Car Rental Scams & How You Can Avoid These

Preparing for a trip? Depending on your location, you might have thought of getting around on four wheels. Renting a car is usually not a cheap thing to do, so you need to make sure to avoid shady rental companies that could inflate this price even further.

There are so many businesses offering the same rental services that the situation quickly turns into a price war. Some clients want the lowest offer and rent their car without doing too much paperwork. Although these super-deals may exist, it looks like the perfect hook for a car rental scam.

Car Rental Fraud Explained

You rent a car, use it, and drive it back. The catch is that you notice upon your return is that the numbers don’t match somehow. The company has inflated your bill because of the conditions you “should have already known.”

With car rental scams, it’s almost never about what you hear. It’s always about what you don’t ask or what they don’t say. Car upgrades? Add-ons? Travel restrictions? Fraudulent companies charge you based on assumptions and your unawareness.

Why Do So Many Fall For It?

Cash grabs are a common practice in car rental businesses. While some of them make it small and subtle, others will grab as much as they can.

Clients come in hoping for an easy deal but come back paying twice as much. Some of them already know the scam exists: why do they keep falling for it?

Rental scams are common because they’re too easy to hide. If someone complains, they blame the client for not reading the terms.

Their best weapon, hidden information, earns them money from unsuspecting customers. A scammer can:

  • Charge small fees to avoid suspicion (see a cramming example)
  • Bully the customers, so they give up on asking a refund
  • Justify anything with conditions clients overlooked

Rental companies will target anyone, but the most common buyers are those that:

  • want to drive long distances (more risk of damages to blame later),
  • rent for a few days,
  • rent on high-volume days (hence the on-demand weekend price changes),
  • don’t mind renting an unreliable model.

These scams happen often in high-demand seasons and vacation places.

Top Ways To Detect Car Rentals Scams

As price-savvy consumers, we often forget that many of the companies that we are renting from might just be trying to stay above water. That doesn’t mean that you should be overcharged and pay anymore than you have to for your car rental!

You may wonder, what do they win with a quick cash-grab? If customers are really upset, they will leave a bad review anyway and will report the company.

To avoid this from happening, employees might refund the client if he’s that persistent. In general, many people might just avoid the hassle or simply not come back. Better to be persistent.

The most common reason why scams happen is hidden information. Renters think that if they hide the facts cleverly enough, customers will deal with the fees. Car rental companies make money and face no consequences. But how do they hide it?

Low Upfront Costs

When a market is saturated, dozens of sellers compete with similar products and prices. Clients don’t know who to choose, especially when renting for the first time. The decision? Look for the cheapest and nearest location.

You say it’s cheap because it’s what you see. But once you combine the upfront costs with the hidden fees, you pay the average price, if not more

For example, they offer prices at a 50% discount. But the fine print says it restricts to, say, old cars. Perhaps they charge you heavy fees for one-day rents, so they can upsell you for long-term rent.

Altered Vehicles

If they give you the option, check the actual vehicle before you rent it. Otherwise, you may find a different car, among other surprises.

  • They “upgrade” your car model. Since your model isn’t “available” this time, they give you a better one. By better, we mean more esthetical than practical. 
  • You find add-ons your rented car shouldn’t have. Why is there a GPS, a baby seat, a radio device, and snow chains? You agreed to pay for the essentials. What you didn’t know is that all these add-ons are the default plan. Unless you say it, they will assume you asked for them.

Hard Sell Add-ons, Upgrades or Insurance

“These (essential) accessories will keep you safe on the road.” A fraudulent rental will put them on your plan, even if you say “No” to them.

Because they are the “rental experts,” they know a lot about service fees that you don’t. Or so they say. Using your personal insurance? Rejecting the add-ons? Here’s a fee for not driving protected.

Poor Explanations, Smart Words

How did these expenses add up so quickly? You didn’t estimate the essential costs of the service, along with six different types of fees. Even funnier, nobody in the company can explain what these are.

People don’t want to feel dumb, so they may hide their illiteracy to a certain problem. You can ask a car rental company to explain a technical term, only to hear another jargon-heavy sentence.

This is especially true with men and cars. They don’t want to appear that they don’t understand something technical, because it may be unmanly. Eventually, he’ll say “Yes “, just so that he’s not embarrassed.

Online Comparisons

Suspicious companies can mislead you with fake reviews or low prices. You look at the popular options, but this one has different terms. This should sound an alarm bell. Some rentals don’t even appear reviewed online. There’s no way to know what to expect.

7 Ways A Car Rental Can Empty Your Wallet

People who rent are usually people who don’t own cars in that particular destination or country. They may not know about the many responsibilities as a driver in that area, which is why they are so easy to scam.

These seven examples are common, expensive, and easy to avoid.

Rented Car Insurance

Car rental companies always try to sell you insurance coverage when you rent a car, but you probably do not need to pay for it. If you are a US citizen and traveling around the US and Canada, you are in most cases already covered and insured by your own insurance company and travel card.

If you travel to other countries, check if you need to pay for car insurance in that country. The car and you are probably insured already and they’re just trying to make as much off of you as they can.

“Does your insurance apply for rental cars? If so, provide the document to prove it.”

Usually people do not bring such specific documents with them, which makes it a convenient excuse for extra charges.

Fuel Receipt

Do you get prepaid-fuel or buy it after you rent the car? And what do you do when returning the car?

