Car rental horror story: Tips to protect yourself

Tourist beware: Car rental scam

Image of damaged car. Credit: pathdoc/

Recently, a British holidaymaker has highlighted the problems one can encounter when renting a car.

For the most part, hiring a car is a positive experience, giving travellers the freedom to explore places away from the usual tourist spots and discover ‘real’ Spain. However, now and again there’s someone with a horror story to tell.

Recently, Euro Weekly News was contacted by Mr Jones who detailed an incident involving a car rental company in Spain.

He is an experienced traveller, with previous experience of renting cars abroad, Mr Jones owns a second house in Spain and visits several times every year.

On one occasion, Mr Jones had to fly into Alicante Airport, rather than his usual destination of Almeria, and as such hired a car between December 12-19, 2023, only to face an upsetting ordeal upon returning the vehicle.

First-hand account

Mr Jones explained that the rented car was driven on just two occasions, as transport from the airport to his home and back.

The rest of the time it was parked in his garage, while he used his Spanish car for everything else during his stay.

Despite returning the car in its original condition, the company falsely accused him of causing damage to the vehicle.

When asked why he chose a particular rental firm, Mr Jones explained that he didn’t realise at the time but the company he booked with was a car hire broker. Hence when he went to collect the car at the airport he was directed to a different company altogether.

He went on to explain that he declined the car hire company’s ‘extra’ insurance, and feels that for this reason, the rental company seek other ways to claw back some money.

Car inspection

When Mr Jones returned the car, a female member of staff came to inspect he vehicle. From the outset she already seemed to be in a bad temper, and was very brusque and rude before the inspection even began.

Three or four times the inspector pointed out damages to the car and each time Mr Jones proved successfully that there was no damage, ‘just a bit of road dirt,’ he said. Unfortunately this just seemed to make her angrier.

Unbelievably, Mr Jones then reported witnessing: ‘Their female car inspector, in my presence, also deliberately swiped the sole of her shoe down the front bumper in order to cause paintwork damage!’

This led to a confrontation with the firm’s manager, who refused to discuss the matter properly, or even go outside and look at the vehicle when Mr Jones invited him to do so.

Mr Jones’ attempts to refute the false accusations, complete with his extensive photo evidence were ignored, and the rental company charged the unwarranted fee of £711.37 to his credit card for the alleged damage.

It appears that the experience was not an isolated one: ‘When complaining to the manager, about the false damage claim, another British car hire customer approached me and told me he too had had false damage claims made against him in respect of the hire car he had just returned.’

Mr Jones has informed his credit card company that the payment is in dispute, but at this time he is still out of pocket. He has also brought the issue to the attention of Alicante’s deputy mayor.

When speaking of the incident, Mr Jones said that when he first went to collect the car he asked for an pre-inspection sheet only to be told by the company it was not required.

He then took numerous photographs of the car from all angles to cover himself in the event of any disputes. In retrospect he admitted that one photo of a kerbed wheel wasn’t very clear because of the sun’s glare, something which proved crucial when it came to the inspection.

His main thoughts were to warn others to take extra care, particularly young families who can ill afford to be scammed out of hundreds of euros.

It must be said that while car rental companies do sometimes make genuine mistakes when checking vehicles, Mr Jones’ experience seems to indicate a deliberate scam being perpetrated by one particular car hire firm.

Online company reviews

While it is commonly accepted that people complain when something negative happens but seldom take the time to report a good experience, the statistics make shocking reading, suggesting a pattern of deceitful behaviour towards customers.

The company with outlets in Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, Alicante, Malaga, Madrid and Valencia, claim to offer ‘quality vehicles at low prices.’

TrustPilot reviews of the company in question reveal that a staggering 72 per cent of customers gave the company the lowest rating possible of ‘1-star.’

Here are just two recent reviews which back up Mr Jones experience: ‘Scam!!! Told to take a picture of damages of more than 1 centimetre, but when the car was returned at the Malaga point, a fee of €400 was charged for a barely visible dot, which we did not take a picture of, because it is even difficult to see it.

‘Having disagreed with this violation, the employee became aggressive, rude. We were not even brought to the airport for a flight, although we were with a small child. A terrible experience!’

Another reported: ‘Classic robbery, they charged me €260 for an ordinary small scratch that was already there. When I took over the car, I did not receive a single certificate with damages on the car, so I simply could not document and defend myself against robberies.

‘Please, people, do not book a car with these robbers because they are well organised and you, as an individual, are powerless to defend yourself.’

