This is a cautionary tale for anyone thinking of hiring a car abroad, and although it’s personally embarrassing for me to have to write it I feel I owe it to people who are thinking about getting a hire car in France, Spain or indeed anywhere abroad.
The reason it’s embarrassing is I’ve been considered by some people to be something of an expert on driving in France for some years now and yet I still got ripped off by an unscrupulous industry even though I was aware of many of the pitfalls and thought I was far too clever to fall for them.
I’ve written about Car Hire many times before and warn people about “Collision Damage Waiver” (CDW) being extortionate if you buy it from the provider locally and warned people that if you refuse to take their overly expensive cover and make your own arrangements then the local hire company will want a deposit from you.
I’ve also warned about Full/Full and Full/Empty fuel policies, checking carefully for damage and paying for extras such as car seats.
In fact I made a video about it over a year ago and posted it on my Car Hire France page here.
So I knew what to expect but still got ripped off by "Car Hire Crooks" in an industry that seems to be based almost entirely on lies and a we don't care attitude to complaints.
How it All Started
Given the title of this website it won’t surprise you that when I go to France I drive my own car, however my parents live in Spain (in-between Alicante and Murcia airports) so when I visit them I always fly to whichever airport has the cheapest flights and generally hire a car when I get there.
I went recently (8th - 15th June) and wanted a car for the week, so I headed on over to TravelSupermarket (which is part of the Moneysupermarket group) to compare prices.
My initial search on TravelSupermarket showed up a ridiculously low price via Atlaschoice that I thought was too good to be true. My first instincts turned out, as I found to my cost later, to be 100% correct.
What followed was the worst Car Hire experience I've ever had and that really is saying something.
Now based on my knowledge of this industry and deep distrust of it I made exploratory phone calls directly to Atlaschoice to clarify a few things prior to booking it.
I was basically mislead by them on the phone but took them at their word and booked via the website after I put the phone down.
I was quoted £23.28 for 7 days car hire (less than £3.33 a day) and £21.49 for their Excess Cover which seemed very fair so I just rang to check.
I asked about taking the CDW cover with them at £21.49 and enquired how much the local agent would want me to leave as a deposit.
She said there will be nothing extra to pay if I book through them. I thought this couldn't possibly be right as I was sure they’d want a deposit so I asked her to clarify it and she assured me it was correct.
I still couldn't believe this so asked a third time she assured me there would be no additional deposit or insurance costs to pay if I booked a car through Atlaschoice.
The operator led me to believe I was booking a car directly with them not a local Spanish agent and as I’d never dealt with Atlaschoice before I assumed they must be an actual supplier of cars rather than just a comparison price aggregator.
This “misunderstanding” meant that I believed I wouldn't have to leave a deposit.
The phone operators English seemed good though I suspect it wasn't her first language, but I cannot allow that fact to excuse her not understanding my questions. I believe she was just prepared to say whatever it took to get me to book.
There is only so much information they give until you've paid and the small print on these car hire comparison websites is deliberately small and not always easy to find if you have not used a particular website before. I really wish they were all forced to use the same layout template with the basic facts there to see before you book.
Anyway in the email I received after making the online booking it didn't mention a deposit amount so I thought no more about it.
Dickmanns Rent a Car Spain
Travel Supermarket's quote system had shown a quote from AtlasChoice but that in turn proved to be through yet another company called Dickmanns Rent a Car.
So TraveSupermarket and Atlaschoice had delivered me into the hands of the local Spanish car hire firm “Dickmanns Rent a Car” for which I will never forgive them.
Let me be clear about this, Dickmanns Rent a Car Spain has to be the worst car hire firm in Europe by a country mile and they shouldn't be allowed to be in business.
PLEASE BEWARE: This firm takes customer service to a whole new low and frankly will do everything in their power to rip you off for as much money as it possibly can.
