TIPS FOR RENTAL VEHICLES IN AUSTRALIA

A number of threads have been posted in Australian forums concerning rental cars and campervans.   Some posters ask for:

  • recommendations,
  • help with the myriad of options for insurance cover, bonds or deposits issues or others experiences with suppliers.  
  • At other times, some people post negative comments on tripadvisor about their vehicle rental experiences.    

MINIMISE YOUR RISK

You can minimise any risks or concerns you may have, for example:

  • do your research, contact the company directly if you’re not sure about anything – they have the contract terms and conditions
  • research several sources, not just one, be it tripadvisor or other travel sites
  • don’t rely upon guide books – the information is old before the books are published !!!
  • for a cost of a few dollars - contact the local tourist information bureau and ask if there has been any feedback about a supplier, or, look up the Department of Fair Trading site (see links below) to see if any companies have received fines or been banned for some infringement etc.  Alternatively, contact the Department of Fair Trading directly and they may be able to assist.
  • inspect the vehicle before accepting it and if you're not happy with it, it's your choice to accept it as is, decline to take it, or perhaps negotiate a better rate if you can
  • look at the bodywork from different angles to try to see if there are any tiny dents or scratches
  • list ALL dents, scratches or issues with the vehicle on the inspection report PRIOR to leaving the premises.  
  • Ensure that you receive a copy of this report and put it somewhere safe.
  • make sure that you read and understand the terms and conditions completely.
  • If you plan to use a car ferry, make sure that the terms and conditions allow you to do so.
  • if you're taking a vehicle into the bush / on a road trip where there won't be crowds of people, don't expect that the vehicle will be repaired in a heartbeat.
  • All vehicles no matter how well they are maintained mechanically do break down unexpectedly.
  • Some people take photos of the car on delivery as “evidence” that the car was in a particular state or condition at the time of delivery.

EXCESS, BONDS and INSURANCE

Many questions have been asked on the Australian Forums concerning this issue.   In a nutshell, a rental vehicle may include a car, a mini-bus, camper van or a four wheel drive for example.  

Excess

For cars, based on posts on tripadvisor, many people have asked about excess which can be quite high, say up to about $3,000 for a car.   Basically, this means if the excess is $3,000 for example you will be required to pay for the first $3,000 damage.   If the cost of the repair is less than $3,000, you pay for the cost of the repair.   To reduce your excess to a more acceptable level, you can pay an additional daily amount (in other words another insurance premium) which could result in your excess being reduced to say $200.  

Bonds

Some companies require a bond and for campervans in particular, these appear to vary up to $7,500.   This may entail you pay a bond up front with your credit card, or perhaps your credit card is swiped and the credit card receipt is held by the company until the vehicle is returned undamaged.   Depending on the company and your financial institution, this may put a hold on a sum of money which would result in you not being able to access all of the credit on your card.   Bear in mind that where a company does require payment of the bond, should the vehicle be returned undamaged, then you could lose on exchange rates and that can add to significant amounts to your overall vehicle hire expenses.  

Other insurance cover that may be required or offered by the rental company

Rental vehicles are usually offered to customers with a basic accident cover that usually only covers the hired vehicle, and no other vehicle or property that may be damaged.   Apart from excess reduction, there are also a number of extra insurances and premiums offered to cover specific damage that you may be offered as an option to take up prior to taking delivery of the vehicle.   Some companies may require the hirer to take out some of these insurance covers – read the terms and conditions.   Those extra premiums may include or cover any / all of the following:

  • Single vehicle accident (this may be covered in the basic accident cover)
  • Multi vehicle accident
  • Collision waver insurance
  • Windscreen damage
  • Tyre damage
  • 3rd party property damage
  • Excess reduction
  • Hail and Storm Damage
  • Animal Damage
  • Headlight damage
  • Theft
  • Destruction by fire
  • General damage/scrapes/dents etc  

TRAVEL INSURANCE AND CREDIT CARD INSURANCE COVER

Many people think that their travel insurance and / or (Gold/Platinum) Credit Card insurance covers all of their insurance / accident claims concerning vehicle hire.   Many have found that the “fine details” in the policies actually doesn’t afford them the level of insurance for motor vehicles that they first thought.   It's true that travel insurances often cover damage to rental cars, but the fine print doesn't necessarily say that the policy covers damage to other vehicles or property etc - it pays to ask your Travel insurer and / or Credit Card insurer if they cover any or all of the types of damage listed above.  

