Opinion: My car hire hell

THE HAZARDS of travel that I touched on lightly last week centred mainly on my newly acquired germ phobia; I'm pleased to report that I am still sniffle-free.

What I am also lacking is a large wad of cash removed, apparently legally, by a car hire firm.

I'm not going to name the particular company, as they all appear to operate in the same fashion.

After Googling "car hire Sydney airport" and entering the appropriate information (dates, size of car), quick as a flash came back a number of quotes; the lowest was $16.95 per day, the highest $35.

Most of the cars were of the micro variety; I'm sure my son played with toy cars that were bigger when he was a little tacker.

Size wasn't the issue, however; what I don't understand is how hire firms can get away with all the add-ons.

By the time I'd finished paying for the hire, the charge that I expected to be around the hundred-dollar mark ended up being triple that amount (and then some), and the company froze $200 on my credit card for a week as well.

In the US, car hire is totally transparent. The fee is based on the size and status of the vehicle. The quote you receive online or over the phone includes everything: insurance, filling the tank with petrol, the lot. It probably would cost the same as what I paid in Australia, but at least you know exactly what you're in for.

Here, I had to pay extra for collision-waiver insurance or risk a $3000 fee if I was rear-ended by a texting twit or if someone backed into me in a car park; a vehicle registration recovery fee (huh?); and a hefty premium for picking up the car and returning it to an airport (thanks, Macquarie Bank).

On top of that, I ran the risk of being charged a phenomenal sum if I returned the car without topping up the tank ($3 per litre), yet if I chose the prepay option, the petrol magically became available at 80c a litre (same fuel, I'm assuming).

I was under the impression that the ACCC stopped airline companies from performing similar sleight-of-wallet transactions a few years ago, and yet little fees have crept back in when buying a ticket on a plane, I notice.

With some airlines you have to pay to choose a seat (to be honest, these days I'm grateful if the seat is inside). We have to check ourselves in, put the labels on our bags, pay extra if we actually have a bag, declare we have no dangerous goods (seriously, does anybody ever declare they have something dodgy in their luggage?).

I wouldn't be surprised if I turn up one day to board a flight and they expect me to fly the plane myself.

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