An open letter to car hire companies

A queue of people. Image credit:

Dear car hire companies,

It's 6am. I've been awake since 3am, but somehow in that time I've been on a plane for four hours. It was crowded and hot. I didn't sleep at all. I'm tired, I'm in a different time zone, I'm confused and more than a little frustrated. All I want to do is pick up my hire car and go. I just have one question.

Why is this taking so long?

This doesn't just apply to hire car places at airports. Whenever I try to hire a car, anywhere, anytime, it always takes far longer than it seems like it reasonably should. And I pre-book. So what's the problem?

You know who I am. You have the details of my driving licence. I've paid up front, so you've got my credit card details already. Surely all I need to do is show you my licence and take the key?

It seems not. It seems I have to give you my licence so you can take down some more details. You also want my credit card again, to take a damage deposit. Then you have to go through a whole load of details with me, and ask if I want any more insurance. Or maybe I want to upgrade my car? Decisions I've already made. And then you need to print out a bewilderingly complex series of documents covered in boxes and diagrams of the car, that I have to sign in at least three places. I'm definitely not awake enough to comprehend them properly.

And all of this happens to the backdrop of your agonizingly slow computer systems. Half my time at car hire desks is spent staring at the person behind the desk while they stare at their computer, waiting for it to do something. I've been in car hire places where each person takes upwards of 15 minutes to be served, which when you're fourth in the queue really adds up.

It's not just pickup, either. Dropping off seems to be equally as complex and time consuming. More staring at a computer screen. Yes, please take my credit card again. More staring. Something else gets printed.

I know this process doesn't have to be complicated, because I know of at least one car hire company where it all happens online, and all I need to do is go to the car, press a button on an app, the car unlocks and the keys are inside. Why is your process not that simple?

Let's just stop for a moment, because maybe I'm unaware of the complexities involved in hiring a car and the longstanding reasons why things are done the way they are. Let's just start again, shall we? Here's how hiring a car should work.

  1. I go to your website, choose the car I want, fill in my driving licence details and pay online.
  2. During this process, you ask all the questions you like about extra insurance and whatever else you need.
  3. Through the magic of technology your company checks that you're happy to hire to me and sends an email or something to confirm.
  4. I take the proof of my hire to the desk, the person checks it, checks my licence, and hands me the keys.

Does that sound complicated? I don't think it does. If you're feeling really generous, you could even include with the keys a small card, containing prudent information, such as the type of fuel the vehicle takes, and that you want it returned full, and maybe a helpful little diagram of where your carpark is, so I can find the car easily. Or how about a quick start guide to the car I've hired, like where the handbrake is and how to turn on the lights? It's not always obvious, particularly at 6am.

Please, on behalf all of those who've queued helplessly for what seems like hours, only to have to wait even longer once we reach the desk, please, please innovate. Just a little.

Yours sincerely,

A semi-regular car hirer


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