Find hiring a car a completely frustrating experience? Tell us about it

We’re currently doing a research project on the car hire industry and we want to hear from people who have hired a car before, including:

  • any point where you felt confused by the product or sales process
  • whether you had any issues getting the service you asked for (did they swap out your car?)
  • issues with add on “insurance products” and any exclusions
  • issues with damage (either getting it fixed, or damage you didn’t cause)
  • any hidden fees or charges, or items you were billed for after the fact
  • any other problem you’ve had that I might have missed above

Let us know about your experience below - don’t forget to mention if you had the problem here or overseas, and which company it was with.

Thanks in advance!

Tilly - Travel Policy and Campaigns Advisor

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about 2 years ago I wanted a high top Ford Transit van which I pre ordered from Thrifty car hire in Penrith to do end of lease removal, about 30 kms, when i arrived at 8am on the Saturday morning I was told my van had been in an accident and not available, they had another it was much smaller not a high top, basically had to accept it, but as i soon discovered when packing it would need to do many more trips, soon used up the Free mileage KM’s had it for 24 hours, ended up finishing around 5am, filled vehicle with petrol, when i returned it, they said i was late, I said it was a 24 hour hire, he then showed me the replacement vehicle said return by 6pm which in effect was only 10 hours, they charged me an overtime rate which equated to 2 days extra hire, plus inflated insurance charges extra, cost me an extra $600 on top[of the $240 I paid for the 24 hour Ford Transit which I had prepaid, I was not happy at all, and have never hired another vehicle from them, I prefer hertz who have been absolutely wonderful. and my last hire of a 3 ton truck , basically gave me till 11 am next morning Sunday to return without extra charges, park lock and put keys in secured post box.

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Thanks @koalaphil that sounds like an absolute nightmare - especially if you’ve prepaid. Did you go to Fair Trading to make a complaint at all?

One annoying thing is not being able to change the name the booking is under, without having to cancel and make a new booking with the new name. This has happened to us with Europcar as I didn’t have my credit card but my partner did…but the booking was in my name.

To change principal driver’s name, one needs to cancel the car booking in your name (at least 2 hours before the collection time on the booking) and make a new booking in your partner’s name as the hire companies say they can’t change the name the booking us under. This results in potentially higher rental costs as rental charges usually increase the closer to the date of booking.

This also holds customers to ransom if you arrive at the collection counter, allowing the rental company (they have the upper hand and can charge the highest rate they chose , especially if it occurs at the collection counter at commencement of the journey). No only are rental costs going to be high, there is also a cancellation fee of 30 Euro which applies…even though you can be at the counter wanting to change the name of the booking.

I would have expected that it would have been a reasonably easy to change the name of the booking (especially if the first person who made the booking is present at the time of collection of the vehicle and agrees in person to the change). It appears that such a simple task can’t be done.

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A couple of months ago we wanted to hire 3 hire cars for a family holiday to Cairns. Hire was through Thrifty. We called their online 13 number with the intention of asking some questions before booking. We were trying to find out vehicle prices, any discount as we wanted to hire 3, and vehicle availability (as it was school holidays and veh availabiliy on the website was not correct). The 13 number put us to a call centre in KL if I recall correctly. Although the consultant was very polite and friendly, it was obvious from the canned responses that they did not understand our requests. We tried again calling back to get someone else hopefully with improved english skills with no better luck. After an hour or so of getting nowhere, we then called the thrifty desk at Cairns airport (with a sigh of relief) and was sorted in no time. The vehicles and hire went smoothly after that

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We don’t own a car and rent them frequently. We generally find it a good process, especially if you join the company’s frequent renter/loyalty program.

But my most recent rental was with Budget, booked through Qantas as an add on to a flight booking. There was no opportunity to put in my loyalty details, so the check in took longer than usual. Ok, I can understand that. But then it took them about 20 minutes to get the car to the pick up location. I thought booking through the site that had the flight details would mean it was coordinated - but clearly not.

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Have hired cars privately over many prior years (one or two times) a year for travel in Australia and NZ.
Separately hired cars through work as often as weekly. Last hire this year for 2 weeks in NZ.

