Green Motion has low car hire rates – but users say there’s a sting in the tail – The Guardian

It is easily our most complained-about car hire firm, as drivers claim they get huge bills for barely visible scratches
It is the car hire firm with a trail of angry customers, furious at bills presented to them when they return a car for hundreds – even thousands – of pounds for damage they say is barely visible or that was there already.
Green Motion, which has franchised branches at most major UK airports, appears to offer remarkably cheap deals – often a third of the price charged by major rivals. But now customers allege that there is a major sting in the tail.
It is easily the most-complained about car hire firm in Guardian Money’s postbag, although the greatest number of angry customers appear to be at its branches near Heathrow, Gatwick and Glasgow airports.
It vigorously denies the allegations, saying that it operates to the highest ethical standards and that some customers are just unhappy about being caught for damaging their vehicles.
The complaints are not just to our consumer champions, but have also piled up in reviews on Trustpilot, groups on Facebook and forums on TripAdvisor.
Customers allege that:
They are wildly overcharged for small blemishes, which may have been there before hiring – such as £400 for a barely visible scratch.
On collection, staff often fail to mark existing damage on the rental agreement. On return, staff pore over the car looking for the tiniest blemish.
Blemishes are found on the underside of bumpers and bodywork that cannot reasonably be seen when hiring.
Staff will often identify a piece of damage in a way that suggested they had prior knowledge of its existence.
On TripAdvisor, one group of customers is called “Green Motion – is it a scam?”. A separate group on Facebook is trying to bring people together to launch a legal action against the firm. Others have faced battles with card providers after Green Motion refused to deal with their complaint.
New customers are enticed by the very low prices that are offered by online brokers and the Ryanair website.
For example, when Guardian Money searched for a car at Glasgow airport for two days in July, Green Motion’s deals were the first three on A Peugeot 108 cost £34, when the cheapest deals from Avis, Hertz and Sixt were all more than £100.
How is it able to offer such low prices? Maybe an indication comes from its job adverts for vehicle inspection staff. The ads say that they will be paid a bonus, even though the job does not involve sales. When we posed as a possible job applicant, we were told that we would earn commission, although the details would only be revealed at interview stage.
Many of the complainants to Money allege that the vehicle inspection staff appear to be incentivised to find damage, a claim Green Motion strongly denies.
Thomas Heatley Smith was so astonished after Green Motion Heathrow charged him £390 for what he says is an almost invisible hairline scratch, that he took a video (below). It showed the scratch, as well as his discussion with the manager, which shows him acknowledging that it was a very small scratch, but saying he was still liable for the bill.
Heatley Smith says the scratch could be rubbed out with just a few minutes’ work but Green Motion has stood by its “ridiculous” charge, and he has now begun a small claims court legal action arguing that the repair cost bore no relation to the alleged damage.
“This company is trying to take advantage of customers who aren’t in a position to do anything about it. We would like to see them thrown into the spotlight,” he says.
“They responded this week suggesting that we either rehire the car and get it fixed at our expense (along with additional charges) or, alternatively, pay a hire charge while they get it fixed as well as ‘repair costs’, and other additional charges. As you would expect we are continuing with the court process.”
Dr Paul Shah* hired a car at London’s City airport. In his case the company refused to accept his Amex card, requiring him to return home for a credit card. It then insisted that, because he was two hours late in picking up the booked car, it had been rented and the only one now available would cost an extra £150 on top of the £344 he had already paid.
Needing it to get to work in a hospital, he paid up. He admits he relied on staff to note the damage as he was tired.
“On giving the car back they said there was a scratch at the left rear rubber/plastic bumper. I was shocked as I was sure that I had not damaged the car while it was in my possession. However, as the original form did not show this, I was told I would be liable.
“The scuff was very superficial and 4-5cm length … something I did not even notice. They charged me a £1,095 excess which is outrageous. I have subsequently taken advice from independent garages which all say that it is an extremely small job.”
He appealed to the British Vehicle Rental & Leasing Association’s arbitration scheme but the BVRLA told him that, as Green Motion had produced an invoice and inspection report, it could not intervene. It told Money it did not question the size of the repair bill for the job required.
A common complaint is that staff handing over cars at the start of a rental are blasé about the procedure, claiming lots of scratches are too small to worry about.
However, some customers say that appears to all change when they return the car, at which point staff examine every panel minutely – even producing bright lights to help.
Many customers have also claimed that, on returning a vehicle, staff do not go through a full examination – choosing to go straight to damage that has mysteriously appeared, often on the car’s underside which can be very difficult to see.
But Green Motion is not the first car hire company to be accused of systematically overcharging for tiny scratches.
In June 2017, Trading Standards in Leicester investigated Europcar UK after allegations that it overcharged for repairs, raking in profits via secret agreements with its suppliers. It was forced to put aside around £40m to cover refunds to customers who were overcharged.
At the time, consumer group Which? called for a wider investigation by the government and authorities to establish if other car hire firms might be profiting from illegal charging tactics.
Legal experts have warned that any firms that sought to profit from repairs could be in breach of the Fraud Act 2006, as well as the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
* Not his real name
Green Motion says the vast majority of its customers are satisfied with the service provided. In a statement, it said: “During the period in question (18 February to 22 May 2018), the Green Motion franchise in the UK successfully serviced 30,494 customers. During the same period, the UK customer service department received 2,282 customer queries [these are not necessarily complaints]. The total amount of queries received, many of which would be considered benign, amounts to less than 6% of the total customers serviced. This stands to reason that 94% of our customers were satisfied with the service we provided.”
