A customer fuels her car with unleaded petrol at a Morrisons supermarket in Coalville, central England, October 15, 2008. Supermarket chain Morrisons have cut the price of petrol on their forecourts to below £1 ($1.744) for the first time since December last year.   REUTERS/Darren Staples   (BRITAIN)
A customer fuels her car with unleaded petrol at a Morrisons supermarket in Coalville, central England, October 15, 2008. Supermarket chain Morrisons have cut the price of petrol on their forecourts to below £1 ($1.744) for the first time since December last year. REUTERS/Darren Staples (BRITAIN)

Rental car's missing fuel mystery

By Denis Droppa, Motoring Editor Time of article published Jan 22, 2015

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Johannesburg - Consumer sites like Hellopeter are full of complaints against car-rental firms, but while most of the ire concerns poor service, one that has come to our attention is more serious as it involves possible fraud.

Reader Dave Pullen recently hired a VW Polo Vivo 1.4 from First Car Rental at O.R. Tambo airport and was shocked at the petrol bill he had to pay when returning the car - after giving the car back with what he believed was a full tank of fuel.

According to the rental contract, cars are handed to the renter full of fuel and the renter is responsible for the cost of topping up the tank after they return the car.

Pullen has no problem with that, but he suspects some skulduggery because his wife filled the car up to the “first-click” at an airport petrol station just before returning it, and he was dismayed when he subsequently received a bill of R167 for an additional 13 litres for the Polo to be topped up. The distance between First Car Rental’s office at O.R Tambo and its fuel depot in Pomona is just 5km, which could not possibly account for 13 litres of fuel being used.

Pullen also worked out, based on the 191 km distance he drove and a total of 23 litres of fuel pumped into the vehicle, that the Vivo 1.4 averaged a consumption of over 12 litres per 100km - double the manufacturer’s quoted fuel consumption figure of 6.2 litres/100km.

WHAT’S GOING ON?

Pullen suspects that either he’s being charged for fuel that wasn’t put into the car, or that operators at the depot are claiming to be filling rental cars but stealing the fuel for themselves.

“If the tank was 13 litres below full, it equates to a tank that is only two-thirds full,” says Pullen.

“The only explanations are that the fuel gauge is faulty or has been recalibrated, or their 13 litres never made it into the tank.”

When we put these claims to First Car Rental, they replied that they fill all their vehicles to the brim, and that the Vivo that Pullen rented may have had a vapour lock preventing it being fully filled when Pullen’s wife put petrol in the car.

“We record every fill-up on a Pump Record Sheet, which is checked for accuracy by no less than two admin staff members, as well as our Regional Admin Manager,” says Melissa Storey, Executive Head: Strategy, Development & Marketing at First Car Rental.

“Staff cars are not permitted on site so as to prevent an opportunity for fuel theft”.

In this publication’s own experience of road-testing cars it’s uncommon for a vapour lock to create such a large discrepancy (13 litres), and the difference is normally a couple of litres.

First Car Rental didn’t find the Vivo’s 12l/100km consumption to be particularly high, and said that fuel use varies depending on different drivers and road conditions. When this publication road-tested a Polo Vivo 1.4 it averaged under 8l/100km, however.

Storey continues: “We have many auto checks and balances in our system when it gets captured that calculates impossibilities and therefore possible errors, as well as personnel checks. Our customer satisfaction team is satisfied with the investigation into this particular case.”

Have you had a similar experience with a rental company? Email me at [email protected]

Star Motoring

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