Renting a car in Andalusia: an extreme sport
In case you read no further: Our strong advice is to remove the car hire firm’s sticker from your car as soon as you leave the rental office.
What kind of rental client are you? There are two business models for car rental in Andalusia, and the one you should choose depends on your personality type.
Much like anywhere else in the world, you can opt for a straightforward, relaxed, slightly tedious transaction. But if you prefer, there is an alternative. It can be likened to an extreme sport or a game of strategy, requiring ingenuity, vigilance, charm, cunning, ruthlessness, and nerves of steel, and with a modest but worthwhile financial prize for successful contestants.
The choice is yours.
- The Straightforward route
Personality type one, let’s call her Julia, likes a quiet life – she doesn’t like conflict – and she is mildly financially incontinent.
Julia should head to Hertz or Avis – preferably booking in advance – and do what she’d do anywhere else in the world. It won’t be particularly cheap, but nor will it raise her blood pressure. Obviously she will also purchase the additional insurance offered, and drive off into the sunset with no fear of careless car park door clashes, ‘keying’, theft, or breakdown.
- The Extreme Sport route
Personality type two, let’s call him Calum, doesn’t mind a fight (both sides secretly enjoy it, don’t they) and more importantly he is keen that the price differential between route one and route two (which can be several hundred euros) remain with his family.
Calum should book an appointment with his GP, and if that results in a clean bill of health, he should contact a local Spanish rental firm and prepare for battle. He is probably going to save quite a bit of money, but there may be some wear and tear to his endocrine and cardiovascular systems.
The following advice is for those opting for option 2. Preparation for the assignment is essential, and you will fare much better if you have an experienced guide; luckily, you’ve come to the right place.
In two lifetimes of travelling, we have hired cars on six continents. We have been given hire cars with serious defects in Thailand and Chile, and we have been subject to shake-down attempts by corrupt policemen in Mexico, Morocco and Hungary (which all failed). But we have never before come across a car rental industry as devious, frustrating, and downright exhilarating as Andalusia’s. If you handle the process well, you can save a small fortune, and enjoy the satisfaction of beating seasoned pros at their own game. You can end up hiring a car for a week for just a few Euros. If you are ill-prepared or just unlucky, you will end up absolutely furious, and possibly a bit worse off than the Julias who take route one.
A caveat to keep the lawyers at bay: we’re not saying that all the local firms are crooks. In fact, we’re not saying any of them are, but some of them certainly do an exceedingly good impression of it.
The basic problem is this. The car rental industry in Andalusia is ferociously competitive, and many of the local car hire firms offer a ludicrously low headline rate – say a few Euro cents a day. They proceed to make their money by up-selling you on insurance, by over-charging you for petrol, by charging you administration fees for refuelling, and by charging you for damage – including damage that shows up on the photos you took at pick-up but was overlooked on the rental record.
How much extra they make depends on how well you play the game. If you do decide to play the game, you can obtain a very good deal, but you will need to keep your wits about you. We have found the following strategies helpful, but caveat emptor, and past experience is not a guarantee of future results. Proceed at your own risk: the following is true at the time of writing (June 2018), but you should also do your own research.
- Book through Do You Spain
We have used www.doyouspain.com after booking flights and saved money, even compared with the cheap local rates. At the time of writing, you pay the basic hire fee in your home currency, and you can cancel or alter the booking at no cost. You can select various options, such as the car rental company, manual or automatic, fuel payment option, extra driver, and so on.
Make sure you know whether you are getting unlimited mileage, or whether you will pay a small cost per km after 2,000 km. If you will want an extra driver, it is usually cheaper to stipulate that at this point.
- Some firms’ practices are more questionable than others
We’re not going to make any specific allegations for obvious legal reasons, but we have noticed particularly long queues and heated discussions at Firefly, Marbesol, and Goldcar so bear this in mind.
Having tried quite a few of the car rental companies now, the one we do recommend is Autos Lido. This is not a sponsored message, and they are not perfect. And things change: they are good as at June 2018, but later on, who knows.
