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Europcar - Frivolous/unreasonable damage claim?

Over Easter we visited the Apple Isle and hired a car from Europcar at Launceston. We collected the car at night (about 8pm on 15/4/2019) and returned it before the Airport Europcar counter had opened for the day (at about 6am on 23/4/2019).

The rental agreement provided to us on hire of the vehicle indicated that there was no damage, other than that which would be considered fair wear and tear, however the vehicle was not overly clean and the front windscreen was covered in insect residues (similar but far worse than the photo below). We also noted and took photos of a number of minor scratches and dents which were present on the vehicle soon after its collection from the airport.

Like always when we hire a car, we washed the car and returned it with a full tank. We always wash the car to ensure that when we take photos on its return the condition of the car can be clearly seen.

As the service desk was unattended and advised when the car was collected, we placed the car keys into the key return box on our return. We also took photos, using flash photography when the car was parked in the nominated car park and the sun was yet to rise.

Today we received a Initial Damage Notification from Europcar, which I assume is the first step in relation to Europcar claiming payment for damage caused under a vehicle’s hire.

Europcar have claimed that during our hire of their vehicle, a very small (insignificant) chip occurred on the windscreen of the vehicle. Here is the photograph indicating the alleged damage caused while the car was in our possession.

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It is worth notiing that the alleged chips are very surface in nature, there is no indication that the chips have cracks associated with them and it is estimated that the largest of the three has a maximum diameter of about 1.6mm (scaling off the finger in the image provided by Europcar and assuming the finger is 20mm in diameter) and does not affect the roadworthy status or visibility through the windscreen. The image may also show clear insect residues which could also look like a small chip…something I won’t be able to personally verify.

Europcar provides information on fair wear and tear (in the form of a guide outside the T&Cs) after the vehicle is collected. This guide is emailed to the customer. This states the following is excluded:from fair wear and tear.

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I was surprised that we received this notification as the car was in the same condition as when we picked up the car and at no time was a noise heard which would lead to a stone making chip in the front windscreen as claimed by Europcar. It is worth noting that at night the vehicle was parked off road and unlikely to be damaged by another party.

The condition of the car on return is shown in the following photographs. The full resolution photographs do not show an visible chips in the windscreen as claimed by Europcar. It is worth noting that with a flash, any significant chips in the windscreen would reflect the flash light resulting in a bright spot from the reflected light on the image…

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It is also worth noting that we had a heavily discounted car hire rate through a car hire broker in the US of about AUD31 per day…which is about 2/3 the cheapest rate we noticed advertised by Europcar for their micro sized car hire vehicles (which incidentally is about. AUD47/day). I wonder if the claim is to increase their profit on this car hire?

We also took out separate domestic travel insurance recommended by choice as it was significantly cheaper than the profitable (to the car hire companies) damage cover products offered by car companies to reduce the excess.

We will be challenging the damage claim made by Europcar in the coming days including seeking advice from a local windscreen repair business or a reputable independent mechanic which does roadworthy certificates in relation to the extent and risk of the damage. I suspect that the alleged damage, even though it was not caused by us, would be seen as superficial and not worthy of repair, not affect the driveability nor roadworthiness of the vehicle.

Should Europcar still proceed with making a claim against us, we will take it to the Office of Fair Trading in Queensland and ultimately the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal. There is also the opportunity to lodge a complaint with AFIA which we may also peruse.

If anyone has challenged alleged damage of a hire car and has any advice in relation to how to approach Europcar with this frivolous/unreasonable claim, it would be appreciated.

I will also keep the forum posted on the progression of our dealings with Europcar.

(This does leave us with a bit of a sour taste in our mouth with Europcar as the last time we used them they overcharged us (see other post on this forum) which took considerable time and effort to resolve in order to receive a refund…and looks like again considerable time and effort will be required to respond to their recent damage claim allegation.)

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Europcar reviews on Product Review.