Not only that but when you go back to TravelSupermarket and Atlaschoice to raise a complaint they will wash their hands of the matter claiming it's nothing to do with them even though they take commission for passing people like me through to companies like Dickmanns.
When I arrived
I've hired from Alicante many times and in the main airport concourse you have the big boys like Hertz etc but the offsite options which you’d expect to be cheaper are about a mile or so down a country lane away from the airport. They all run mini bus services to and from so it’s generally no big deal.
The road to where all the smaller operators are is basically just full of business after business connected to cars at the airport. Either long term parking or the Hire Company compounds. The big operators keep hundreds of cars there and the road has transporters parked along it for about the first half mile.
The bigger the name generally the nearer the airport is how it works. I started to worry the further and further I went down the road. Once I’d passed several companies I’d hired from previously the road stopped having any other businesses on it and it started to look very deserted indeed.
I really was out in the middle of nowhere when we arrived at Dickmanns.
Dickmanns Rent a Car Customer Care!
So when I arrive at Dickmanns they said I had to pay a deposit of (€) 950 as I wasn’t taking their CDW, so that was a blow.
No mention of this in the emails from Atlaschoice and I’d even specifically asked Atlaschoice about this prior to booking on the phone and was told I wouldn't have to pay any extras if I took their cover out.
Dickmanns were adamant (and very blunt about it) so I realised I had no option but to pay it if I wanted the car. The lady at the counter seemed to enjoy the fact that I had no option.
Now one thing I do know about deposits is that some firms just take your card details and reserve the funds meaning that no money leaves your account unless there is a problem later with damage then they will charge you.
However the dodgier car hire firms like to charge your card for the full amount immediately then drag their feet about refunding it to you, often up to a month or more after you have handed the car back.
Imagine if 100 people a week leave them (€) 950 that’s (€) 95,000 in their bank account for a month at least.
In this scenario it’s also very difficult to argue about damage etc as the really bad firms deliberately don’t say anything while you are there but wait till you have flown home before giving you the bad news!
Now based on my first impressions of Dickmanns I guessed which way they were going to deal with it, so just to make sure I asked if that was “pay” and get a refund later or just “reserve” the funds on my card.
The girl on the desk had already struck me as fairly surly and she didn’t want to give me a straight answer and when I asked again she was just plain evasive.
So I used my phone to search their website for details. Not knowing what their website was called I just searched Google for “Dickmanns car hire Spain” and was horrified with what I saw.
Ignoring their website which was result number 1 and 2 on Google what followed underneath was just complaint after complaint on various websites such as trip adviser etc.
I therefore went straight to the negative reviews and the first one I read made up my mind about the (€) 950.
Darren Abbot wrote on Dickmanns Google Plus page;
Do not use these people - they are crooks who will not return your deposit…
After reading that and seeing other search results on Google I decided I was not willing to let them take (€) 950 from my account so I asked about their CDW cover.
They said it was (€) 168 (about £127) which is roughly 6 x the price that Atlaschoice were charging me. I said that was ridiculous but she just laughed and said “if you don’t want the car then fine.”
I was travelling on my own; I was in no real hurry so I was genuinely prepared to go back to the airport and book with someone else. It would definitely have worked out a lot cheaper!
I told them I wanted to cancel and go back to the airport but they said the mini bus shuttle was only for customers and I’d have to walk back! It was over 2 miles and it was 30c and I had luggage!
At this point I was really ready to explode.
I was being robbed and held to ransom in broad daylight and the Dickmanns rent a car staff member was basically just laughing at me.
I decided that as these guys were definitely going to do everything possible to make as much from me as possible it would be the lesser of 2 evils to let them charge me the (€) 168 for CDW rather than risk not getting the (€) 950 back.
Atlaschoice Call Centre
I knew it was going to cost me a pretty penny to phone the Atlaschoice call centre from Spain but I was really incensed so rang anyway.