This also holds true for those who rely on their Gold / Platinum credit card travel insurance, and this is why some rental companies will insist that you take out additional insurance. Apparently some credit card insurance cover does not pay for damage to vehicles other than the rental car and therefore the hirer of the rental car is the one who'll foot the bill for property damage and damage to other cars should an accident be their fault  

MILEAGE AND GENERAL USAGE CONDITIONS

There may be limited mileage or unlimited mileage, you may not be able to take the vehicle on a car ferry, and you may not be allowed to drive on unsealed roads. You would be wise to read through the terms and conditions of your travel insurance to see if they cover any or all of those specific events.  

TOLL ROADS 

Throughout Australia, and in particularly the capital cities, there are a number of roads that are "toll roads".  For example, in Sydney to cross the Harbour Bridge there is a toll on the south bound lanes.  There are various other toll roads in the centre of Sydney and also on the outskirts of Sydney as well as toll roads in Brisbane and Melbourne. 

Why are there toll roads ?

Toll roads are an important part of the infrastructure of cities such as Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.  Whether the roads have been built and funded by Government or built by private contractors or consortiums with a mandate for maintaining the roads and collecting tolls, the principle is "user pays".

In large cities they can save a lot of time and offer motorists a reasonably quick way to get to their destination with minimum disruption, ie no traffic lights, higher speeds - eg 80 kpm to 100 kph compared to non toll roads 60 kph.

Do I have to pay the toll?

Motorists are required by law to pay the toll when they drive on a toll road.  The fine for not paying a toll exceeds $140

Can I pay a toll with cash?

Some toll roads have booths where drivers can pay per use - check the sites noted under  "Useful links..." below for up to date information as to which toll roads accept cash.  The cost of tolls vary for different toll roads and also depend on the type of vehicle you drive.  For example a large vehicle such as a truck will cost more than a sedan.

What if there is no cash booth?

Many toll roads throughout Australia are cashless.  Drivers may elect to buy an electronic tag from the toll road operator to use on toll roads or they may decide to use the toll road and contact the toll road operator within a specific timeframe to arrange payment of the toll.

How does the electronic tag work?

Electronic tags have a prepaid amount "loaded" into the tag.  This amount is topped up from either your credit card or bank account once the balance falls below a certain amount. Tolls are collected via an electronic tag that should be mounted on the windscreen of your car.  The tag beeps when it has recorded / deducted the toll.  If your electronic tag fails to beep, contact the toll road operator.

Can I rent an electronic tag through the hire car firm? 

You should ask your hire car firm in advance if they have an electronic tag available for you to use during the hire period.  Not all hire car firms will have tags, but all will charge you for the using a toll way where you have failed to pay the toll.  The amount that the hire car firm will charge will vary, and it is very likely there will be an administration charge incurred in addition to the toll.  Reports from posters indicate the administration charge may be up to $50 (per toll not paid).

Where do I get an electronic tag?

E-Tags are available from RTA, RoamExpress, and Roam (NSW providers), Breeze  (VIC provider), go via (QLD provider). Each provider has a slightly different payment structure and you’ll need an Australian address.

If you are a visitor to Australia or infrequent traveller (one or two trips on a toll road), look instead at getting yourself an electronic pass for the city you require.

"Emu" pass 

In late 2011, a new road toll pass was announced.  This pass is called the "Emu Pass" and has specifically be designed for tourists.  Currently it can be purchased from participating petrol (gas) stations and convenience stores.  The interactive map in this link will help you locate a participating petrol station or convenience store - Where to buy an Emu pass ?

More information about the Emu Pass can be found on this website - RTA - Media Release December 2011

What if I don't want to hire or buy an electronic tag?  

No problem - just call the number of the relevant toll operator to arrange payment.  Note: this service may include an administration charge so if you intend to use the toll roads for several trips, it may be worthwhile buying an electronic tag.  Talk to the toll operators about the best option to suit your needs.

Useful links about road tolls, toll roads and electronic tags

Motorways and toll roads

Car hire insider 

Toll roads in Sydney

Toll roads in Melbourne

Toll roads in Brisbane

Tripadvisor post

Can electronic tags be used throughout Australia? 

Yes they can.  If you are unsure whether or not an electronic tag will work in another state, contact the toll operator in the relevant state/city.  Check the sites above for further details about the different passes that may be available.