1.3 stars from 1,040reviews. Pretty much sums them up.

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Progress this morning…

I showed the photographs to an independent motor mechanic who is experienced in carrying out roadworthy inspections (called safety inspection in Queensland). They confirm that the chips shown in the photograph would not result in the vehicle being unroadworthy, the damage is extremely minor in nature and inconsequential, and that the chips would not result in spreading cracks as the chips are confined to the windscreen’s surface and don’t penetrate through part or all of the top layer of laminated glass.

The mechanic also explained how windscreen damage affects roadworthiness and how it is measured.

The mechanic also suggested that we request an independent report from Europcar indicating the chips resulted in the vehicle being unroadworthy as they indicated that such a report would not be possible and it could be ground for a further dispute. This was great advice and something we have requested from Europcar…as they could easily pull the wool over one’s eyes saying something is unroadworthy without the evidence indicating such.

The mechanic also indicated that the chips could be filled with resin but questioned why this would be necessary or required based on the photographed chips.

We also checked the Europcar Australian Hire T&Cs and they don’r reference the Fair Wear and Tear guide. It appears that this guide is for information purposes only and not bound by the hire contract.

What is concerning in relation to this quide is any scratches, chipping, holes, cracks or damage to the windscreen they appear to automatically class as affecting the roadworthiness of the vehicle. It is worth noting that the use of the windscreen wipers, washing the car (esp. using the windscreen cleaning tools at servos) will result in very minor scratches and allow Europcar to make an unreasonable/frivilour claim for damage. Fortunately the Europcar T&Cs provide better qualification on what damage is and these are those subject of the hire agreement. I wonder how many customers have received claims for damages under the guide rather than under the T&Cs?

The T&Cs clearly define what is damage and what is reasonable wear and tar for a windscreen, in particular the T&Cs state:

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so, if the windscreen chips in question does not affect the roadworthiness of the vehicle, it is not damage but would be reasonable wear and tear. This potentially conflicts with the guide which appears to favour Europcar as the expense of the customer.

We have summarised the above, including what the T&Cs state and relevance of the guide and have emailed Europcar with a dispute to their claim. We have also cced Choice Help in the email just in case we need to involve them moving forward…

We have also requested Europcar provide a copy of the independent roadworthiness certificate/assessment for our review and comment. It will be interesting to see if one exists.

We have also provided general feedback to Europcar about the condition of the vehicle on collection and also our two experiences with the company.

We have learn’t a lesson, once bitten twice shy in relation to Europcar (as we had customer service issues with our only previous hire with them).

We are pleased that we took photographs on our return of the vehicle as these show the condition of the vehicle and windscreen on its return, In future, we will also be more thorough in our inspections and ensure that hire company personnel are present and document every scratch, dent, chip or crack present on the vehicle no matter how small or insignificant. Such was done in for our Europcar in Chile by local Europcar personnel and should be standard practice, where possible and practicable, in Australia.

The extra effort on collection will be a nuisance, but would allow us to respond and dispute any claims of damage through the hire.

We will add a post when we have received a response from Europcar.

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They’re all tarred with the same brush. Limited and incomplete damage status on delivery, extremely detailed report on return. If they do their job well, the can charge for the same stone chip or scratch many times over in the life of the car.

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Wouldn’t it be interesting to see the last dozen return reports on each car to correlate this? :wink: of course we’d need some authority with the power to compel the investigation. Perhaps the answer might be to require a full damage report history with each iteration of hire …

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Some other thoughts on the processes used by Europcar in Australia…

As vehicle inspections In Australia are not carried out by Europcar in the presence of a customer on the vehicles collection, it is invariably left up to the customer to check the Europcar vehicle damage report. This requires the customer to inspect the vehicle and determine if there is an additional damage not observed by Europcar personnel and whether this damage is damage under the contract or reasonable wear and tear. As the contract defines what is classed as damage to windscreens, lights, wheels or tyres, one would be need to be understand what would make a vehicle roadworthy (‘reasonable wear and tear’) and what damage would result in the vehicle being unroadworthy. I am sure that there are not many or us (including myself) who would have the capacity to determine if there is any damage which would make the car roadworthy or unroadworthy.

