Britons look forward to summer holiday in the weeks ahead, so new research highlights the need to be more vigilant at collecting keys for hire cars at airports.

Survey of more than 1,000 individuals who have rented cars in recent months showed that nearly half of those surveyed had noticed scratches, dents or kerbed wheels when they collected the vehicle. This was not recorded on their handover form at the start.

You could be charged a significant repair fee for any damage caused by the rental agency staff if you fail to bring these concerns up before you leave.

You should keep your wits about yourself when collecting a rental car. Five percent of people who rent a car say that they have found damage when the keys are handed to them. But not asking staff for clarification could lead to large bills.

The poll conducted on behalf of insurance provider iCarhireinsurance found that more than half of those surveyed believe rental companies often charge customers for damage to cars that was already there before they collected the keys.

13 percent of respondents said that they have received unanticipated charges in the past when renting a vehicle. 9 percent also reported unexpected charges to their credit cards.

One in twenty people claimed that they were charged hundreds of pounds because of small damage they did to their vehicle. This could be for a single scratch on the body or a chip in the windshield. 

However, the results of this report show that not all holidaymakers will go to the same lengths as others to prevent huge repairs from rental agencies. 

Only half of drivers said that they inspect every panel of their car hire thoroughly. This includes looking out for any marks or scratches, as well as interior wear.

Older drivers tend to be more vigilant, with 61% of those over 55 stating that they carefully inspect for signs of damage outside before setting off. This compares with just 27% for those under 34. 

Every handover document issued to a hirer when they collect a car will have a damage record documented in a diagram like the one pictured above. Make sure you check all itemised records thoroughly - and ensure any prangs not noted on the form are raised with staff

A damage report will be included in every handover form issued to car hirers when the vehicle is collected. The diagram can be seen above. You should carefully review all items on your handover document. Staff must be notified if there are any problems.

The interior of the car is also checked by 46 percent, which means that the plastics, seats and carpets are all in good condition.

Nearly two-fifths of five people also inspect their tyres. This number rises to nearly half for those over 55.

Surprisingly nearly 25% admit they look only for serious or obvious damage prior to driving their car for the very first time.

They are vulnerable to rental companies who can claim any tiny mark could indicate that a panel or wheel needs to be replaced. The last person renting the vehicle will pay for repairs.

It is important to let others know if you notice damage.

Concerningly, 57% of the people who find damage that is not on the handed-over paperwork from the rental agency make a note of the issue or discuss it with an employee before they leave the airport.

This is a higher likelihood for drivers older than 55 to commit this crime (73%), and only one-third of younger drivers (under 34) will record any pre-existing damage.

If you are renting a car, make sure to take photographs of your vehicle before it goes on its journey. 

But only 43% of respondents do so on pickup, while dropoff is even lower (41%). 

Taking photos and videos of a hire car before you drive away is highly recommended. This could become your evidence when disputing a damage claim at a later date

It is highly advised that you take photos and video of the car prior to driving away. These photos and videos could be used as evidence in a future damage case.

One in five (or 17%) say they have filmed the car’s journey before receiving the keys.

These images and videos should be kept on your computer for at least a week after the car is returned. In case that the provider contacts you later to pursue damages costs not due to your negligence, it’s worth having them available.

Of the 1,000 people polled, 7 per cent said they have successfully used photographic or video evidence to prove to a rental firm that they didn’t cause damage on the car.

Follow the advice of staff with a pinch salt 

Itarhireinsurance warns drivers to not just be aware of the additional checks that they need to make, but they also advise them to watch out for what rental agencies tell them.

Worryingly 13 percent claimed that someone at the desk at hire told them they didn’t need to notate minor damage on their hand-over paperwork. Close to a fifth (17%) also reported having returned their vehicle without it being checked by a representative of the rental agency for damage, as no one was there at the time.

Some rental companies offer faster damage assessment before drivers drive away. This could pose problems for drivers.

EuropCar offers customers the ability to email photos of any scrapes or dents to the company via email, at certain locations. This is within twelve hours after leaving EuropCar’s depot. 

The company states that this is in order to “save time returning to the rental office to report any undocumented damages”. This is especially important when vehicle collection and rental desk locations are far apart. 

Although this may be a time-saver, it is not recommended for those with a smartphone who aren’t used to emailing photos to an address new to them. 

For your protection, we recommend you speak up with staff members before departing.

