civil

According to Wikipedia:

The Great Age Of Highwaymen was the period from the Restoration in 1660 to the death of Queen Anne in 1714. What favoured them most was the lack of governance and absence of a police force. Most of the highwaymen held up travellers and took their money. Some had channels by which they could dispose of bills of exchange. Others had a ‘racket’ on the road transport of an extensive district; carriers regularly paid them a ransom to go unmolested.  Their famous demand was “Stand and deliver your purse!

I would contend that today a new Great Age Of Highwaymen is afoot, preying on innocent travellers. Their bill of exchange is the credit card and their ‘racket’ comes via rental car transactions. And, yes, most travellers regularly pay them a ransom and go forth unmolested.

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Perhaps the most famous location relating to Restoration Highwaymen was The Spaniards Inn, near where we live in London. Then a first staging-stop on the route north from London, weary travellers were preyed upon there to give up their worldly possessions; often to the infamous Dick Turpin.

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A few days ago Mrs Ericle and I arrived at Malaga Airport, somewhat frazzled by a delayed flight, wanting only to proceed with all due haste to our Andalusian destination. The only obstacle in our path to this ambition was a rental car transaction. Mrs E & Moi-meme are not unwashed in these matters and it would be fair to say that we faced our encounter with the rental representative with some trepidation but a steely determination.

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The first assault on the vulnerable car-renter is delay, extending exhaustion and inviting impatience. Invariably there will be a queue with each transaction ahead of oneself taking unbearable protracted time. As one gets nearer to the counter, the point where the ultimate assault will take place, one inevitably overhears what the future has in store – the confusion, dismay and angst are palpable. This day our assailants are OK Rent A Car – but it could have been Any Other Rent A Car, the experience would almost certainly have been the same:

MR OK: Hola, hello! Welcome to OK Rent A Car. Can I have your reservation, por favor.

At this stage, MR OK seems like a nice helpful sort and you almost begin to think that today your worst fears will not be realised. This sense of well-being is quickly dissipated as Mr OK carefully scrutinises your reservation as if something particularly nasty has just made its way up his nose. He sighs, morphs into a Customs Inspector and demands delivery to his person of driving licences and a credit card. His attention then turns to a computer keyboard where he spends the next few minutes typing a novella; an activity which results in an outpouring of paper to match his endeavours. Mr OK brandishes these like a magician asking you to inspect a pack of cards. He knows, you know; he knows that you know, you know that he knows – there is a trick about to be performed. He is The Magician and you The Victim looking for the catches and suspicious of every turn. This only adds to the tension of the situation further playing into Mr OK hands. The trick evolves and invariably succeeds, at many levels. Let me play some of them out for you:

  • The Warm-up Act: The Documentation. It is impossible for you to read it all within any acceptable time-frame; your own or that of the line behind you, whose seething impatience is itself becoming a factor in the transaction. Mr OK does nothing to dissuade you that the paperwork is a minefield, while at the same time inviting you to sign in several places. You are a rabbit caught in the headlights but you sign anyway – they all do – after a cursory inspection. In reality, you have nothing to fear but fear itself but you have been placed in submission mode. You have been invited to take your clothes off and expose yourself. You have obliged.
  • #1 The Disappearing Car Trick. You didn’t realise it but the car you booked is a Magic Car. It’s disappeared! But unlike other magic tricks that involve reappearances, in this trick the car you expected never appears. You are directed to accept a ‘like-car’, which despite your protests, you have no other choice but to accept as the car you booked has totally disappeared. In truth, the trick here is a no-gainer for either side but its main effect is the further ceding of control to The Magician.
  • #2 The Fuel Trick. This trick can be played in any number of ways. Reasonableness would suggest that your car be provided with a full fuel tank. What you are not expecting is the fuelling charge accompanies this service. Another variation is the Full Tank Out/Empty Fuel Tank Back Trick; a double whammy as there is still a fuelling charge but how the heck do you return a car empty? Either way, full or empty, you have been tricked!
  • #3 The Insurance Trick. You will be aware that every rental car transaction involves an infamous Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) insurance – that threshold above which insurance covers any costs of damage to the vehicle while in your possession. That level has gone up over the years; in the case of OK Rental A Car it is a hefty €1250. The Magician now draws your attention to this potential liability. Fortunately, he has an insurance policy that covers the €1200 and it will only cost you €209! This is an insurance premium of 17% but many succumb immediately to this monstrous proposition. Those that don’t are subjected to a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing appeal from The Magician that he only has the renter’s financial interest at heart; conjuring up images of the misfortunes of slashed-tyres, scratched mirrors and pebble-chips. It is a determined punter who resists The Magician, particularly as by this (considerable) time the issue has been presented as potential financial devastation rather than the €1250 which is really at stake. The few that don’t succumb to this pitch – which include those like ourselves who have taken out an annual CDW-excess policy that costs less than 50% of that The Magician wants for one-time-cover – are invariably subjected to a tirade on their financial insanity. The vehemence of The Magician’s argument, and the energy he puts into it, strongly suggests a personal financial interest in the matter?
  • #4 The Inspection Trick. Your paperwork may include a marked-up diagram of any scratches or dents on your rental vehicle. However, it will be up to you to point out any that are not marked. By the time you actually approach your vehicle, you are in all likelihood far from your best to carry out this inspection. In truth, you are not a car professional and how much can you really notice under such conditions, let alone after the exhaustive process you have been put through. If you have paid the €290 insurance you do not have anything to fear but it’s a hefty price that you have paid for this comfort.

The above covers just the major dimension of the kinds of robbery one potentially faces at the hands of Rental Car companies. There are others such as car-cleaning charges and breakdown insurance, all of which one would reasonably expect to be an integral part of the basic car rental proposition. As per the description above of our 17th Century Highwayman, it is a ‘racket’ undertaken with a cloak of invulnerability granted by “the lack of governance and absence of a police force”. In reality, our 21st Century Highwayman is guilty of a low-order of crime – it’s not murder or assault but when aggregated it is a grand larceny, which potentially could be subject of PPI-kind recompense. Given that much of this crime takes place across international jurisdictions, I am not holding my breath. Until that unlikely time, needs dictate that one must subject oneself to the abuse – if not the injury – in the knowledge that most clients of the Car Rental Highwayman will simply ‘Stand and Deliver’.

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