Is this reasonable and should hire companies place such expectations on their customers?

It could be argued that it allow hire companies, such as Europcar, potentially take advantage of a customer’ lack of knowledge or understanding?

Europcar and other companies allow vehicles to be dropped off (viz. keys dropped in a key box) outside their usual business hours, making the inspection of a vehicle potentially some time after the vehicle has been dropped off. It would be interesting to know who is responsible for the vehicle between the time the keys are dropped off and the vehicle is inspected, especially if the vehicle is parked in a location nominated by the car hire companies.

The current processes after drop off make the customer liable as any inspection would occur within business hours.

Should the customer still be liable for damage or the car hire company after drop off has occurred?

How could one prove that damage did not occur when after the keys were dropped off?

This could be achieved by the customer taking photographs, like we did in our case, but if lighting (e.g. at night) or the weather (fog, heavy dew, rain etc) is not good, such photographs are unlikely to fully capture in detail the full condition of the car on its return. As damage to underbody is also specified under the hire contract, does a customer need to also need to photograph the underbody of a vehicle, which may be very low to the ground, to prove that it was in the same condition as collected?

The current system is that the customer has the onus of proof (guilty until one can prove otherwise), that the damage was not caused when the car was in the possession of the customer. While significant damage such as a small accident or a star/crack in the windscreen may be obvious to both the customer and the hire company, how about those things which potentially fall into reasonable wear and tear.

Should the hire companies prove damage occurred during the hire rather than the onus being on the customer proving that the damage didn’t occur when the vehicle was under their hire?

It would be reasonably straight forward for a hire company to take photographs of all sides of the exterior of a vehicle as a record of a condition of the vehicle on collection. As shown above, they have the technology to date and position the photographs taken. Then the hire company could demonstrate clearly the changes in condition between collection and return of a vehicle. This would remove any potential omissions in inspection carried out by the car hire personnel and also remove any disputes in relation to any new damage. This would then place the responsibility of the car hire company to prove damage has occurred rather than the onus being on the customer.

Imagine that if all other companies (health insurance, house insurance etc) didn’t pay out until the customer proved that any of the exclusions in the contract has been fully met.

The other advantage is the photographic records could be taken at a time where the quality of the records would be at their best (during daylight hours or under high intensity lighting say at their vehicle cleaning area).

This approach would also remove the onus of the customer to full inspect the vehicle on collection as well as trying to determine if anything is damage or reasonable wear and tear. It would also remove the onus on the hire company to carry out a full inspection in the presence of the customer, saving the hire companies additional labour costs.

The inspection report could also be issued with a statement indicating that should any omissions in relation to damage inspection have occurred by the hire company, such omissions would be recorded
by photographs in the pre-hire inspection. These photographs could be uploaded to a website for record purposes and available to the customer (to check if any damage observed during the hire period occurred after the vehicle was collected). This technology exists and is used widely by social media platforms.

Does this approach seem reasonable?

I would say that it is and maybe it is time for the vehicle hire companies to change their practices to meet today’s customer’s expectations and to ensure that disputes in relation to conditions of cars are avoided…

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Hire car agreements are contracts?

As a contract perhaps any debate on guilty until proven otherwise etc is not legally relevant.

It seems reasonable though if you choose to argue any damage,
there is an equal responsibility on the hire car company to meet the same standard of proof or evidence they might require of the person hiring to dismiss any claim!

If they can’t produce detailed photographic evidence (before and after), it comes down to their staff doing a tick and flick sheet vs your word. The interesting challenge might be to insist on the Hire Car business producing the last umpteen inspection reports (on hire and on return) for a particular vehicle as their record. Any inconsistency in reporting would likely leave the hire car company in a poorer position. This assumes the hire car companies are just as rushed and employees variable in performance as they sometimes appear to be.