- Choose your fuel option
The hire companies prefer that you take their full-to-empty option. They tell you that it is easier, as you don’t have to find a petrol station and fill the car before you return it. What they don’t tell you is that they charge a wildly unrealistic price for the fuel they give you – often twice the actual cost. Alternatively, you can take the full-to-full option, in which case the headline rate goes up.
If you select full-to-empty but actually return the car full, then they should refund you the price of the petrol at the price they charged you for it [note: you must confirm this refund policy when you pick up the car]. However they also add an administrative charge of around €30-40. This seems daft, but if they do refund petrol costs on cars returned full, it still usually works out as the cheapest option.
The hire firm staff will sell you hard on the benefits of their insurance product. And we mean hard. Rather than accept this, you should buy an annual Car Hire Excess Waiver Insurance (CHEW) policy before you leave home from a company like The Medical Screening Company Ltd (https://www.chewinsurance.com/) An annual policy will usually cost less than the insurance for a single trip bought at the rental company. When you tell them that you already have insurance, the car hire staff will tell you terrifying tales of families blighted for generations just because they declined additional insurance.. You should simply smile sweetly, and gently but firmly decline.
It is very important at this stage that you remain ultra-polite. You are an ambassador for your country now, and it could be argued that in a sense you are not really playing the game by the rules. We don’t accept that argument, but it has sufficient force that you should tolerate the hard sell with maximum graciousness. Apart from anything else, you don’t want to make an enemy of the firm because of what comes next.
- Check for damages
Now we come to the hardball part. It is essential that you check for any and all damages to the car before you leave the premises of the rental firm. A friend of ours maintains that the more aggressive companies (see point 2 above) will try to make money from most or all of their customers by charging them for damages which were present on the car before they rented it. This is what he says, and we are simply passing his comment along. He goes so far as to speculate that many companies are forced down this route if denied revenue from the insurance up-sell: they don’t repair the scratches that they charge you for, and by forgetting to mark them up on the damage sheet they may well charge your successors too. So their business is not so much renting cars as renting mobile scratches.
We take photos of any damage we find, which has sometimes meant taking 20 or more pictures. Some firms insist that photos are not proof of prior damage, and you must get a member of their staff to agree the list of damages and give you a piece of paper with them all clearly marked. In which case you must do that, but it’s worth taking the photos anyway. We once had a staff member flatly refuse to mark the paper with all the damages, so we took extensive photos. On our return we had an almighty row with the company. It all ended eventually with an apology from the company and a free upgrade the next time, but it was less than fun. Even for Calum.
Different firms have different rules for how big a scratch must be to be reportable: it is worth finding this out and making sure you report everything that meets the standard.
Check as far down the car as you can: dents in the underside which are visible from the side could come back to bite you. Check the roof, insofar as you can. Check there is a spare tyre (a sensible precaution anyway.) Check the paintwork etc. on the inside of the boot, and give the interior a quick look-over too.
One trick we nearly had to pay twice to learn about is that door locks can have unseen damage. Most cars have remote central locking these days, so renters don’t naturally think to check that the physical locks are in good order. On one occasion the lock to the passenger door was damaged, but the damage was barely visible. On another occasion the passenger door didn’t lock properly. On both occasions we know that the damage pre-dated our use of the car, and we are confident that the staff knew this too. They billed us anyway, we complained to our credit card company, and after a bit of to and fro, the charges were reversed. A tedious but educative process.
- Remove the hire company’s sticker
Separate from the car hire process, you should be aware there are incidents of theft from hire cars. In particular, thieves in supermarket car parks near the airport and near the tourist resorts look out for rental cars which look low on their suspension, hoping that tourists have left heavy luggage in the boot. Our strong advice is to remove the car hire firm’s sticker from your car as soon as you leave the rental office.
So now you know. Ladies and gentlemen, choose your weapons, and good luck!