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Several times in the past few years, I have made a confirmed, paid booking for a rental car, and turned up at the appointed pick-up time only to be told that no cars are available. The rental agency would then tell me that my only options are to either (1) cancel the booking and receive a full refund, (2) wait a certain period until a car becomes available, or (3) travel to another office where they assure me a car will be available. In my experience the second two "solutions" are unreliable; on one occasion I delayed my trip by one day, and on another occasion I travelled to the next-nearest rental office, only to find that the promised car still wasn't available.

I'm always aggravated when this happens, as it throws off my travel plans. I end up frantically cancelling hotel or event reservations, scrambling to find alternative transportation by bus or train, and/or paying for a trip to the next rental car office at my own expense. I'm sometimes able to wrest some reimbursement from the company, but only after a protracted correspondence campaign that can last for months.

I know that many airlines routinely overbook their flights; it seems that rental car companies do the same thing. With airlines, however, there are various national and international agreements governing how passengers are compensated when their flights are cancelled or delayed, or when they are denied boarding. For example, EU Regulation 261/2004 requires airlines to provide refreshments, accommodation, refunds, rerouting, and/or compensation of up to €600, depending on the circumstances. Apparently there are similar EU regulations for rail, bus, and ship passengers.

But what about regulations for rental car users? Does the EU, or any of its member states, require compensation for delays or cancellations of rental car bookings? If so, what are the rules and where can I read about them?

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    Could it be you are using the wrong rental car companies? I have never had that happen to me and I have rented at least 100 cars in the last twenty years, but always the big names ('You get what you pay for'?) – Aganju Jul 10 '17 at 14:37
  • So far it's happened to me with both Budget and Enterprise. Big enough names for you? – Psychonaut Jul 10 '17 at 15:33
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As noted in the 2005 report, Car Rental Contracts An analysis of European cross-border complaints

Contracts governing the provision of vehicle hire are not regulated by special rules in any EU country.

It is an ongoing consumer issue, however, one on which

The European Commission has been working closely together with European consumer authorities to better enforce consumer rights in the car rental sector.

Commission works with European consumer authorities to better enforce consumer rights in the car rental sector

Brussels, 13 July 2015

Today, five major car rental companies have agreed to significantly review how they deal with consumers thanks to a joint action from the European Commission and national enforcement authorities. Citizens will benefit from more clarity on insurance policies and tank refuelling options, more fairness when handling damages, and more price transparency. Complaints related to car rentals received by the European Consumer Centres have increased sharply in the last two years.

Věra Jourová, EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality welcomed today's agreement: "Booking a car online, renting it in one country and returning it in another is very simple today. Unfortunately, car rental terms and conditions are sometimes too vague or lack clarity. Consumers are too often left with unplanned extra costs. Five major car rental companies have now pledged to improve their information policies and make their terms and conditions fairer for consumers. I welcome their commitment and the excellent work done by the national consumer authorities in ensuring a better deal for European consumers."

The companies have pledged to better align current car rental practices to the requirements of consumer legislation, set out by EU rules on consumer rights, unfair commercial practices and unfair terms).

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    Car rental companies have not changed anything. They regularly overbook and then tell customers there is nothing they can do. Avid did this to me today in Berlin, and no one, not even customer service in the main offices in the US, offered to do anything about it. I lost my entire day, the only day of the week where I needed to travel 100 km south of Berlin to do my work. I will never rent from Avis again. – Juan Jimenez Jul 22 '18 at 12:38

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