In nearly 40 years and perhaps a thousand hires of vehicles in Australia we have only ever had one single issue with a return. That instance was for fuel.

EDIT added clarification
None of these hires were with Eurocar! The majority were for business on corporate accounts or packages. So perhaps not so relevant?

While we may not have needed another excuse to ensure that chocolate remains a staple on our daily food pyramid, this very good news might just be it!
The notion of a viewable data base does appeal. However it might also be subject to errors in timing and detail. And any costs passed on in increased hire charges.

I can see that for many there is a need to improve the relationship between Hire Car business and customers. Perhaps for the operators, an improved onus of proof test and better definition of what is to be provided as a minimum standard could be added to consumer law. And yes it might encourage operators to step up to your suggested solution or find another equally compelling solution? :wink:

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I never use Eurocar insurance when hiring from them. I use Rental Cover . com they are cheap and the service is better than my Australian based car insurer. I have only had to make one claim while in UK when somebody smashed the wing mirror off the Merc I had Hired. The only hold up was that I had to make the claim to Rental Cover when I had returned to Australia, but once I had submitted the claim the money was In my bank account within four days. You cannot bet that for service.

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When I hire a car I photograph all sides of the vehicle and point out any scratches or marks that I find and get them to put on the paperwork they get you to sign. I have found numerous scratches on a vehicle that was supposed to have been perfect. Europcar Heathrow is a prime example.

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I have not hired a vehicle for around 20 years but when I did, I almost always used Budget.

When picking up a vehicle, the staff member would have already marked on the drawings on the rental contract where any damage existed along with a description of each item, and then provide a walkaround of the vehicle to illustrate each one.

The system worked great and I never had a single dispute with any hire, so why did things change?

If it ain’t broke, then don’t try to fix it.

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It’s time to get the police involved to investigate these fraudulent charges and/or hire a lawyer and counter sue! IMO, This is an orchestrated scam ripping off visitors to our country if the 885 people bad-mouthing them on Product review can be believed, and I think they can! If we don’t go after them, they will continue doing it!!!

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From Which! via a CNN report, and guess which company pops up (not as the worst, but) as part of the story?

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So the worst two car rental firms in Europe are wholly owned subsidiaries of Europcar.

What a bunch of grubs.

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We have used Europcar twice & both times they tried to hit us with a damage bill. One car was hired through our hotel accommodation and nobody there was interested in checking the vehicle over with us. We made notes on the minor damage… stone chips etc and surprise surprise even though nobody was at the airport to receive the car back, we had only been at the airport 30 mins or so when we received an email for the “damage”. We called them and suggested they relook at the vehicle and if they attempt to fraudulently debit our card we would take the matter further. We then took it up with the hotel who promptly handled it for us. The 2nd time my husbands employer booked the car and the same thing happened, except this time they had actually debited the company credit card. I suspect they try it on everyone that hires from them & I’m sure they are occasionally successful. We have never hired from them again, and certainly never recommend them.

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Some years ago I used Europcar & they double-charged me. It tooks many calls to have it reversed.

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We have finally received a response from Europcar in relation to the alleged damage and claim that the minor chips were not fair wear and tear. The response is favourable as they will no longer be pursuing the claim. A copy of the response is as follow::

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It is also interesting that the response says that 'windscreen damage is always outside of our fair wear and tear classification’ which is inconsistent with the contract documentation provided at the time of contract. It appears that they may be relying on their guideline which has little if any relevance to this contract. If Europcar think that any chips or damage to a windscreen, ever so minor, falls outside the fair wear and tear, they should be amending their standard rental agreements/contract to reflect this.

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Great stuff @phb :+1:

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I love using Europcar. They have always been good to me and when I thought I may get a damage bill I have never received one. They always upgrade me. Besides they are the only mob that do unlimited km’s in regional Qld.

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