Firstly the corporate hire system and service from the major providers was always ahead of what I received privately. I have a private corporate card with one provider (Hertz) and had a corporate customer ID with a second (Avis).

Generally using my Hertz card gave me the same level of service I enjoyed in business. Although the business rate is generally loaded with extras. It is cheaper than the full rates but not truly competitive for every day private use.

The greatest difficulty privately is getting to the final total cost of each provider for the desired location and class of vehicle. You really need to complete 99% of the booking to be half sure. I usually look at three or more hire companies for longer trips. I’d say the experience is much worse than Jetstar’s online booking system. For what are other than straight in and out bookings I found it more effective to call the local office (franchisee?) to get the best deal. I can understand why people get confused with added insurances. Even after declining on booking I am commonly asked to add them at pick up, accompanied by a “you might die today if you don’t look” from over the counter.

in 100’s of hires never had major issues with vehicles provided - but you do need to look carefully at pickup and go back with any concerns asap.

Never had to rely on insurance claims - however insurance is over priced - no driver history/risk rating for us with low risk histories getting better rates. On major trips - I think Choice have this as a tip that you can use your travel insurance to provide cover for excess waivers. While I have relied on this recently it is not totally clear. I had to do an over the counter purchase of travel insurance to find some one who could give an answer that I accepted. The hire companies have no interest in pointing this out vs an added sale $$$$. Can’t see why my RACQ or NRMA policy can’t carry over to a hire car up to a specified value. Even with a small fee. While driving one I can’t drive the other? Accept that hire vehicles may have a greater accident risk - perhaps? Just can’t see how the risk is shared fairly.

Was billed once for adding fuel unexpectedly. Will not use that company again. Local business Meteor in Townsville. Charging down to the half hour on a hour daily hire returned same day and expecting an overflowing fuel cap on return attitude. No sour grapes - just typical of a business that chose to run 9 to 5 and took weekends off. My fault. Rates are marginally better than I could get elsewhere, but with no airport pickup etc they should have lower overheads too.

Free upgrades annoy me most of the time. To a same size vehicle with luxury fit out - yes. For urban areas EG Sydney I don’t need an upgrade to a full size sedan. It is harder to park and less room for error. Give me a discount on the rate instead. On longer trips with only 2 of us, and petrol in NZ around the $2 /l mark do you really need a big 6? I have yet to find a way around this. Last trip I was informed there were no smaller vehicles available and that I would really enjoy the bigger 4WD. In winter on snow perhpas. In summer in the sun - no!

Thanks @mark_m very helpful points. I also get really annoyed when they up-sell to a “better car”. I try to tell them there’s a reason why I’ve hired the small car (usually for fuel efficiency, but great point you’ve made about city driving as parking a large car in Sydney is a nightmare) and they still try to insist on the “free” upgrade.

Th added costs are also very confusing, the costs shouldn’t be dripped in - I’ll add doing an updated review of the booking process on these websites to our list of things to do.

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My husband and I hire a car when we go on holiday, either to the airport or cruise terminal. It is a one way hire. Until a couple of years ago most companies did not charge us extra for dropping it at a different location but it has been increasing every year now. In fact we are going on holiday later this year and I have just started looking at hiring a car, first to Sydney Airport and then back home picking the car up in Sydney City. Last time we did this was exactly a year ago and the prices have gone up quite a bit, the one from Sydney city by about a third.

We continue hiring these cars primarily for the convenience. This year down and back is $320 plus about $50 in fuel and tolls.

I find I get the best rate booking through Qantas and usually it is with Avis, we are a Wizard member and the price is the same. I usually use Qantas for a bit of extra security. My Amex card covers the extra insurance. We have never needed to use the insurance. We usually pre-book and the paper work has been done so it is a fairly quick process getting the car. On odd occasions they upgrade us, but as I book a full size car there is not much to upgrade us too and I would rather book what I want than pay less and hope for an upgrade.

Once they deducted extra from our credit card saying the car had not been refuelled but luckily (or wisely) we had kept the docket from the service station showing date and time. Nonetheless it took a lot of effort to get a refund and it took a while too.

