A weekly guide to all that sucks in the auto industry, plus some good bits
Readers will have their horror story of hiring a car when abroad. You find a long line at the airport desk waiting to fill in documents, a frazzled biddy in front is holding things up carping about the cost or querying the small print, and the receptionist has a permanent take-it-or-leave-it attitude for each and every customer.
The language barrier can be a problem though the receptionist may speak English better than the English tourist. “Na! That’s aka! I ordered bliddy automatic wi’ fower seats, an’ paid fortit, like”, croaks the Geordie, aready dressed for sea and sun in sandals with socks, a T-shirt emblazoned with ”Toon Ultras’. “Si, senor, but none eez here”, answers the seen, heard it all assistant, offering an unsuitable alternative, leaving the customer to turn to his discomfited wife to say, “Never seen nowt like it in me natch”.
The worst of the worst for me was spending an excrutiating hour trailing around and around Malaga airport and around again, carting luggage as the day’s light disappeared, looking for the car hire desk and getting misdirected by bad tempered security officers. (It was in the basement.) The best time was taking possession of a car in pristine condition, parking it an hour later outside a supermarket to buy the week’s produce, returning to find the truck parked behind had reversed into the car and driven off. The read door had a moon-size crater of a dent in it. It was the best of hires because on handing the car back with apprehension the company didn’t blink and eyelid over the damage, such is the joy of living in a world where somebody else takes the financial hit.
The American satirist PJ O’Rourke – Patrick to his pals – is reputed to have coined the phrase, “the fastest car on the planet is a hire car”. The hired car is the one you put the pedal to the metal when the road ahead opens up, and don’t worry when it gets covered in dust, or scraped. You don’t have to clean the interior either. The rest of his thoughts on cars don’t stand the test of time, his go-anywhere and stuff the regulations attitude very Texan. His environmental concern ages badly, far too right-wing for me to take. He’d make a good pal for Jeremy Clarkson. I give him wriggle room for writing “Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work and then they get elected and prove it.”
Hiring a car in Los Angeles is a safe bet generally – I speak as the man who wrote the Louis Vuitton Guide to LA. Europe is a different matter altogether. Continetal car hire is an industry dogged by unscrupulous practices and interminable add-ons.
Each visit to Spain, France or Italy I try to get a Smart Car, preferably with the fold-away roof, all one needs to beetle around the narrow backstreets of ancient town and village. I have never managed it. Invariably none are available on arrival at the airport, the company brochure forgetting to mention they have only one Smart car and the boss’s wife likes to use it. Next come pile-on extras, extra for a full tank, insurance, window glass not covered, and on and on it goes.
Finally, one company has received its just deserts. Goldcar is named Europe’s worst car hire firm, with customers reportedly complaining that their holidays were ruined by pressure-selling, rude staff and shock charges. The UK much underfunded consumer body Which? said the Spanish firm had been “rooted to the bottom” of its annual car hire survey rankings for five of the last six years. That’s some achievement; maybe the company aims to be the Best of the Worst.
Goldcar engages in that old Ryanair trick, advertise ’em cheap, and then point out the tourist will need to pay for bring luggage, kids, false teeth and the like. In car hire con that’s petrol, a set of wheels, and the insurance only covers hit by a raging bull.
Goldcar’s on-the-face-of-it prices are cheap – customer report paying an average of £13 a day, often half the amount of other hire companies, but 40% of customers reported experiencing a problem most often relating to “terrible customer service or spurious credit card charges”, says Which?
Goldcar’s overall customer score was 39% in the survey, pretty abysmal, all things considered. In one instance, a family lost their deposit when their plane arrived eleven hours late. Some reports talk of compies piling on the extras to the tune of 300%.
Hopes that the situation regarding Goldcar might have improved after it was bought out by car hire giant Europcar in 2017 “have been dashed, because the firm’s overall score got worse than before”, Which? said.
Time for a name change; How about Pewtercar?
So who was the best at keeping customers happy? Cicar (Canary Islands Car) is named the best car hire firm with a score of 97%. When it came to big-name firms, Enterprise and sister firm Alamo were rated as the best by customers.
My advice: ignore headline prices; Check and compare, avoid Goldcar.
GROUSEY’S FOOTWELL FINDS
Closed street open
Edinburgh’s free of traffic May weekend, city centre roads were blocked off from traffic, appears to have been a success. We can expect more in times to come. However, an alert reader noticed that the publicity photograph of the first day was full of cyclists. I spotted a scooter rider in another photograph. Sure enough, pedestrian actually meant open to certain types of traffic but not cars, and transportation that can take to footpaths. Since when did cyclists and scooter riders become non-traffic? What’s the point of clearing streets for pedestrian perambulation but allow free flowing cyclist’s access? The council’s blurb ran: “Like events in Paris, New York and Brussels, ‘Open Streets’ will let people experience a cleaner, quieter, calmer environment to explore and appreciate Edinburgh’s historic backdrop at leisure on the first Sunday of every month. ” Aye, right.
Reputed to send out almost 93 million items a year to drivers, the Institute for Gross Profiteering, better known as the DVLA, get’s things badly wrong. The DVLA mishandled the confidential details of over 2,000 drivers in less last year, not a great number in proportional terms but hellish if it was your documents. These data breaches saw the DVLA send important documents – including driving licences, passports and marriage certificates – to incorrect addresses, affecting the equivalent of around seven people per day. For comparison, the Passport Office with an equivalent client base had only five data breaches over the same time period, while HM Revenue & Customs had ten. The DVLA is in Swansea, Wales, home of Catherine Zeta-Jones. Scotland had its own office until the Tories quietly removed it to destabalise attempts at self-governance.
New electric cars
I can’t keep up with all the announcements of new electric cars coming on the market. This week alone there are four not including VW’s e-Car. VW seems to announce a new electric model a week. But the point of this Footwell Find is to say the latest are all aiming for the sub-£30,000 price range new, less any government grant. There’s a determined effort on the part of mass market car manufacturers to create small cars, which should mean small service bills – few moving parts: wheels, brakes, steering wheel, door handles and hinges, windows – cars that ought to last double the life or longer of combustion driven vehicles.