Worryingly, 13% of people responding to the poll claimed a member of staff at the hire desk told them it wasn't necessary to note down 'minor' damage on the handover paperwork

Alarmingly, 13% said that someone at the desk had told them not to take down minor damage when handing over paperwork.

Do not be bilked by excessive waiver coverage at the hire desk

You will be charged for any damage that you cause to your car rental. The cost of the bill depends on what level insurance you have.

Basic insurance should be provided by hire companies for theft, damage and third party liability. However, you can still be hit with big fees if this does not cover particular parts of the car – and the hirer will need to pay the excess charge, which can range from £100 to over £2,000.

Staff will likely push you to take out excess-cancelling insurance for theft, damage and even tyre/windscreen problems when you get to the desk.

electric cars special section

The hire car insurance company says the average cost of a ‘super damage waiver’ offered at the rental desk is £137, while waivers for theft and tyre and windscreen excess brings the total to £189.

However, you can purchase your own excess cover from a third party provider – like iCarhireinsurance – before travelling, with a week-long European policy costing £35.50. Annual cover for multiple European trips is just £45.

Ernesto Suarez, founder of iCarhireinsurance.com, said: ‘When you pick up a hire car it’s essential to check it over thoroughly and note every mark, no matter how insignificant, on the checkout sheet, including any damage and scuffs to the wheels. 

“We often see people being charged with minor damage to the wheels or scratches on the bumper. They know they were there at the time they picked up the car, but were not noted in the paperwork. 

“Sadly, it is like writing a check for the rental desk.”

“Holidaymakers should concentrate on having fun, and not worry about extra costs at the end.

These are our top 10 tips for checking the damage to a car you have hired 

Our first top tip when collecting a hire car is not to rush the handover phase - especially the part when you check the vehicle for damage before you leave the airport

The first tip we have for hiring a car to hire is not rush you through the handover process. This includes the portion where you inspect the vehicle for any damage prior to you depart the airport.

1. Don’t rush: Many people hiring a car will be excited about their trip ahead and want to get on the road as soon as possible. If you are too quick to check for damage, you might end up with a costly repair bill.

2. Make sure to grab a cup of coffee first If you’ve flown through the night or had a particularly long journey, you’ll inevitably be tired. You can get a cup of coffee, an energy drink, or a sugary snack to help you feel energized before going to the rental office. 

3. Do the damage calculation for yourself: Always check the vehicle damage sheet on the handover document. Each item of car damage must be listed on the diagram.

4. Get snap happy straight away: Before entering or moving the car, take a walk-around video or a photo of the front, back and sides of the vehicle in the parking space. You can use this evidence later to show that the vehicle was damaged before you touch it.

Even if damage is recorded on the documentation you have, take a photo of it. This will help you fight any later accusations that you made the damage worse during your period with the vehicle

Take a photograph of any damage that is not recorded in the paperwork. It will prove that you did not cause the car damage.

5. Even if the damage is not recorded, you can still take picturesPhotograph the damage as shown on the handover diagram. An rental agency can accuse you still of adding to an existing scratch/dent by an incident of yours. 

6. Be sure to examine the inside for signs of damage:Check the entire car inside and out, including the trunk. Photograph any damage not listed in the documentation. 

7. Did you find something? Before you leave, ALWAYS ask for it. Every pre-existing damage or injury that you find should be reported to staff. Make sure they keep a copy of your paperwork and one of theirs, detailing the extent and whereabouts of any damage that was not already listed. Avoid using rental companies that allow you to email photos of damaged items after receiving the keys.

8. Make sure the car is well-lit if it’s dark:Ask to have the car moved to a streetlight or lamppost if you are collecting it from a dark parking lot or night. This will enable you to inspect the damage more closely. You can also use a torch for additional light if the time of day is not convenient.

Don't just take photos of the car before you take it away - snap some on return...

Do not just snap photos of your car when you are taking it off. Take some pictures on the return.

9. Bring the motor back to take even more photographsWhen you return your car, take photos and video of it. You might be accused of causing damage to your car by allowing someone else to move it.

10. Photos should not be deleted yetYou should keep all videos and photos on your phone for at least a month so that you can provide proof to the rental company if they ask you about a repair. 

Affiliate links may appear in some of the links. We may receive a commission if you click them. This helps to fund This Is Money and keeps it free of charge. Our articles aren’t written for the purpose of promoting products. No commercial affiliation can affect our editorial independence.