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Car hire: The devil is in the detail

Apr 09 2017 08:10
Angelique Ruzicka

It may be tempting to take the keys of your hired car and drive off so that you can finally enjoy your holiday with your family.

After all, you’ve waited a long time for this break and, with all the political turmoil and work commitments bogging you down, you’ve earned your break without any further hassle.

But burning the rubber as you speed to your holiday escape is not advisable.

Firstly, you’re not covered for damages to your car’s tyres and, secondly, you may be driving off with a car that was damaged by the previous customers who thought that taking the car you’ve now hired on an exhaust-annihilating off-road game drive was good for a laugh.

“The days of doing a rental vehicle inspection are very scarce. A lot of the big companies don’t do it anymore and I can’t understand why as it protects everyone’s interest,” says Janet Pillai, founder CEO of MLT Corporation.

“When you collect the car, walk around it checking for bumps and scratches.

"Do not drive off before you get the car hire employee in charge to note any damage on your copy of the contract. Take cellphone photos to be on the safe side.

“It’s also very important to make sure there is a spare tyre, jack and tools,” advises Neville Melville, the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud.

Pillai adds that it’s important to read the terms and conditions of the leasing agreement too and take note of things like extra mileage charges.


The insurance cover fine print also deserves more scrutiny.

While you may think that most of the bigger car hire companies are insured to the hilt, this is not actually the case. Companies like Avis and Budget self-insure and they share some of the burden with customers.

“People sometimes ask why we don’t offer all-inclusive packages. But we don’t because so many customers don’t want it.

"And if you don’t want it then this is the risk you are happy with. We self-insure our fleet.

"We try to go to insurance companies but we’ve found that when they see the damages of all the vehicles during the year the premiums go up, so we rather self-insure,” explains Lance Smith, strategy executive at Avis.

Clients can choose between standard waivers or more expensive super waivers.

The more you pay in insurance waivers the less you pay in the event of an accident. Insurance is a must, as the amount you could be liable for, regardless of whether you were at fault, could be well into the tens of thousands of rands, if not more.

"You may not always be liable for every dent and scratch but this depends on the car hire company you choose. “We have a fair wear and tear guide which can be available to you.

A little dent or scratch is within our tolerance,” points out Smith.


However, you would be liable for bigger dents and damage.

But you can get insurance from just about every car hire company.

Avis, for example, has two options: you can either get Collision Damage Waiver, which is a limited waiver and means that, in the event of an accident, the renter is responsible for up to the specified amount as indicated on the rates table (see online) for repair to or replacement of the vehicle or part thereof (or the cost of damage repair, whichever is the lower).

If you choose its Super Collision Damage Waiver (SCDW), a lower, non-waivable liability will apply.

Avis stresses: “Declining either of these options means you are liable for the full amount of damages incurred or the specified liability.

"Authorisation will be gained to secure the liability amount on your credit card for the duration of the rental.”

As an example, Avis’s rates table shows that if you hired a Mercedes-Benz C Class or similar the total liability is R500 000.

If you have Limited Waiver Liability at R135 per day you could be responsible for up to R50 000 should you be in an accident.

By paying more for SCDW at R215 per day, you would only be responsible for R10 000.

“Rather take the full insurance option because, if you get into an accident, the car hire company makes no attempt to claim from the wrongdoing driver’s insurance or to get the cheapest quote – it merely debits your credit card with what it says it costs to repair the car.

"Make sure you have proof of your insurance option,” says Melville.


Unfortunately, the insurance doesn’t cover everything and these are the things you will have to take note of from the outset.

It might not be disclosed but should be highlighted in the terms and conditions, which may be long-winded and convoluted – but it is still your responsibility to read and digest them.

Examples of exclusions include damage from travelling on a gravel road, hitting a pothole and damage to the undercarriage.

In some instances, if you don’t report the accident timeously, you could also be billed for the full amount of the damage.

You’ll also be responsible for parking, e-toll fees, traffic or other offences which will be added to your bill at the end of the rental period or much later if the fine takes a while to come through.

“Generally, car hire companies will also charge an administration fee for processing these fines,” points out Pillai.


If you have been landed with a higher-than-expected bill, Smith points out that there could be several reasons.

There could be accidental damage, you may have brought the car back nearing on empty so there would be a fuel charge, and you may have gone over your allotted mileage or not brought the car back timeously.

“For returning the car we give a grace period of 29 minutes but if you brought the car back several hours late, there we would charge for the extra day.”

If you have a gripe, it’s always best to take up the dispute with the firm itself and then work your way up the management chain if you have no joy.

“We aim to resolve issues in 24 hours. You can phone us, use social media – there are plenty of places where we pick up customers’ unhappiness.

"The Southern African Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association is our governing body and they will try to resolve it but, if not, then you would take it further to the National Consumer Commission,” adds Smith.

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