The call centre staff didn't sound at all interested and said I’d have to email them when I got home. I demanded to speak to a supervisor but was told there was no supervisor on duty.
You cannot tell me that they have *X number of call centre operatives and nobody is in charge of them?
* Since returning from Spain I’ve asked Atlaschoice (4 times) how many people work in the call centre for use in this article and they have failed to supply the information.
I realised without evidence of my calls to them prior to booking I would never be able to prove I was assured there wouldn't be a deposit to pay so I gave that argument up. I have since checked the Atlaschoice website on my return home and I managed to find the details of the (€) 950 deposit eventually so it is there in the terms and conditions if you look hard enough.
I was adamant on the phone though that at as I was being forced to take (€) 168 CDW from Dickmanns I wouldn’t need theirs and that I wanted a refund of the amount they’d charged me for their CDW.
She said “I’ll have to ask” she put me on hold and then came back and said that she would process the refund.
I asked her who she had to ask. She said she’d just checked with a colleague.
I asked her if the colleague she had to ask was a “supervisor” colleague by any chance.
She wouldn't answer, so I again asked to speak to a supervisor but she said I’d have to email if I wanted to make a complaint.
The refund for the CDW was promptly dealt with and the money was credited back to my account the following day.
The term “Or Similar” is a joke where this booking is concerned. When I made my booking on the Atlaschoice website I was told “Peugeot 208 5door or similar”. When it comes to car hire industry the term “or similar” is a popular one.
The car was a tiny Opel which was so underpowered it was positively dangerous.
At 56 years of age my boy racer days are behind me but if you do attempt to overtake someone on a single track road in Spain then the less time you spend on the wrong side of the road the better. This car proved to be utterly useless.
Condition of the Hire Car
The car didn't have a single panel on it that wasn't marked, scratched, or dented and many of the panels were all three.
It was filthy dirty outside, and although the inside upholstery was clean the windscreen was also dirty inside.
The fact that Dickmanns had the nerve to charge people (€) 950 excess on a vehicle that looked like it was only worth about (€) 2,000 was mickey take.
I went back into the office to complain but they again gave me there trade mark smirk and stock answer to “take it or leave it”.
I said what about all the dents and scratches and that I wanted someone to come out and inspect it with me so I couldn't be blamed for any of it when I returned. They said don’t worry you've taken our policy now so your covered.
Dickmanns leave no stone unturned when it comes to making money from you, so they have either a Full To Full policy for which you have to pay a higher CDW charge or a Full to Empty policy which offers a slightly lower CDW charge but they charge you (€) 109 for a tank of fuel.
Based on my use of the car I can categorically tell you that you couldn't get more than (€) 60 worth of fuel in the car it’s physically impossible. (Based on fuel prices when I was there)
So right there they make at least (€) 49 from every customer plus any petrol they leave in the tank when they hand it back is sold on to the next customer at (€) 109 a tank.
Not Just Me
In the mini-bus on the way back to the airport there were five of us, me and 2 couples one of them were discussing the fact that they’d been charged £300 + for scratches on the car they returned!
On overhearing the conversation I asked them about it and they claim the car was scratched when they picked it up and no one from Dickmanns had inspected it when they collected the car only when they took it back.
My Thoughts on Atlaschoice
If Atlaschoice are serious about offering a good service they should study the reviews readily available by the many people who have complained about Dickmanns and remove them from their panel.
If they are not prepared to do that then TravelSupermarket should remove Atlaschoice from theirs.
Since returning home and preparing my research for this article I've found so many bad reviews on Dickmanns it beggars belief. Here are some of them;
There is a thread on the review website “Trip Advisor” that has over 70 replies to it going back a considerable time relating to Dickmanns and there are literally hundreds of reviews about them in other threads on this and many other websites.
I’ve reproduced a couple of the reviews here just to give you a flavour.
