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Car renter, beware!

Consumers should think long and hard before hiring a vehicle.
Money upfront please … instead of an ombud, the industry offers a ‘conciliation service’ that requires both parties to put down a deposit to cover the ‘estimated expenses’ of its conciliation committee. Image: Supplied

Dear readers,

If you are about to hire a car, stop yourself. Seriously. Stop now. Make alternative arrangements. Get a friend to pick you up from the airport. Use a ride hailing service. Make whatever plan you must but whatever you do, do not submit your card for payment and sign on the dotted line.

If you can’t make alternative plans, educate yourself on the dangers that come with hiring a car and take the necessary vehicle-check precautions.

Note that once you take responsibility for the vehicle, you are making yourself financially vulnerable in a way that you cannot possibly imagine.

That’s what I discovered when I hired a car a few months ago. Several days after returning the vehicle, I received an SMS saying that I had returned it with unspecified damage to the roof and was being charged R3 500 for the repairs.

So began a futile odyssey to get the rental agency to provide proof that the car was indeed damaged under my watch.

After going through call centre purgatory, I wrote to the rental agency, saying the collection agent and I had both inspected the car, and neither of us spotted any damage. In return, I got a form letter saying there were multiple inspections afterwards, which somehow found the damage.

I asked for proof of the damage, and instead got invoices from the panel beater as proof of repair.

In summary, I did not get my money back, was not provided with any evidence that the vehicle was damaged, and was not advised on how I could escalate my complaint.

Foreinjured is forewarned

The next time I hired a car I took precautions. I got someone from the car hire company to inspect the car with me. We recorded every dent, scrape and smear on the vehicle, including a small but noticeable indentation on the front bumper. 

To fix a small scratch that had been noted by the company before I accepted the vehicle – R1 500. Source: Author

And then, like before, I received an SMS from the very same rental agency saying I had returned the vehicle with a damaged bumper and was on the hook for R1 500 to repair it.

To put it mildly, I was not happy.

I called the company’s call centre, disputed the claim and then received an email, which cc’d the collections manager, confirming the dispute.

I upped the ante. I replied asking for the collections manager’s superior’s name as I wanted to report him for poor customer service.

Then something unexpected happened. I got good service.

The collections manager, who had been cc’d in several of the mails in my previous dispute, called me back and promised to sort out the issue.

Soon after, I got an apologetic mail from said manager saying the vehicle checklist had been found and that the person responsible for this oversight would be held responsible.

A broken system

My latest dispute has been resolved but I am still not happy.

Some readers might have noticed that I have not named the rental agency. The truth is, the name doesn’t matter because if you take even a cursory glance at customer review sites you will see this kind of disgraceful, lazy and inept service is widespread across companies.

All the large rental agencies – Avis, Bidvest, Europcar, Hertz, Thrifty, First Car Rental and Tempest – have dismal rankings on the Hellopeter customer service raking site, with none scoring higher than three out of 10 on its Trust Index Rating.

It’s the same story on TripAdvisor, Facebook and Google review, where similar disputes are widespread. There are also numerous complaints of deposit amounts not only being excessive but being held for weeks. Customers have also questioned why “extra amounts” were deducted from their accounts without explanation.

What stands out about these complaints is the exasperation of the people making them. They had just come back from a wedding, gone on a long-awaited holiday, or visited a dying loved one.

Their fights with the rental agencies took the shine off what should have been happy experiences or rubbed salt into the wounds of difficult ones.

So how is the industry responding to these complaints?

As far as I can tell, it isn’t. The industry body, the Southern African Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (Savrala), does not even have an ombud.

Instead, it offers what it calls a ‘conciliation service’ to help resolve disputes. This service is not exactly an independent arbitrator, as the conciliation committee – a body made up of two of its own members and “an independent legal practitioner” – gets to decide on formal complaints.

Both parties in the dispute are requested to make a “reasonable deposit to cover the estimated expenses” of the committee. The cost will eventually be carried by the “losing” party.