Ways to protect yourself

When renting a car on vacation, it’s crucial to be vigilant against various scams that unscrupulous rental companies might employ. Here’s a condensed guide to help you navigate these issues:

  • Insurance misrepresentation
    Rental agents, often incentivised by commissions, might assert that your existing insurance is invalid to sell their costly insurance. While damage to the vehicle does incur charges, these are usually limited to the cost of repair, not the exaggerated amounts often quoted.
  • Charges for pre-existing damage
    Given the high volume of rentals, it’s not uncommon for rental companies to inadvertently charge for pre-existing damage. To safeguard against this, inspect the rental car thoroughly before driving off. Document any damage with lots of photos from various angles and ensure it’s noted on the rental agreement. Be aware that some unscrupulous companies might repeatedly charge different customers for the same minor damages.
  • Unverified return charges
    There are instances where customers are wrongly charged for damages incurred after returning the car, especially in unattended drop-off situations. Protect yourself by taking timestamped photos of the car from all angles after parking it in the return lot.
  • Lock Damage Scam
    Always test the mechanical key upon car collection. Some companies have been known to pre-damage the mechanical locks of their cars. Since remote locking is commonplace, this damage often goes unnoticed until return, leading to unfair charges.

Precautionary Checklist

  • Exterior Inspection: Thoroughly check for dents, scratches, and damages, especially on often-overlooked areas like the roof, under the bumper, and the backs of mirrors.
  • Interior Review: Examine the car’s interior for any damage.
  • Tyre Condition: Inspect the tyres, including the condition of the wheel arches
  • Spare Tyre Check: Ensure the presence and good condition of the spare tyre.
  • Fuel and Mileage Verification: Confirm that the fuel level and mileage correspond with the rental record.

By following these steps, you can better protect yourself from common rental car scams and ensure a more secure and hassle-free experience.

As with any transaction, caution is recommended, this includes reading the small print and things to help cover oneself in the worst-case scenario.

Despite the terrible experience of Mr Jones, these occasions are thankfully rare and renting a car can be an extremely rewarding experience.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Do remember to come back and check The Euro Weekly News website for all your up-to-date local and international news stories and remember, you can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram.

Written by

John Ensor

Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina. He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.


    • Stephen Noe

      28 January 2024 • 10:55

      I had similar experiences, returning to the UK and hiring a car, not once but year after year, 4 years . On one iccassion, one month after returning home, i had a letter telling me the car hire company had taken 1, 000 pounds from my credit card for damage to a car. Only photos that I had taken, saved me from a very large bill.

    • DJH

      28 January 2024 • 13:35

      I take out a private insurance for hiring vehicles, it costs about £30-40 for the year. I use to travel extensively every three to four weeks, now only at best once a year, but I still take out the insurance.

    • Selwyn King

      28 January 2024 • 14:26

      Aren’t you going to Name and Shame these bandits not leave us worrying unnecessarily about all hire firms
      Use one and one only at Malaga Airport and never had a single problem over many years of sometimes 4 times a year
      Only once or twice met not friendly staff but that you can experience in any business any country

      • John Smith

        28 January 2024 • 14:30

        We feel that it would be inappropriate to name the company and the article has been produced to advise readers what steps to take in order to ensure that nothing like that could happen to them, even though we recognise that the vast majority of car rental companies act well and do not try to take financial advantage of their customers

    • Ordinary Joe

      28 January 2024 • 17:43

      Hi Selwyn.
      You already have been given enough information to easily identify the Miscreant Company.
      The giveaway information comes in two Parts in the Article.
      The First: –
      “TrustPilot reviews of the company in question reveal that a staggering 72 per cent of customers gave the company the lowest rating possible of ‘1-star.”
      And the ‘Clincher’: –
      “The company with outlets in Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, Alicante, Malaga, Madrid and Valencia, claim to offer ‘quality vehicles at low prices.”

      Regarding Rentals generally in Spain you can only protect yourself by using a Car Hire Broker as an intermediary.
      Which Mr Jones did.
      Instead of protesting to the Hire Company, protest to the Broker, and this usually works.
      The Why?
      ‘Negligent’ car hire companies who lose Broker Repeat Custom is a big, ‘kiss their company goodbye’ moment !!

      There is a vital Part Two to this Protection
      ALWAYS factor in ‘Extra Insurance’ into ‘Hire Price’.
      Some things are too really cheap, like that ticketed ‘hire price’
      Failure to buy ‘extra insurance’ puts you in the frame for ‘damage’ instead.

      Meanwhile the Article gives you other useful knowledge.
      Roof, mirrors, tire walls, upholstery, these we know
      I thought myself street savvy, but the ‘Damaged Key Trick’ is a new one !

      Good Business Ethics make Good Sense and grow that business.
      Which is the reason why some countries economically grow, and others just stagnate.

    • Kelly

      29 January 2024 • 22:36

      I know the company as they did exactly the same thing to me. It was Alicante Airport. My family all got covid so we didn’t go anywhere. The car stayed parked under a tree the whole time but when we returned it they accused me of damage. 700 Euros. Luckily I had taken photos of the whole car when I picked it up and my insurer in Australia reimbursed me within a week.

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