When we are in Europe, where we go every two years, we hire through Europcar and our credit card covers the extra insurance on that too. We are completely satisfied with them and apart from comparing prices, hire from them every time. We have never had any problems.

Overall I am quite satisfied with the Australian car hires. I have never really had any problems in the last almost twenty years.

My only complaint would be the enormous increase in cost in the last few years, which I can’t understand but have to go along with because we have no alternative. I know this is partly due to it being one way.

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You did not post whether you live in, near, or away from Sydney, so the following is for what it might or might not be worth.

One way hire prices can vary from day to day and company to company on the day. They charge more when a car is being dropped at an agency where there are already too many cars, and often nothing if you are dropping it at one where they need more cars. If you find [company] slugging you for the one way it could pay to shop around as their competitors might have different inventory problems to solve and thus better (or worse) one way fees on the day.

Historically most of them did not charge a one-way fee if you picked it up in a metro area and dropped it in the same metro area, including the main airport. Has that changed?

We have hired a car on two occasions for a family holiday, flying interstate and collecting the car from the airport before heading off on a road trip of 2-3 weeks’ duration. Something that we find difficult to work around is that no car rental company will guarantee a particular car - they all seem to use the phrase “or similar”. We are a family of four adults and my son has a disability so we travel with a wheelchair (which does not fold), very large walking frame and shower chair, in addition to the usual holiday luggage. Although the rental companies describe the vehicles in a particular class as “similar”, there is a very big difference in the way the seats/boot can be configured to accommodate our additional luggage, not to mention the issues around my son transferring into and out of the vehicle (which in some cases could necessitate unpacking and repacking the boot at every stop!) Although we explain our reasons for wanting a specific vehicle, there is no guarantee that this will happen which creates a fair bit of anxiety for us. Surely this should be included in the term “fit for purpose”? It would be great if Choice could lobby for a way around this! (thank you in hope and anticipation)

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Maybe I’ve been exceptionally lucky… Last couple of hires were with Nissan RentACar in Osaka, and Enterprise in Honolulu.
Nissan were super efficient, everything was very clear from the website booking all the way through to returning the car. Nothing hidden, no nasty surprises.
Enterprise were also a pleasant surprise. Their online deal sounded too good to be true - a luxury model that was cheaper than everything else in their catalogue. On arrival, they asked if we’d like a convertible instead of luxury. Everyone else seemed to be driving away in Mustangs with the top down, but I said, “No. We’d like to go with what we booked”. They responded that they would see what they could find on the lot. Turned out to be a Chrysler 300 with less than 100mi on the clock. I still don’t know how they could keep the cost as low as they did.
We had requested a GPS online, and they put a portable one on the windscreen. Later in the day, I discovered that the car had inbuilt GPS that worked just as well, so when we returned it a week later, we pointed this out. They happily refunded the small extra charge that had been made for the GPS.
We also hired a tiny Chevrolet on the big island - through Hertz, I think. Was also problem free.
We always ensure we do a walk-around of the car and video everything before driving off, just in case there is any existing damage.

I recently hired a car from Hertz and when I picked up the car was sold with prepaid fuel which was $93 on the assumption it was a good deal. However if you return the car with half a tank you do not get credited for unused fuel which was not clearly explained when I collected the car. Luckily I returned the car full of petrol however I never received any credit for the prepaid fuel. After many emails and Facebook posts I received a credit after waiting a month. I assume many customers would not have bothered following up and the salesman clearly did not explain the prepaid terms and conditions to me.

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Some negative experiences - all overseas:

  1. Camper van in NZ had no lever for the jack when I needed to change a type.(now i always check that there is a complete jack!)
  2. In UK, all hire cars with a company did not have a spare wheel. (I only discovered this when searching for the jack before driving the car! Not sure whether this is widespread in UK))
  3. In UK, a company tried to get me to upgrade from a pre-booked and paid for medium manual petrol car to a much more expensive larger diesel car using an incorrect argument that that extra cost would be more than covered by lower fuel costs…
  4. In USA, discovered that the maximum level of third party cover provided by a camper van company’s included insurance was very low.
  5. In NZ, had great difficulty understanding from printed info and verbal communication before booking, and when picking up the vehicle, exactly what the basic included insurance cover was and what any additional insurance i could buy for car and campervan hire would cover and what all the exclusions and excesses were.

