number will differ according to vehicle model. There is no guarantee for numbers of suitcases that will fit into a particular class.

Posted by
631 posts

JC - before I get banned from this site, why are you constantly trying to justify the actions of the rip off merchants? Do you really want members to get ripped off? Why don't you want them to know want english law entitles them to? Anybody would think you worked for the company!

if it says "up to" then it can be considered to mean "at least".

Posted by
4596 posts

JC - before I get banned from this site, why are you constantly trying to justify the actions of the rip off merchants?

Why would you get banned?

I don't consider them rip off merchants quite simply because they're not. Let's put it in simple terms.....

European car rental agencies don't offer much in the choice of automatics. The bigger, more expensive models often come equipped with automatic as standard however the more compact models less so. There is also not the same demand for automatics in Europe as there is in the US for example so buying in large quantities of compact automatics is not a viable business model.

Your friends wanted a compact automatic, that already narrows down their options. They arrived at the rental agency to find that the only automatic compact they had left was a Mini, presumably the few other compact automatics were already rented out. It turns out that the boot space in the Mini was not sufficient for your friend's needs however it could have been if they'd had cabin sized luggage, something which is not uncommon for intra Europe travellers and in which case the car would have been perfectly suitable. Due to the fact that they refused the Mini they were offered a larger capacity vehicle which inevitably would incur an additional fee, nothing rip off or scam like there. That's like saying I want the Presidential Suite for no extra cost because it's bigger than my standard room.

Pasting links to car review sites is pointless, the rental agencies are in the business of offering the most choice to fit a variety of preferences, if the car offered to you is not suitable then in my experience they are happy to change it for one that is. In your friend's case their requirements could not be met with the available vehicles because of the automatic issue hence why they were offered one from the next class up. Where's the rip off? Where's the scam?

My advice to your friends is to book a vehicle from a class that has a wider selection of automatics. Of course this means paying a higher premium but that's market forces for you.

Posted by
5775 posts

I'm guessing that Europeans are fuel economy sensitive. Looking at Hertz's UK car classes, fuel consumption seems to be the first consideration:
https://www.hertz.com/rentacar/vehicleguide/index.jsp?targetPage=vehicleGuideHomeView.jsp&countryCode=GB&category=Car/Sedan
You have to click on "Vehicle Details" to get luggage capacity and Hertz's "details" will note:

Please Note: The vehicles shown are examples. Specific makes/models
within a car class may vary in availability and features such as
passenger seating, luggage capacity, equipment and mileage.

Here in the States I often had to decline an "upgrade" to avoid a gas guzzler.

Posted by
4596 posts

The last car I had in the States was a Ford Explorer and it cost me the equivalent of £20 to fill up. The same car in the UK would cost me £100+ to fill up. That's why we're fuel sensitive.

When I hire a car in the US I don't even consider fuel economy, an 18 wheeler would probably cost less to fill up than my car.