Savrala does, however, in its code of conduct, encourage its members to learn from customer disputes. “Give complaints a full and considered response. Learn from the complaint and implement any changes needed to prevent the incident from happening again.”

It would be nice if rental agencies actually did this.



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Unfortunately, I’ve had two similar experiences. The 2nd I defended successfully because I learned from the first – took many of my own photos of the vehicle the 2nd time. It is also unfortunate that many drivers do actually not look after the rental cars properly, which is definitely a contributing factor to this (justified) behaviour.

…..take a video or pic of rental sales employee who inspected car before and after. This unnerves them into being thorough and honest on paper work

Hmm. Renting cars overseas is a painless experience, but her in South Africa it’s a form of Russian roulette. Only ever rented a car once in South Africa, and never again.

Nothing bad happened but I was appalled at how underhanded (for me) the company was: booked it online. Arrived 10 minutes early but was told by some of the grumpiest staff ever that I have to wait until the hour I reserved it. I wait 10 minutes. On the hour the staff start filling in a mountain of forms. Was only then informed that because the booking runs over a weekend the deposit increases by 100%. Then told that the car I booked was not available and will be replaced by another vehicle. “Upgrade” was the termed used to describe it. “Sidegrade” was my view of it. All of this from a well known rental company at their offices in Randburg. The irony is that I took an Uber ride to get to them. When I compare the Uber experience with the Rental experience: Uber wins, easily.

Uber is shutting these guys down.

Damage Liability – Normal

Name & Shame Europecar

Tough one..

1. Fuel in vehicle

Always fill up as they will charge u if you don’t and I have known people who work for these companies who told me some employees abuse system.. BUT when filling up at the petrol station especially if it’s a distance away(George airport if I recall I’d like this) you need to fill to the brim. If you do to the 1st click by the time u back at airport, pending vehicle and heavy foot, they will need to top up.

2. Insurance

1stly you never get a refund if you don’t need it. Dunno why suggest this but this has always been the case much like house, home, car.. ie short term. I guess people thinking outsurance model or life insurance.. but that’s for your property.

2ndly I have issues with insurance on rental. I almost always take tyre and windscreen as stone chips happen (or maybe it’s because in Gauteng broad highways where I am u don’t even see cars and hear tic) but the vehicle condition is ONLY disclosed after you agree to all paperwork.

So what’s the issue.. well you pay for windscreen insurance and they give you a car that has more Stone chips than in a packet of Simba chips or wheel covers scuffed to hell. In this case I can’t make it worse and so I question the validity of paying for insurance given the condition received.

I always take before and after pics for every pick up and drop off. Figured it costs little more than time + data + storage for pics but saves a lot longer term if a query is made.

It has saved me once with a van rental but that’s like 1 out of +/- 30-40 rentals over 6-7yrs. So yah.. thought I wasn’t the only one to do the photo thing by default?

I do rent vehicles lesser these days due to Uber unless staying longer than a week and traveling outside of destination city (ie using a lot of the free km) and of cause moving home. Yah Uber is changing rental patterns..

I too have been nailed by Europecar a number of time.
1. The tank is NEVER full when you collect the vehicle.
2. Unless you take pics of the vehicle you will be called upon to pay for “damages”.
3. The Insurance rates are outright theft.

I hate getting rental cars which are brand new because of this. Im happy when i get one full of scratches then I know they wont bother. Have had bad experiences with avis, good with firstcar and tempest so far.

One of the worst things/experiences I had in my life a couple of years ago!

Dealing with the ridiculous Avis management in Namibia via Johannesburg is an absolute joke – they simply keep your money!

The last rental I had involved an insurance excess of R15,000 in case of accident. Risk is too high but I guess you can pay a bit more for decent insurance.

Hertz in Namibia tried to make me pay for “damage” but luckily I had a copy of inspection report and my company dealt with them.

Tempest once nailed me for damage. I will never use them.

