Hiring a car in a Europe is full of pitfalls. Mainly the problems arise from trying to read maps in a strange language, understanding road signs and withstanding the abuse from drivers who consider 130km an hour far too slow.
Yet my recent use of Europcar in Italy made for a far worse experience than any fist shaking Italian in a Lamborghini could provide.
Mind you, there was nothing wrong with the car. There were however, some immense problems with the bill. On hiring the car, I told the rental officer that it would be a two day hire between Venice and Siena. That meant the car would be returned to Siena on a Sunday. “No problem!” I was repeatedly told.
After some lovely scenery in Tuscany and some excellent food in Florence, we arrived in Siena for the Sunday return. Don’t try and find fuel on a Sunday in Italy. Self-serve pumps may be available in some service stations yet working them needs a degree from Oxford. I decided to pay the Europcar rate for the half tank of fuel I’d used. Better to pay the fuel rate than miss the train to Rome…especially with two 13 year olds itching to go shopping!
The Europcar office in Siena is so far away from civilisation that not even the Police know where it is. It took us an hour to find, and we eventually hailed a cab and followed it to a back alley off a back street in a back suburb…obviously unknown to the local constabulary.
On arriving, there was no one on duty. There was however, a set of instructions telling us returners to lock the car and put the keys in a box at the side of the building. The car was clean and locked, and the keys nicely placed in the box just short of the two days hire I had intended. In my deluded state, I thought there may be some sort of timing device that recorded the time keys were put in the box. What was I thinking?
On returning to Sydney, I received a bill from Europcar for three full days of hire + fuel. On phoning the Australian Head Office, they said they would investigate the overcharge but ‘…not to hold my breath’.
After two weeks, they had not had a reply to their questions so I asked them to enquire again and also asked for Europcar’s contact details in Italy. I emailed them several times yet received no response. I still haven’t.
After a month I again phoned Europcar Australia, and was told “Oh…They’re hopeless in Italy. You’ll never get a response. We can’t even get a response.”
Finally, some six weeks after receiving the bill, the Australian Office told me that because the car was returned on a Sunday, and Italians don’t work on a Sunday, I would be charged the full three-day rate. This was not explained in the rental contract and there is nothing about it on the Europcar website. It’s clearly an unethical and potentially fraudulent overcharge, and if every tourist who returns a car on a Sunday is being slugged, Europcar is doing very nicely out of it.
Not only that, there has been a recent unexplained deduction from my credit card from Europcar Rome for $97.00. – six months after my European trip! My bank has been notified of possible fraudulent activity. I’m lookEuropcar: ing forward to, but not expecting, Europcar’s response.
On Googling the phrase “problems with Europcar” you’ll find thousands of similar stories. If this was an Australian company, Consumer Affairs would have been on to them in a flash. This is not the way we do business in Australia.
So the lesson is clear. If you’re travelling to Europe, and planning to hire a car, choose Avis, Budget or take the train. Whatever you do, avoid Europcar like the plague.