$426 worth of damage – including $100 for processing the rip-off

Story from Life by Emmjay

Frequent flyers at the Pig’ Arms will remember a little cautionary tale I told on Feb 24 2019 about a rip-off perpetrated by Europcar Rentals of Cairns.

When they forewarned me that they were going to lob this unfair surcharge on me, I phoned the Bank (which bank, do I hear you ask ?) and I was advised that the only way we could prevent them thieving from my credit card was to have the card cancelled and a new one ordered.

So, despite the inconvenience of having no credit card for a week or so, that’s what FM and I did.

Surprise ! When the new card arrived – there it was – the $426 slug for the minuscule scratch. So we called the bank and cop this … this is what they said more or less … “If a merchant has been able to pull money out of the account to which the credit card is linked, in the past, there is an arrangement – one assumes between the banks and the hire car companies whereby the bank will honour additional charges by that vendor”.

It was a “fuck you, consumer” moment courtesy of a shonky hire car company aided and abetted by a big 4 bank. The bank did not require the hire car company to prove the debt – or even that the alleged repair had ever been completed.

Notice the dollar amount ? This is less than the excess fee that we would be charged by our insurer if we elected to make a claim. Gotcha !

So $426 went west for nothing – and it was carefully crafted to be not worth pursuing – as it seems has been the case for several hundred other disgruntled former customers of Europcar (and who knows how many other dodgy car rental firms out there).

But….. after giving the bank a cold comfort earful, they finally confessed that there IS a way to protect yourself from these fraudsters. Pay for car rental with a DEBIT card that is linked to an account with only a small amount of money therein – limiting your exposure.

As an aside, in peak season in Cairns, the daily car rental rates of the majors double. And if you find yourself in the tropics in the work up to the wet, you certainly do not want to be without your own air-conditioned transport. And the insurance that you would be crazy not to have can cost more than the daily rental itself.

Worry not dear traveller, any decent travel insurance – I bought from Flight Centre – costs about $3.50 per day and covers you for $10k worth of car damage as well as all that other stuff like lost baggage, cancelled flights – the airlines letting you down etc. Much better than $35 per day when you buy it from the car hire company.

In fact you could be forgiven for believing that since the insurance they offer is more expensive than a small car hire, they are really in the insurance game, kindly providing you with a means to realise a risk as part of the deal. Bastards. I wonder whether people who know that they are going to get stung for a small scratch decide to get fair value for their insurance and accidentally rack up just under $10 grand worth of damage – don’t forget they will charge you for the days that the car is unserviceable, so do your sums.

The best deal – and by far the nicest folks in Cairns were “All Day Car Rentals” – 135 Lake Street – 07 4031 3343. I booked with them for three weeks – OK it wasn’t the flashiest Mazda 2 and had 142,000km on the clock, but it never let me down, was half the price of the majors and was cheap to run as well as cool and (comparatively) dry inside.

Best of all, when my stay in Cairns was cut short, they refunded me the unused part of the rental. With no quibbles. Great guys.

Second tip: If you are tempted as I was – to hire a Harley and go for a run up to Port Douglas, check out the forecast. I did that. The bureau said it was going to piss down the coming Saturday – not a fun deal, so I held off. It did piss down. Now the bike company are reasonable folks and they will give you a credit for the next dry day you’re around the place – which might be three months after you’ve gone home – during which time, they have your hard earned.

Third tip – and this is unlikely to earn me a lot of tourist industry friends…. what’s left of the Great Barrier Reef off Cairns sure isn’t what it used to be.

The cyclones, global warming, coral bleaching and all the cane-field sediment flowing into the reef have done a terrible amount of damage. The Emmlets, my Ex and I went out on the reef – 90km off Townsville – about twenty years ago. It was absolutely wonderful. Now I’m not saying that there are no wonderful bits left. But the mass tourist boats out of Cairns didn’t go there on our day out.