Wendy on what to look out for when renting a car

Wendy on what to look out for when renting a car

Few people realise the financial risk they’re exposing themselves to when they rent a car.

Car, driver - ECR Consumerwatch
File photo - Getty Images, Consumerwatch

Happily, most of the time nothing goes wrong - you get the wheels you need when away for business or on holiday; the company gets your money: all good. 

But it really does pay to find out and fully understand what you are letting yourself in for should something go wrong, whether it’s your fault or not.

The car rental industry does not insure its vehicles: the companies “self-insure” by means of a waiver system. Clients can choose between standard waivers or more expensive super waivers, which limit their liability for the costs associated with damage, theft or loss of the car. 

The quote you’re given usually includes a standard waiver, limiting your liability in the event of the loss of or damage to the car to around R18 or R19 000 even on a budget car… Pretty high.

So it’s really worth paying extra for the super waiver, which means if disaster strikes the rental company can only expect you to pay a few thousand rand - usually less than R5000.

I wouldn’t dream of getting behind the wheel of a rental car without a super waiver in place.

It’s also worth paying for windscreen and tyre damage - only around R20 or R30 - as Gille de Vlieg discovered recently.

Consumers' experience with rental vehicles 

She hired a Ford Figo at King Shaka airport, parked it overnight in the driveway of her son’s house in La Lucia and discovered a crack in the windscreen the next morning. She was asked to pay R4100 to replace the windscreen and another R800 as an admin fee, which was reduced to R400 when she complained.

Adam Shapiro’s experience was even worse.

He had a fender bender in a hired car as he was feeding on to a Durban freeway. He also hadn’t opted for the super waiver, so he ended up paying R18 000 for the car he was driving and another R9700 for the other car. He would have paid far, far less had he opted for the super waiver.

But real warning is this - there are many situations where a super waiver won’t help you at all - you’ll be made to pay for any damage to the car, or replacement of it, if it’s stolen, in full.

Thanks to the dreaded exclusions and they almost never get disclosed at a car rental counter, when you’re being asked to sign next to the circled waiver costs, daily mileage limits and the like.

The thing is they aren’t all that out of the ordinary - things like travelling on a gravel road or, as one company puts it any “unsuitable” road - and they get to decide what’s unsuitable - hitting a pothole, water damage, damage to the undercarriage of the car, damage to tyres, rims and windscreen and not reporting the accident or loss to the company in time.

Oh, and any damage caused in accident which does not include physical contact with another car.

When do waivers not apply?

And all waivers are invalid if, at the time of the incident, you were over the legal alcohol limit or not adhering to traffic and driving regulations. If people read the terms and conditions of a rental agreement they'd be too afraid to drive off - that old joke about the best 4x4 being a rental car is not quite so funny after reading those t’s and c’s.

Waiver liability amounts vary quite a bit between companies so it’s a really good idea to do some homework before choosing a 


Before renting a car, consider this...

The Southern African Vehicle Rental & Leasing Association has this advice for people planning to rent a car.

Review the rental terms and conditions in advance of collecting the vehicle on the company’s website.

When considering the daily rental rate being offered for your preferred vehicle, as a minimum, always check the applicable liability due in the event of damage or theft. If its the standard waiver, ask about the super waiver amount.

If you’re given a "special" rate, find out what the exclusions are.

When you collect the rental vehicle, inspect the vehicle and report any damage to the company representative.

When you return the rental vehicle, ask the rental representative for a pro-forma invoice to ensure that there will be no additional charges when you leave.

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