Some Comments:
Overseas, for cars I usually use the vehicle rental excess provided by travel insurance. However, often this does not cover camper vans and if so I buy the hire company’s excess insurance or specialist rental vehicle excess insurance in Oz before I leave.

I think there needs to be much great clarity and more public education about what cover is provided by the rental vehicular excess cover in travel insurance policies or in stand alone products. For example,this seems to be determined by the policy for which the excess is accepted. So, if that cover is poor so too will be the excess cover provided by travel insurance or a specialist policy. Also, it gets very complicated if the rental company has more than one excess level and more than one type of policy.


Thanks @ijarratt - if you find it confusing then no doubt we all do (I still have difficulty understand exactly what type of “insurance” I need to purchase).

We’re on the case though!


First car rental was EuropeCar–conned into paying extra for excess-reduction insurance. From then on I always bought it separately.

East Coast Rentals
Good: Car was in good condition, no problems.
Drop off was very fast.
No wait to be taken back to the airport (middle of the day)
The rental insurance is expensive, (almost as much again as the rental cost), and even if you buy rental insurance separately, EC still holds $1000 “just in case”. With no insurance, the excess is $5500. The insurance brings that down to $300. With East COast, this costs an extra $20/day on a $27/day Suzuki Swift. I bought it from TripCover in advance (in the past I’ve also use QBE) for $60 for 8 days.
When I said I already had rental insurance, the CS person was annoyed and rude.
Had to wait 30 minutes for pickup at Brisbane airport (evening).
Have to drop off the car 2 hours before your scheduled flight departure (mine was domestic), otherwise they won’t guarantee that you’ll make your flight, even though they are located only 5 minutes drive from the airport.

My most recent was with Apollo, a one-way trip Brisbane to Sydney. Apollo was the only one with a quote below $100 for a 24 hr rental of an economy car. Others all charged a “one-way fee” of $100-300. Apollo total price was about $65. The car was picked up and returned to Hertz, and was a Hertz car, so I don’t know who “Apollo” really is! I did try to get a vehicle relocation deal for this trip, since Brisbane to Sydney is a popular route for car returns, but nothing matched my dates. Sometimes you can get a campervan for $5-10/day, and the company pays for fuel, and you are allowed 3-4 days for the drive!


I :joy:rented a car over long weekend on Australia Day from Melb airport. The car quote from vroom vroom was about 239 with insurance of 205. The actual cost was about 1000 dollars after they offered me sat nav. I accepted and before I knew it had a car at an extra 20 a day. There were hidden fees for returning the car at a “premium location
And extra fees for excess reduction. When I got the car from Budget it was chaos at the airport. Threw the keys at me and pointed to the car. When I wanted help with getting it started the woman told me it was keyless entry. But did little to assist. I got the car with three quarters petrol and returned it just under full. It cost me an extra 64 dollars to fill it up. It took me two calls and an email to get the cost back. They said they would call me twice and no calls came. In the end I lodged and complaint and they gave me the cost back. How can you get such an under quote. I also rented a car from Hertz. We drove the car to Sydney from Canberra there was a 250 dollar fee because we returned it to a different location. That doubled the quote for the car and we paid over 500 for two days. At least Hertz showed us the vehicle and checked for damage with us. Budget got us to sign a form on the way out the car park without the car being inspected by both parties. Hertz was much better customer focussed. I’ll never use Budget/Avis again. My experience with rental car costs is you double them from the quote given. And look over the car really well before you start.


I’m a bit late but here is my experience:

I recently informed the ACCC about a scam from the car rental industry. I went to book a car which had been heavily discounted only to have the booking IMMEDIATELY come through confirmed with a totally DIFFERENT car.
I rang the actual vendor and they had plenty of the cars I booked available.
I then checked other websites which were running the identical scam.
I then rang the middleman doing the actual bookings (CarTrawler) and the representative said “they all do it” to justify the crooked conduct. She refused to amend the booking.
I finally was given the car I had booked by the car vendor to get me to go away.
So who is monitoring the car rental businesses? The “or similar” out in the advertising has now become as scam.