Helen B writes;
Definitely beware of this rental company. We've just received our credit card bill and they've taken 300 euros for damage they say we caused to their vehicle 2 weeks after we got home! They also charged us 90 euros for a full tank and we filled it back up from empty for 58 euros!
Edward F Writes;
… have had 460 euros taken from our credit card in January for so called damage from Dickmanns. A total scam.
Len N writes;
"BEWARE DO NOT HIRE FROM DICKMANNS" I have just returned from Spain after hiring a car from Dickmanns and cannot get my 300€ deposit back as they state the car was damaged? I had the guy in the yard to check the car for damage… when I then asked him to sign the pink slip he just waived his hand in the air and said "no problem".
I have just found out they have taken 300 euros from our account even though we were told we would not have to pay any extra. We had paid the extra insurance so they had no right. My advice would be to Issue a charge back with your credit card provider you will get the funds back.
I will never use these people again and will make sure I tell as many people as I can.
Elaine K Broadstairs writes;
I rented a car from Dickmanns Alicante in April 2015 and although the cost of the rental for a small car was very cheap, when I declined to take out the extra insurance at the Alicante office I was asked to pay €950 deposit plus €98 for a full tank of petrol which was refundable when I returned the car with a full tank as I had opted for the full/full option. However, when I returned the car a week later I was told the refund would take 25 working days which seemed a bit extreme.
However 2 months later and the €1048 has never been refunded. I phoned and emailed but the phone or email were never answered…I would advise anyone else thinking about renting a car to steer well clear of Dickmanns.
Helen C writes;
DO NOT USE DICKMANNS CAR RENTAL
We hired 4 cars for a family holiday…Having taken out the additional insurance of £125 per car which was un expected we were advised there was nothing else to pay. upon returning the cars they wanted us to pay for fuel that was used (which was not the option we chose) As we disagreed they refused to take us to the airport (with four children under the age of 5). They have taken unauthorised payments of our cards.
Response from Dickmanns, Atlaschoice and TravelSupermarket
So these reviews are out there and yet Atlaschoice and Travelsupermarket are still showing Dickmanns prices in their comparison search engine.
If TravelSupermarket and Atlaschoice are in anyway serious about treating their customers fairly they must surely stop delivering unsuspecting people into the clutches of a company such as this?
I have informed all three companies of this article and have offered them the chance to respond. I've received a response from Atlas and Travel Supermarket but not from Dickmanns. l'll update this if I ever get a response.
Updated 6th July 2015. I've had nothing in writing from Atlaschoice, but I had a phone call from them which I missed (on Friday 3rd July) and again on Monday 6th. I missed that call as well but phoned them back to see what they had to say.
I would have preferred a written reply rather than a phone call but I doubt I'm going to get one.
The phone call really didn't prove to be of any use at all, he had his viewpoint which he was keen to stress and he had very little interest in listening to anything I had to say.
He wanted to argue that they had treated me fairly in refunding the CDW promptly to me and that some of the reviews about Dickmanns that I've quoted were unfair because some of them were "2 years old".
I tried to point out that because a review was old it didn't make it untrue but he was adamant that Dickmanns had always treated their customers well and the complaints and bad reviews were from people who had booked through other companies.
I tried to point out that as there are hundreds of bad reviews about Dickmanns going back many years and the list of reviews is being added to on Trustpilot and Tripadvisor virtually every week so Atlaschoice shouldn't be recommending such a company, but he didn't want to listen.
He just backed Dickmanns 100% and took their word over mine in every aspect of this matter.
He said my post wasn't fair because I didn't mention I was rude and that I swore when I phoned their call centre. Well I don't think I was rude at all and I certainly wouldn't normally swear to anyone and even less so to a female member of staff but when you are being robbed in broad daylight and laughed at by Dickmanns in Spain and getting no help from Atlaschoice via their call centre then I think even a saint would be close to bad language.
On the issue of his call centre staff I asked him how many people worked in the call centre and I was told "quite a few" but was not given a figure.
