A tale of car rental woe with a happy ending

This was not our rental car. Obviously.

This was not our rental car. Obviously.

I loathe every aspect of renting a car abroad.

Even the process of booking a car for our recent Sicily trip took far too long; every time I was about to book a car I made the mistake of checking a review site and ended up getting distracted by a stream of one-star ratings from angry customers. In the end I was hooked in by a price of £65 for 8 days rental, and booked a car with Sicily by Car through Holiday Autos, who appeared to have a slightly more favourable (or less terrible) review profile than their competitors.

With such an attractive price I shouldn’t have been surprised by the queue at the Sicily by Car desk in Catania airport. Still, 40 minutes later we were in our Citroen C3 and leaving the car park, ready to set off on our trip. And it was then, before we’d even reached the exit, that I ran into trouble. The gate in front of me was blocked, and I was instructed by waving staff to reverse and turn down an alternative and far too narrow lane, marked out by yellow bollards. Sure enough, I didn’t make the turn cleanly and my rear door brushed against the bollard, leaving a 5mm scratch and a skim of yellow paint. The paint didn’t shift with water or soap, and despite the gallant efforts of a very helpful hotel owner who took me to his friend’s garage to see if he could help, I returned 8 days later to the airport with a small but noticeable scratch.

The Sicily by Car staff were practically salivating when they saw the mark. Within minutes the calculator was getting hammered, seemingly random numbers being entered before a figure of €405 was presented to me with what I remember to be a sneering grin. During our time at the office, we saw 5 or 6 people return their cars and to my knowledge, only one got away without getting clobbered with some sort of charge. Being late for an onward bus and unable to argue my corner, I paid up and left, loudly cursing Sicily by Car and my own stupidity in choosing them for my rental ahead of a less cheap but more reputable firm.

And so the story should end as a lesson about the folly of going for the cheapest car rental. But as I said, there is a happy ending. I had chosen not to pay the £49 fee charged by Sicily by Car and their agents Holiday Autos to take the excess liability from €900 to zero. While the guy at the desk was tapping into his calculator working out how much he was going to extract from my credit card he mocked me with the question, “Why didn’t you take our insurance?”

Instead I’d taken out a rental car excess insurance policy with Direct Car Excess Insurance. It had cost me £17, and I would soon discover whether it was money well spent. I emailed them that day to ask for a claim form, as directed on the policy document. I got the form back immediately from a claims handler at AIG, and having been notified that a claim would be coming they were happy for me to wait until I returned home before submitting the necessary documents.

And so on the day after we returned to the UK, I emailed them with scans of rental contracts, driving licences and credit card statements. Within 2 hours I had a call from the claims handler to check the details, and by the end of that day, the full €405 was sitting in my bank account. Not only had the claim been settled at lightning speed, but they’d also applied the exchange rate at the time of the claim – the pound had strengthened in the subsequent 2 weeks, and I would have lost out by £10 if they’d applied that day’s rate.

I can’t speak highly enough of my interaction with Direct Car Excess Insurance, and would recommend them for anyone renting a car abroad who wants to eliminate their excess without paying the high fees charged by the rental companies.

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Freelance travel writer

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