The traditional model for car hire is that the vehicle is expected to be returned with same amount of fuel as when it was picked up: usually “out full, back full”, occasionally “out empty, back empty”. But with competition between rental companies intensifying, many firms in Spain have moved to an “out full, back empty” rule – with customers paying inflated rates for petrol or diesel that they may not be able to use.
A researcher in Malaga was told that the cheapest initial car-hire price including basic insurance was €30 from Goldcar, compared with €78 for Avis. But when fuel was added on arrival, the Goldcar price rose to €94. In order to use all the fuel in the Fiat 500, Which? Travel calculated it would be necessary to drive 140km every day for a week.
The magazine also found that the price used to calculate the value of the fuel was often inflated. A company called Record Spain, which provided the car booked through Holiday Autos, charged the equivalent of €1.98 per litre – one-third more than the price on Spanish forecourts.
Chris Gray of Which? Travel said: “No-frills airlines have their hidden card surcharges. In car hire, the hidden charge has become fuel. Consumers should not be in a position where booking a car rental commits them to paying an unavoidable charge with no refunds, with no idea how much the charge may be.”
Holiday Autos, the leading UK car-rental broker, tells customers: “At the booking stage of the online process, there is a sub-heading of ‘important information’. Under this section you can locate the fuel conditions for the specific car-rental partner that will provide your car.”
One reader told the magazine that he was so determined not to give fuel back to the car-hire company that he drove 50km with the gauge on empty.
Road-safety campaigners have raised concerns that the policy could lead to holidaymakers running out of fuel on the motorway to a busy airport. A member of an online travel forum has suggested: “There is a good business opportunity for a tank-siphoning operation at each Spanish airport”.