I realised many years ago that car hire companies’ profits are dependent on exorbitant charges for repairs to their vehicles, not on hire rentals as you might expect.

From my personal experience, pick your car up at smaller locations, very relaxed. Thanks Budget Jeffreys Bay and Paarl.

Take every kind of cover possible. Recently got charged R5k to replace a windscreen (on a Yaris!!!) after a truck deposited a stone right into the centre of it.

I’m convinced there is an organised fraud racket between the managers of the car rental companies and panel beaters. The latter bill the former for non existent damage which the client pays for and there are paybacks all the way. I had a similar experience in South Africa. I won’t name and shame but the company name sounds like it’s painful. We rented a car and they did the final inspection (all tickety boo). Lo and behold when I arrived home they tried to slug me $400 for “damages”. They have access to your credit card which makes it hard. Its time the rental companies sorted out these crooks. It took a lot of time and effort asking for their ISO 9001 accreditation SOPs to discover that the final inspection is meant to take place in the presence of the customer. As the customer you have no idea who drove the car after you left it. I also threatened to put the entire incident on Trip Adviser with the manager of the branch, the man who did the final inspection and the customer service manager named in person. “Do not use this company- you have been warned”. Only then did they relent and give me my money back. I will never use them again. When my travel agent tried to book me a hire car with them, I instructed them to change it. For $5 extra a day? absolutely.

I’ve rented a car from Bidvest via a 3rd party last year Dec. Did not realise it was not insured, someone crashed into us (bumper was damaged). Net result approximately R30,000 deducted from my credit card. The 3rd party insurance claim (against other driver) was successful. However, we are now in August and I am still waiting for the payout from Bidvest and the indication was that they will only pay a fraction….

Apart from the difficulty in getting payout, R30,000 damage claim from Bidvest seems excessive.

All in all a very bad non-satisfactory customer experience with very slow response and complete lack of information. The net feeling was we were taken for granted and prices were inflated. Agree. Next time I’ll strongly consider alternatives.

Great tips from everyone above (knowing also I’m not the only crazy one taking “before” and “after” pictures).

Next time I will take also a complete video, covering also the interior, boot & engine bay!! I will dryly inform the rental inspector “I am legally informing you, you will now be subject to a recorded video during your inspection, with your consent you’ll give me” and once we’re done with video, I will make the inspector do 50 pushups for good measure 😉

Jokes aside, another tip I was not always aware of:
If you have the option of “glass/windscreen cover”, take it! Besides that it covers windscreen & sidewindow damage…it also covers the polycarbonate-plastic of the front & rear light clusters…as it (slyly) is not covered by the normal excess waiver.

I also try to choose the bit higher daily rate, in return for the lowest excess. The higher excess is not worth the risk in my opinion….it can ruin you.

(Btw, there is no thing such as “insurance” on rental vehicles. It’s merely a “waiver” of damage…the company profits takes the loss on the chin if there’s damage/loss of vehicle.)

I realised many years ago that car rental companies are in the insurance business, but the car rental business. I now routinely get insurance from an outside insurer to cover the excess

I have had same experience with Avis . It is way they increase their profits. Its extremely difficult to argue and fight them. So they know most client’s will give up. Easy money. Just a bunch of vultures.

Rented a car from Europcar. Arranged to return it with a full tank. On retuning the car, filled to the top at the airport. Handed the car over with all the ticks. Arrive back home after a twelve hour flight only to find they had charged me for a full tank. Never again.

My 2 tips
1 – Request them to invoice and close the rental at the counter. Yes, they can still go back, but after forcing the front office staff to do this, it is more shlep from their side to post process any additional charges

2 – Enter the Virgin Money credit card with R5,000 limit. No monthly costs etc. Use that for your rental. Therefore, when they want to charge you more, can’t, not nice overdraft limit. It’s a hell of a better position to be in to fight an outstanding account than trying to fight to get your money back.

End of comments.


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