Page last updated at 11:10 GMT, Friday, 14 August 2009 12:10 UK

Tourists face car hire shortage

Traveller with baggage
Some holidaymakers may not be able to get a hire car at all

Holidaymakers across the UK and Europe are facing bigger bills for hire cars - or risk not getting one at all - due to a shortage of vehicles.

Hire firms have not replaced fleets because they expected fewer tourists. They have also had difficulty accessing finance, industry figures say.

A last-minute holiday bookings surge is adding to the pressure on cars.

Industry sources say that Spain is the worst affected, with those who can get a car having to pay twice normal rates.

Cancelled bookings

When Tim Pringle travelled to Valencia with his family in July, they were told that their booking for a seven-seater car had been cancelled.

Holidaymakers face car hire hell

The villa they had booked was 100km away and the rental company eventually gave him a much smaller car for him, his wife, their three children and five suitcases.

"At that point, I would have taken a donkey and cart," he told the BBC.

Other BBC News website readers reported similar experiences. One had to wait three-and-a-half hours for a pre-booked hire car in Barcelona.

Others reported higher prices, cancelled bookings or long waits for vehicles.

Production cuts

Shortages are most prevalent in holiday locations in Spain, France and Italy, according to Hertz, the car firm.

Demand is also outstripping supply in Scotland and the Lake District.

Small cars in particular are in very short supply, and its often cheaper to take a larger car rather than the small ones
Bob Atkinson, Travelsupermarket.com

"There's a seasonal shortage of rental cars every summer, but it seems to be more acute this year because carmakers have cut production due to the uncertain economy," said Michel Taride, president of Hertz Europe.

"There has been a big increase in domestic and US inbound travel, and holidaymakers are deciding to go away at the last minute."

John Lewis, chairman of the car rental working group at Lease Europe - the industry's umbrella body - said that firms had been unable to get the finance needed to expand their fleets.

Various national government rules mean that companies cannot move vehicles across borders to meet demand, he added.

Higher prices

The car shortage has pushed up the cost of a trip abroad for many travellers. Prices on the Balearic islands have doubled, said Bob Atkinson, business development manager at Travelsupermarket.com.

On mainland Spain, prices are up to 70% higher at popular destinations such as Alicante, Malaga and Murcia. "Small cars in particular are in very short supply, and it's often cheaper to take a larger car, rather than the small ones people go for because they presume they'll be cheaper," Mr Atkinson said.

Anecdotal evidence from car hire firms suggests that older vehicles are being hired out to try and cope with demand. This has meant that many customers received vehicles with dents and scratches.

Holiday firm woes

It is not just individual holidaymakers who have had problems getting vehicles.

Direct Villa Holidays offers all customers a free hire car with their bookings - but have struggled to obtain the cars they have promised.

"It has been a very expensive and stressful affair," said co-owner Sara Jones.

"Booking hire cars never has never been a problem before, though prices flickered a bit.

"But this year has just been a nightmare, we couldn't get cars, or when we could, they were five or 10 times more expensive."



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