What if I don't pay the toll ?

All motorists who use toll roads are required to pay the toll within 48 hours of usage.   All toll roads have signage stating the number to contact to pay the toll and the timeframe in which the toll must be paid.

If the toll road you have used did not have a cash booth; or if you do not have an electronic tag; or if your electronic tag is not mounted correctly and fails to register the toll (you will hear a beep when the toll has been registered), cameras will take photos of your car recording the registration.  

If you fail to contact the toll road operator to arrange payment of the toll within the requisite timeframe, (or to tell them about the failure of the electronic tag to record the toll) the toll road operator will issue a letter of demand to the owner of the vehicle, ie the car rental.  The toll operator uses the registration details of the car from the photo taken at the point where you failed to pay the toll.  The letter of demand will very likely include not only the charge for the toll, but also an administration fee and / or a fine for failure to obey the law.

The hire car company will then charge your credit card for the toll plus any fees that it may incur as a result of your failure to pay the toll.  This issue should be part of the terms and conditions of your hire arrangements and your obligations to the rental company.

 

YOUR OBLIGATIONS TO THE RENTAL COMPANY

Firstly, it must be said that when you hire a vehicle, you sign a rental agreement (contract) and you are usually required to initial where you have / haven’t taken up optional extra insurance premiums for example.   This agreement is a legal document and therefore both parties are legally bound to comply with the terms and conditions in that document.   If you take a vehicle out and it is damaged, legally you will be responsible to pay for at least part of that damage.   In some cases you may lose your bond or your entire excess amount which may be $3,000 if you have not taken up the option to reduce this amount through an additional daily premium.  

RETURNING THE VEHICLE

Some people take photos just prior to returning the vehicle as “evidence” that it was returned in good condition should a dispute arise after leaving the premises.   Make a note of the time you return the vehicle, and the name of the person to whom you handed over the vehicle.   When you return the vehicle, ensure that the customer service representative inspects the vehicle with you and signs off on all paperwork that may be required.   If a bond was lodged or your credit card swiped, ensure that this is either handed back to you or shredded in front of you.   If there are any dents or scratches, let the company know and discuss the matter as to how it will be repaired and what if any your obligations as well as your costs.  

DISPUTE RESOLUTION

If you are unhappy with vehicle or some other issue, most companies have a customer feedback process or a dispute escalation process which are there to help resolve issues.   There is a proper process in place in all States to deal with consumer issues.   Here’s a suggested process that you could try:  

  • Take photos of the goods hired or purchased before you hand the goods back put your concerns to the company in question verbally and if no response, then put them in writing (email or paper)
  • keep a copy for yourself. follow up with the relevant state or territory's Department of Fair Trading and seek advice from them -see links below.
  • Ask the Department of Fair Trading in the state/territory where you rented the vehicle and ask them to contact the rental company in the first instance 
  • if you are departing Australia , it would be ideal if you could do this before you go. Sometimes you may speak to someone in the Department of Fair Trading who can assist, but if they cannot resolve the issue over the phone, then you may be able to lodge a complaint over the internet 
  • ensure that your complaint is detailed, attach photos, copies of the contract, etc. the relevant area of the Department of Fair Trading will assess the matter and make a decision in accordance with the law.  
  • You must tell the Department if you are able to attend a Tribunal hearing – if not, ask them if they can determine the case based on your written complaint and copies of evidence presented.
  • Result - the supplier is dealt with in accordance with the law. If your issue with the rental company concerns a disputed financial transaction, eg, unauthorised payment on your credit card, contact your financial institution as soon as possible.  

Finally, Tripadvisor is not a forum for dispute resolution of contractual matters.   If you do feel that you would like to add a post to Tripadvisor about your vehicle rental experience, add it to the REVIEW section of the forum, do not post it as a new thread on the forum.  

LINKS TO FAIR TRADING DEPARTMENTS.  

Australian Capital Territory – http://www.ors.act.gov.au/fairtrading...  

New South Wales –   http://www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au/def...  

Northern Territory – http://www.accc.gov.au/content/index....  

Queensland – http://www.fairtrading.qld.gov.au/

South Australia – http://www.ocba.sa.gov.au/

Tasmania – http://www.consumer.tas.gov.au/

Victoria – http://www.consumer.vic.gov.au/CA256E...=~

Western Australia – http://www.commerce.wa.gov.au/index.htm