What are my consumer rights when renting a car?

July 4, 2022

Car rental is one of the top areas for consumer rights complaints in the European Union. A recent EU-wide sweep has found that the majority of the car rental brokers’ websites that were screened violate EU consumer protection law.

It also found that:

  • on almost a third of the websites, it was unclear if you should contact the broker or the rental company with queries or complaints
  • 28 % of the websites did not clearly mention the broker’s company name
  • almost half of the websites did not clearly say what is and is not covered by the insurance

So, be vigilant when booking on a car rental broker’s website.

If you are going on holiday and will be renting a car, keep the following in mind.

Before renting a car

Before renting a car in another country, check if your driving licence is valid there. When you rent a car in the EU, you are entitled to:

  • clear pre-hire information
  • a fair contract
  • access to alternative dispute resolution in the case of disputes
  • equal pricing; prices cannot differ based on nationality or residence

Top Tip

Car hire is not covered by EU rules that entitle you to a 14-day ‘cooling-off’ period. You don’t automatically have the right to cancel and claim a refund. But the car rental company’s terms and conditions may allow for it.

Always read the terms and conditions of your rental agreement carefully. If you don’t understand anything, don’t be afraid to ask for an explanation in writing.

By law, all rental vehicles must be covered by third-party liability insurance. Know exactly what the insurance covers before signing. The contract should detail what is and is not covered, as well as the excess amount that may be charged in the event of a damage or other claim.

Check the type of fuel the car uses and clarify the fuel policy. Does it come with a full tank and do you have to return it with a full tank?

During the rental period

Make sure you understand what will happen if the car is damaged while you are renting it. Last month, 78% of car rental queries to our helpline were about being charged for damages. Be certain that your rental car is in good condition before driving away. Take photos of the interior and exterior of the car as evidence.

If you are not happy that the rental car is as it should be, you should return it immediately and explain what the problem is. This will ensure there is no question that you may have caused the problem.

When driving a rental car, you must follow:

  • the rental contract’s terms and conditions
  • the traffic and road safety rules of the country you are driving in

If the car breaks down or you are involved in an accident, call the car rental company and follow the instructions they give you.

Returning the rental car

It’s a good idea to keep some evidence that you are returning the rental car with no damage and on time, especially if you are returning it outside of office hours. You can do this by taking photos which ideally are time stamped. Cars returned after office hours are inspected for damage the following day. You could be charged with damage at a later stage.

When your rental period ends, be sure to:

  • refuel the car (if specified in your contract)
  • return the car on time
  • do a final check

If you return the car damaged, the rental company should tell you what charges will apply.

Read more about car rental.

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