Green Motion examined 13 cases sent by Guardian Money. “Twelve of the cases are without doubt standard damage charges. The 13th case, where the location confirmed that there was an error, has been fully refunded.”
It added: “Prior to hire, each customer is requested to undertake a full inspection of the vehicle. There is no pre-planned scams, there is just a very simple process customers are requested to follow. They just have to simply inspect the car and satisfy themselves that the condition is in line with the vehicle condition report.” It said that if, for example, the inspection took place in the dark, customers had the option to notify the company and reinspect by 10am the next day.
Allegations that inspection staff receive a payback for finding damage are “completely unfounded”. It said: “The vehicle inspectors are simply looking for a change in condition. Nothing more, nothing less. We are not aware of any franchises that profit from charging for damage. At best they may cover the repair/reinstatement/refurbishment costs, but more often than not there will be losses associated to damage which have to be carried by the business.”
Ben Stenner has hired cars all over the world, but says he has never had such an appalling experience as he had when he hired a car to travel between Green Motion’s Heathrow and Gatwick branches. Staff took £530 from him after they claimed he caused a minor scratch – a scratch that he says is barely visible despite staff producing bright lights to justify it.
“I collected the car at the same time of day as I dropped it off and it was dark. On collecting the car and being shown round it to inspect it, I was not given any light to do so. Funnily enough on dropping the car back, out came their LED spotlight and the employee suspiciously walks straight round to the rear of the car, wipes off the film of dirt and finds a scratch which I and his colleague couldn’t see. Even with a cloth and wiping it and cleaning it and with a very powerful LED light it was still very difficult to see – as my video (below) shows.
“I was initially threatened with paying the excess of £1,085 only for it to be reduced to £360 and then £140.”
He says staff became angry when they realised he was recording them.
“Clearly they work on the basis of go in hard and offer a lower figure which you then agree to as it’s less than the ridiculous original figure. I have challenged Green Motion to show me the new damage chart [a tariff of charges] that customers are told how much they will be charged, and they have failed to supply it.”
Vivian Lau, who lives in Hong Kong, initially paid £44.50 to rent a car, but ended up with a £420 bill, and a missed flight home, after she hired from Green Motion in London. She had taken a photo of the damaged Mercedes she was given, but says this didn’t stop Green Motion charging her the sum for the damage when she returned the car. She presented her photographic evidence that the damage was there at pick-up to staff, who admitted it had been previously damaged. But Green Motion then claimed she had also damaged the same area on the car – and therefore the charge stands.
“I was the perfect target: single lady driver who is not resident in the UK, had a long-haul flight to catch after returning the car – who would in all likelihood be unable to pursue the return of the deposit. They knew I had a flight to catch and was unlikely to escalate the matter to the police,” she says.
Green Motion has now refunded her in full.
Jennie Rathbone rented a car from Green Motion’s Gatwick depot in April. In her case she was charged £290 for a scratch to the door frame that she is certain she did not cause.
“I had only had the car a few hours but when it came to inspect the car on return, the staff member didn’t put the key in the ignition to check the fuel gauge, or walk around it as you would have expected. Instead he swiftly opened the driver’s door, knelt down to look at the side edge where there was a scratch, and declared I would have to pay for it.
“When the staff member refused to give me his name I asked to take his photograph, to which he threatened to call the police! When I took my phone out of my pocket, both men ran inside and shut the door. I felt I was on the receiving end of a well-practised scam,” she says.
● When Heather Dryden and friends (pictured below) booked a car for a three-day walking trip to Scotland they were delighted to see that it was only going to cost £17. Despite driving just 59 miles, the group were hit with a £395 bill by the Glasgow franchise because of what they say was a tiny chip to the windscreen – a chip they’re sure they didn’t cause, and one they claim would cost a fraction of that to repair.
They say they faced a long wait for a suitable car that was eventually produced wet, having just been washed. It was, they say, very difficult to spot the scratches and dents on a wet car in a poorly-lit warehouse.
“We had an incident-free trip – or so we thought. On returning the car the Green Motion staff were quickly on their hands and knees inspecting the car even looking underneath, trying to find any fault they could. They claimed they had found a crack on the windscreen, which they later corrected as a stone chip. They initially charged us £495 – later reduced to £395.”
● When Leonard Foley picked up his hire car at Green Motion’s Luton off-airport site, he thought the employee was being kind when he put his bags in the boot and shut the lid.
Although it was dark, he says he checked the outside of the car for scratches. He noted some damage and then headed off on an uneventful journey to attend a wedding. He says he had a similarly quiet journey back to Luton.
“As soon as we arrived there was a Green Motion employee who went directly to the boot and opened the lid and pointed out scuff and scratches which he claimed we were responsible for. He then entered the back of the car to point out more damage.
“He charged my debit card £1,205 in spite of the fact that they look like wear and tear over time and not something that happened in the previous two days. We definitely did not cause any damage whatsoever to the car. It’s disgraceful that this company is charging innocent people like me and the public should be made aware of this,” he says.
Green Motion has since billed him £91, and returned the rest of his deposit.
Geoff Cross’s annoyance at having to pay £5 to get a bus from Heathrow to Green Motion’s nearby depot – and his 90-minute wait to be seen by staff – were nothing to his anger at being charged £1,200 for a dent he is adamant he didn’t cause.
“We then inspected the car and I pointed out many, many scratches and issues with the car … assuming the guy would mark them all on the sheet, which he confirmed he had. When we returned the car a small dent was pointed out that I did show him but was not marked. You could barely see it. The company claimed it is 40mm long but the photo shows 20mm. No doubt they won’t get it repaired and they will use it again and again to charge another unsuspecting customer,” he says.
Green Motion has since reduced his bill to £756.


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