Car rental: be aware of the cost of the fine

“Is it a scam?!”, “It’s more expensive than the fine!”, “Scandal”… Internet users who have received a fine when renting a car are numerous to share their misfortunes on the forums. The source of their discontent? Administrative fees charged by the rental agency, which are added to the ticket price. These costs, also called application fees or processing fees, are not hidden by the rental companies, although they are very rarely brought forward.

“Some show them clearly in their general conditions of sale, others state that these costs can be consulted in the agency”, states Salim Harrouche, founder of the comparator Ma-Location-Voiture.com. On the website of the rental company Budget, for example, you can find a document which states the following: “We remind you that you are responsible for any violation of the traffic rules that occurs during your rental period. […] These will be invoiced to you, in addition to the corresponding administrative costs”.

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Problem: Few customers find out the terms of the lease or take the time to read the contract. “People often ask us why their account was charged,” says Salim Harrouche, acknowledging that these charges are not always well understood. And they are even less accepted. And with good reason, these costs are deducted directly from the customer’s bank account, since the rental company has a print of his credit card.

Annoying but legal. “It is a very common mechanism used in sectors other than car rental, such as the hotel industry for example”, notes Maître Jean-Baptiste Le Dall, a lawyer specializing in traffic law. And if those costs are sometimes charged long after the offense, it’s because “the tickets can be sent weeks or even months later,” the lawyer explains.

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Up to 45 euros in administrative fees in France

The size of these fees is also at the center of criticism. Depending on the landlord, the amount can vary from simple to double. “There is no legislative framework, each landlord is free to determine the amount of his administrative costs,” says Salim Harrouche. Hertz and its subsidiary Thrifty are among the “good students” with fees of 20 euros. But Avis, Budget or Europcar charge them more than 40 euros. And the bill can quickly rise, knowing that the amount is multiplied by the number of fines the rental company has received.

According to Sixt, these high fees are justified because the processing of tickets is far from an automated procedure. “We receive different letters depending on the authority or the type of offence, which limits the possibilities of automating the processing. In most cases, the data must be examined individually. The processing of the corresponding inquiries is associated with considerable internal effort. For this reason, the additional costs are passed on directly to the person responsible for the violation”, we can read on the landlord’s website.

These management fees also apply to those involved in rentals between individuals. However, the amounts charged are more reasonable. Ouicar and Getaround demand 15 euros from the incriminated renters, knowing that the first pays 10 euros to the owners of the vehicle in question.

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Also, be careful if you are driving a vehicle with several people. In case of violation, it is the main driver on the contract who receives a fine. Avis states this clearly in its terms and conditions: “You are responsible for any fines or charges resulting from your use of the vehicle or the use of additional drivers”. It is then up to you to dispute the fine with the competent authorities. For the record, you will also incur a loss of points on your French driving license if you are fined in France.

The pitfalls of renting abroad

If you are not at risk of losing points in a foreign country, the amount of administration fees may be even higher than in France. This is especially the case with Europcar, which charges €56 in costs in Italy for a motorway toll fine. A classic in the country that requires many sacrifices among tourists every year.

Because even by carefully respecting the highway rules, it’s easy to get caught outside our borders. In Italy (again) you also need to be wary of the “Zona a traffico limitato” (zones of limited traffic, ZTL) found in all the country’s major cities. The fine can in some cases exceed 200 euros, and it is easy to get fined several times in the same day if you are not aware of the existence of these zones. “The problem is that these prohibitions are indicated on signs that are written in neither French nor English. For a foreign driver, it is easy to be cheated,” explains Maître Jean-Baptiste Le Dall.

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In some Belgian cities, you must register your vehicle in advance to drive in certain sectors, risking a fine even behind the wheel of a new car. “In Antwerp, for example, the fine costs between 100 and 150 euros”, notes the lawyer. Not to mention the administrative costs, of course.

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Prepare your rental

To avoid inconvenience, in France and abroad, it is best to be well prepared before driving your rental car. “Always take the time to read the rental conditions, especially with lesser-known rental companies. We can sometimes be attracted by a very attractive offer in terms of price, but have high administrative costs in the event of a fine”, explains Maître Jean-Baptiste Le Dall.

When abroad, you must also remember to familiarize yourself with the country’s traffic rules and the pitfalls you must avoid. This will save you unpleasant surprises in your mailbox when you return from vacation.

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