Rentals are strict with these conditions. For example, they charge you fuel-related fees if the car returned doesn’t have a gas station receipt. Preferably within five miles from the rental location.

Assuming you buy from the station, not the company. Car rentals sell full tanks only regardless of your needs. You won’t get money for the amount you didn’t use.

False Damage Costs

Here’s a classic: the car you are returning isn’t in the same condition.  If you can’t prove it, you’ll pay the damages.

These claims are common when renting old, unreliable cars for long periods of time. The solution? Inspect the vehicle and take pictures before driving from the lot.

Perhaps you’re renting a car that already has some issues. What if you do cause some damages? It’s easier for them to blame you for the original damages you didn’t cause.

At least take the rental on a test drive and notice if there’s something suspicious.

International Rental Fraud

Travelers will find some surprises when renting from fraudulent companies. In the agreement, everything may look fine. The catch? You have to follow certain terms of service, or you’ll compensate with extra charges.

Late Service Fees

When you agree to return the car on a certain day, the company can charge you for hourly delays. They expect you to be back before noon or during business hours, but you return it at, say, 5 PM.

A few hours can easily add hundreds of dollars on your receipt. The problem? These companies rarely mention these terms. They are “hidden” in the fine print.

Odometer Rollback

Now that you know about some rental scams, you’ll think twice about super-deals. But what if you find a cheap rental with no signs of fraud? Could that be possible?

Remember, companies still have to make money somehow. The odometer scam is one method.

By law, you shouldn’t rent cars in poor condition. They aren’t necessarily unsafe, just not recommended. So the longer you can keep the car in perfect condition, the more money you can make renting it.

Scammers use tools to manipulate the odometer to avoid retiring old cars from the collection. These vehicles show a lower mileage than they actually have, giving the impression they’re reliable.

Any client who rents it will be renting an unreliable car. Problems are guaranteed!

Buying in the rental VS online

Want to rent a car for cheap? Is making the reservation online better or would signing the contract on the spot be the best option? If you go in person, they may try to push the first available car of their lot, usually at higher prices, if you don’t make some comparisons beforehand. The downside of online platforms is that you don’t see the car you’re renting.

Instead of buying on-the-spot, you should consider contacting a rental company and may even score a discount. Ask them many questions and possibly contact them a few times to see how they respond. If they are trying to give you good support, then you will get a feel of their service quality.

Never Fall For A Scam: How To Rent A Car (The Right Way)

Car rentals don’t have to be a pain. If you know how to spot fraud and ask the right questions, they won’t scam you. Even if they do, you’ll be prepared to solve them as soon as possible.

Remember, their secret formula is hidden information. Here are seven ways to get around it.

Avoid Assumptions: Ask for an Essential Service

Do you want to rent a car in a new location? Make sure to get things straight. Don’t just ask for the rent: be accurate with what you do NOT want to see.

Although hidden information is the company’s fault, it’s also the customer. A revision of the terms can save you lots of dollars on your trip.

They charge you on their terms but only show you what you’ve asked. If the answer is robotic or too vague, they don’t want you to know it.

Agree on a Fixed Rate

Before driving from the parking lot, ask about the factors that could change the price. You can mention car damages, fuel receipts, late return fees, and so on.

Some car rentals look at these extra charges like a normal practice.

“What happens to the car is your responsibility.”

The problem is, you don’t know if what they sell you is what you wanted to buy. When you rent on the office, for instance, they’re likely to negotiate for add-ons and upgrades. If you rent online, you might save yourself from this upsell. That is if you’re dealing with a transparent company.

On the other hand you could be paying lots of unnecessary options when renting online if they don’t give you any options to opt-out of a service.

Ask About Refunds

Refund scams are common practice. It’s unrealistic that customers read the whole contract, not missing a single point. Before you sign or pay anything, ask yourself how easy it is to undo that decision.

Pay in cash? Hard to undo. Choose payment options with buyer protection.
Sign a confusing agreement? Hard to undo. You’ll likely be overcharged, and getting a refund is a pain in the neck.

Extra Offers

Anything extra should be looked at with suspicion. Why would they upgrade your car model for no disclosed costs? If you go on a short trip, you won’t need the twenty add-ons their default plan offers.

Make sure you’re not paying for non-essentials. Every feature you add to the offer adds more complex problems when returning the car.

Don’t take it unless it’s free or a must. Or it will cost you more than what they say.

Document Everything

You can avoid 90% of car rental scams before driving off the car rental shop’s parking lot. Take a few minutes to revise the car and get proof of the facts. Make photos, check the documents, and test it before driving away.

They should never charge you for changes you didn’t make. But they will if you can’t show the facts.

Get Your Money Back And Report

Even if they trick you, you can still possibly get a refund by taking action quickly. The more identification you have, the easier it’s to recover the money.

Everybody can make a mistake. The question is, how do we prevent it from happening again? People in the US report dishonest car rentals to the Federal Trade Commission.  If the case has enough information, the commission will inspect the company and make a decision.

In other countries use the equivalent bureaus and let them know you will report them on many platforms such as Tripadvisor and Google reviews for example.

Choose Alternatives

Is it worth going with a suspicious company if they offer the cheapest rentals out there? Knowing the risks, it’s probably not. Any company can charge service fees to make a quick cash-grab, especially on holidays.

Look for better options if something does not look right. Also keep in mind that car rentals are one solution for your transportation, not necessarily the only solution.

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