Car-hire ripoff sours otherwise cool view of Iceland

04:40, Apr 14 2014

Before I left on my OE, I didn't think I was very intrepid.

To be fair, that assumption was largely correct - especially if the criteria is restricted to visiting war zones or going hitch-hiking.

And yes, given the choice, I would choose a sumptuous king- size bed in a hotel room with a view over a squeaky bunk in a dorm.

But I feel I should get some kudos: No matter how small, I'll claim it.

Going travelling is a constant learning experience, and I'm pleased to say I've advanced beyond rookie tourist.

You always have to take precautions, but I've lost the nerves - and the money belt. (Reaching in and out of one of those is a sure-fire way to make yourself look like a muppet. Oh, and a tourist.)


After realising the horror stories about South America were overblown, our good luck continued.

In London, our passports grew fatter and a normal-sized dose of common sense saw Mark and me through our travels.

Then we visited Iceland, a place we didn't feel the need to worry about at all, and suddenly found ourselves facing the sneakiest rort of all.

To see more than just Reykjavik, Mark and I rented a car.

For three days we drove all over, visiting geysers (yep, that's a geyser all right), sleepy villages (cute) and pulling into lay-bys for me to pat the fringes of my pony friends.

The weather was fairly atrocious but expected - snow falling as we drove up mountains, that kind of thing.

For three days, we stuck to the country's leisurely 80kmh speed limit, made the most of incredible radio stations (what's not to love about Iceland's version of "80s, 90s and today"?), and checked the forecast to make sure we weren't about to drive into the most brutal winter weather.

We returned the car, no problems. The post-rental inspection form was signed off.

We flew home to London.

Days and days later an email appeared, saying we were being charged an excess of around [PndStlg]1500 for repairs supposedly caused by sand and ash damage.

Interesting, given that we hadn't driven through any of the warned-about sandstorms, and in fact had plotted our route to avoid them.

The three photographs attached to the email revealed nothing. A quick google, however, did.

Apparently this is a pretty common problem for tourists visiting Iceland - in fact, considering reports, it appeared rife.

To top it off, it appeared that it was pretty common that any complaints by tourists were ignored.

All we could do was be thankful we had taken out sand and ash insurance - the internet turned up more horror stories, of people owing several thousands of pounds and being threatened with the 5-0 before they could leave the country.

Listen, I know tourists aren't the greatest drivers. It's not hard to imagine that - in most instances at least - damage claimed by rental car companies is pretty legit.

But, after a wee chat with somebody in insurance, we realised that our gut instinct that we were being scammed was probably on the money.

Thankfully, after letting the rental car company know we had received some advice and would be hiring an independent panelbeater to come and inspect the car, we haven't heard boo since.

Really capping things off was that we were charged twice for the car.

Fingers crossed, it looks like our rental car debacle has faded into oblivion.

The thing is, though, it's hard not to let episodes like this mar your view of a country.

Our stories of Iceland will probably still be centred around the northern lights.

But being ripped off has left a sour taste behind.


The Southland Times