Find out more about your rights and obligations if your business provides cars for hire to the general public.
Whenever a consumer hires a vehicle from you, they enter into a contract with you. The contract's terms and conditions spell out the rights and responsibilities of both parties.
While the customer may have made an advanced booking, remember that the rental contract only comes into being when they inspect the vehicle and drive it away.
The basic price you give for the vehicle must be "tax inclusive" and give a clear indication of the total amount payable. In other words, there should not be any hidden extras on top of the total price. It should include any booking fee, insurance and VAT.
The terms and conditions of the rental agreement should spell out any additional key services for which a charge applies, such as:
Hiring and returning the car to different places
Returning outside business hours
Fuel policy (eg, return full or return empty)
Location pick-up charge (eg, airport/city centre)
While certain charges may not be payable on booking and may be added when the vehicle is picked up, the total payable should be clear to the consumer. If the consumer is in any doubt about charges or options, they should contact the company who should provide clarification, before concluding the transaction.
The Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations apply to any term which has not been individually negotiated in a contract between a consumer and a trader. In reality, your business may be using a standard contract, which is pre-prepared and non-negotiable.
In essence, an unfair contract term is one that is significantly weighted against the consumer and is not used in good faith by the business. For example, it might be tucked away in small print and hard to find.
Where terms of the rental agreement are in writing, you must ensure that they are in plain, intelligible language. If there is doubt about the meaning of a term, the interpretation most favourable to the consumer will prevail.
The customer should check the condition of the car thoroughly before driving it away. A common practice is for the rental company to provide a diagram showing any existing damage to the vehicle.
Before the customer drives the vehicle away, you should sort out several other issues such as
Insurance cover for anybody in their party who will be driving the car; third-party insurance is compulsory
Whether they are allowed to drive the vehicle into another jurisdiction
What documentation they need. Consumers renting a car in Ireland must have a valid current driving licence and a credit card
What fuel the car or van uses (petrol or diesel) and what the fuel gauge is currently at
The next stage is when the customer returns the car. Here, your rights and obligations should be outlined in the rental agreement. For example, the customer may be required to return the car with a full fuel tank. If the customer is returning the vehicle outside office hours, these arrangements should be clear, including procedures for resolving any issues, such as where damage may have occurred.
If there is genuine damage to the vehicle, it is the rental company that decides how much the damage will cost, irrespective of whether the customer says they can find a cheaper quote. It is not possible for the Commission to intervene in disputes regarding damage to vehicles. Consumers may wish to consider obtaining legal advice, depending on the circumstances.
The Car Rental Council of Ireland deals with complaints against its members.