Here’s a video we received via Facebook on one consumers experience with Avis rental cars:

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In 2009, our elder daughter experienced a customer disservice from hell with Budget Car Rentals’ Darwin branch, which I posted on the former Not Good Enough website, and which I have copied below.

“27.06.2009. My daughter arrived at Budget Darwin airport desk for car she reserved with 2 baby seats for 3 year & 16-month-old girls. Employee couldn’t enter vouchers in system. Finally completed. Told to fit baby seats herself. 45 minutes from arrival to driving off.

On return, had to get girls & baggage from furthest point in car park. No trolley. Left mobile in car. Budget desk unattended.

Rang me from Bali that night re mobile left behind.

28.06.2009. I rang it. Answered by Budget employee at airport desk. Asked her to return it. I would pay costs. Said she would & advise manager.

09.07.2009. Called again. Spoke to manager, Nadia, who knew nothing about it. Gave me city number. Spoke with Chantelle. Said mobile was in office desk & would be sent by Pack & Send, as Australia Post do not accept mobiles. Charges COD. Gave address again.

16.07.2009. Spoke with Nadia. Still knew nothing. Said Chantelle in city. Spoke with Andrew. Said Chantelle at airport. Asked him to get her to call me.

She called and asked for brand of mobile and address. I said it was third time, to which she retorted that she was not the one who left it in the hire car.

Said she would post mobile. I reminded her what she told me on last call re Pack & Send.

22.07.2009. Called city office. Spoke with Andrew. Said it had been sent. Didn’t know how, when or who sent it, or where Chantelle was.

Called airport. Kate said she didn’t know where Chantelle was. Nadia was in meeting.

Called Pack & Send Darwin. Manager was extremely helpful & called back to advise no pickups from Budget Darwin in past 2 weeks. & nothing sent to me. If shipment was COD, they would have contacted me to payment.

Rang Budget’s HO to speak with customer service manager. Given NZ email address.

23.07.2009. Received email from Daria. Asked Darwin regional manager, Phil, to investigate & return mobile.

Advised her that my daughter had no means of communication when travelling between mine site and coast with 2 young girls in event of breakdown, accident, or other mishap, and mobiles were not sold on the island where she lives.

Two of my daughter’s friends were returning to mine site on 27.07.2009. Had same 5 hour wait in Darwin. Requested mobile be available at Budget airport desk.

No response. Phoned NZ. Said she would contact Darwin. Mobile not found. Last opportunity to return it to Indonesia lost.

24.07.2009. Received email from Phil. Believed mobile sent, but if they lost it, they would pay for replacement.

August. Phil called. Said mobile found behind cabinet during cleanup. Would be sent. Again asked for my address.

11.09.2009. Called Phil again. Said he would follow up.

22.09.2009. Sent Phil email. Rejected as incorrect address, as per previous emails Same one he sent email on 24.07.2009. Rang him. Said he would follow up.

24.09.2009. Phil called. Said Pack & Send had mobile. Definitely be delivered that afternoon. They could not understand how it took 3 weeks.

Waited all day & next day. Rang Phil. Said they would call Pack & Send Monday.

28.09.2009. No response. To my amazement, mobile arrived, 3 months to day I first contacted Budget.

Contrary to claim it was sent with Pack & Send, it arrived in Australia Post padded bag, inside Australia Post Express satchel. Battery detached from phone. Placed together in bag. Same signature on Dangerous Goods Declaration on bag and satchel.

Called Pack & Send Darwin. Manager advised they didn’t sent it. They would not have used Australia Post.

I have dealt with Budget for many years, spending thousands on business hire cars, starting in the early 1970’s when Bob Ansett’s motto was “We try harder”, and their customer service was excellent.

Unfortunately, the only motto that would befit the Darwin operations would be “We could not be more trying”.

Needless to say, our family will never deal with Budget again.