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This is a warning to anyone renting a car anywhere in Europe: know what you’re getting yourself in for!
The natural instinct when booking a car is to go with the absolute cheapest rate possible, but rental car companies are notorious for tacking on hidden fees and surcharges (some are worse than others) that can seriously inflate the cost of your trip. The one fee you must ask about up front in Europe is the cost of transferring your personal information to the police in cases of speeding or parking tickets.
I learned this the hard way. I never thought twice about this until a recent trip to the English countryside with my partner and two of our friends. I found a great deal for a two-day rental with Europcar (a nice, big car to fit the four of us)—all told, with insurance, it was around $100. Believe me, this is not bad for London. We had a great time driving through the picturesque villages in the Cotswolds, stuffing ourselves on fish and chips and waking up with sheep bleating in the pastures around our B&B.
Then, in the span of six hours, on the same road, everything changed—and we suddenly found ourselves hundreds of dollars in the hole. Our car was photographed twice by speed-enforcement cameras—once going 35 mph in a 30-mph zone, and the other time going 38 mph.
I understand the need for drivers to keep their speeds down in and around country villages, but my partner (who was driving) was hardly channeling Mario Andretti here. Nonetheless, we knew we got nabbed when the flashbulb went off as our car passed the hidden camera. Anyone who has been in this situation in Italy, France, or Germany knows that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach.
The tickets I can understand. They were excessive, but there’s really no way to fight them. We were assessed fines of about £60 per ticket, which we paid. (Friends who have received photo-enforced speeding tickets on trips to Italy have ignored the charges when they returned home to the U.S. and apparently been O.K. But I wouldn’t advise that.) We ponied up the $200 and figured we learned a costly lesson.
Hidden fees and surcharges
I didn’t anticipate I’d be hit with more fees weeks later from Europcar. The company charged my credit card twice (without my knowledge, mind you) for what they later told me were “administrative fees” related to the tickets, namely the amount they charge for passing our contact details on to the local authorities.
The amount: a staggering $50 PER TICKET.
Now, I know this is common practice for rental car companies—they maintain that this charge covers the cost of transferring your data to the relevant local authorities. But from a consumer’s standpoint, it helps to be informed of the rules and regulations before you rent, just so you’re aware of the possible tack-ons.
Make sure the amount of the surcharge is clearly stated in the terms and conditions of your agreement. And watch your credit card statements closely in the months after your rental to see if any charges show up without your knowing about it (as it did in my case).
For those who want to learn more about these rental car fees, here’s an excellent article on MSNBC’s website. Educate yourself, or you might find yourself in the same situation I’m in, paying three times the cost of your rental car in profligate surcharges.