He said I should have paid the (€) 950 deposit as I'd have been fully covered by Atalchoices policy but I said I didn't trust Dickmanns to refund the money.
He argued that they (Dickmanns) only "block" the money but I disagree as there are dozens of people who have written reviews stating that the money was charged to their credit/debit cards immediately and for most the money took well over a month before they got it refunded and worse still for some it was NOT refunded at all. They can't all be lying can they?
In fact here is a review that was posted just 3 days ago, (is that new enough to make it fair?) from Peter Withers on Trustpilot stating that the (€) 950 had been charged from his card and he still hadn't had a refund.
The phone call could be summed up as this. He said it was basically my fault because I didn't read the terms and conditions and Atlaschoice treated me really well by promptly refunding the additional CDW they sold me when they didn't need to.
He also thinks I should take the "blog" down as he doesn't think it's fair that I've criticised them or Dickmanns.
I think this article is based 100% on the facts and my opinion on how I was treated by Dickmanns and Atlaschoice.
I've also contacted TravelSupermarket and informed them of this article and offered them the chance to respond.
I waited for very nearly three weeks for a response from Travelsupermarket and this is what they sent.
Thank you for contacting us.
For information purposes Travelsupermarket.com provides our customers a platform to compare several car hire suppliers at one time, once the customer has made an informed decision to proceed with a specific supplier we pass you over to their own website to make a booking. I can confirm Travelsupermarket.com have no involvement in the supplying of a vehicle and therefore any complaints would be made to the suppliers directly to be investigated.
I acknowledge your dissatisfaction with Atlas Choice and I have passed your comments onto the partner who may be able to assist further regarding any questions you may have about their service.
I am sorry I have been unable to assist further in this instance.
Customer Relations Manager
MoneySuperMarket House | St. David's Park | Ewloe | Flintshire | CH5 3UZ | UK
So it took 20 days to basically send me a template email along the lines of "It's nothing to do with us".
Well I disagree you (TravelSupermarket) take commission for sending customers through to these crooks and you should be held responsible.
People should stop using your comparison service if the companies you are "recommending" are not to be trusted.
Now if you read the Terms and Conditions on their website you'll see they are sure to cover their backs in the small print by claiming they don't "recommend" anyone but they don't highlight this fact anywhere anyone is likely to see it until it's too late.
Excerpt from T&C's
We receive a fee and/or commission from the third party product or service providers when you use our service to purchase products or services from them.
Please be aware that nothing on this Website is, or shall be deemed to constitute, financial, investment or other advice or a recommendation or endorsement by us in respect of any product or service referred to on this Website. Information on this Website is provided for general information purposes only, should not be relied upon by you and is provided so that you can select the product or service that you feel is most appropriate to meet your needs.
So they take the commission for introducing people to these companies but they "should not be relied upon".
Their website "Home Page" boldly states "great car hire deals, we can help you to compare prices and get away for less." (See image below)
Well no you didn't, you cost me considerably more money and spoilt my holiday.
Response from Dickmanns
My Car Hire Advice
So my advice is simple when you are considering booking a hire car abroad, be that in France/Spain or anywhere else, leave plenty of time so you can not only compare car hire prices but also spend some time researching the car hire company you are considering. See more car hire tips here.
Search on Google for reviews about them and don’t just read their own website, dig a little deeper.
If I’d read the reviews on Atlaschoice prior to booking I’d never have dealt with them.
Use an ECRCS registered firm for additional protection, and always remember if the price seems too good to be true it probably is.
Do NOT Trust Car Hire Comparison Websites
Don't trust anything a comparison website tells you, because if it all goes wrong they will simply wash their hands of the whole affair.
Please tell us your Horror Stories
If you have had any problems with Car Hire Firms abroad please let us know and we will happily publicise them for you.
You can post your tales of despair to our Facebook page here, and the best ones we will add to the website.
We need to try and change this industry for the better.