Review of "EasyCar"
Living in Cyprus with husband, three cats and about three thousand books. Two adult sons, one daughter-in-law, one grandson :-)
We needed a car for our family of four (two adults and two long-legged teenage boys), plus a fair amount of luggage, for four weeks in September. Previously we'd used Ichthus Motors, a small firm in a rather inaccessible place in London which do cut-price rentals of donated cars for people in my husband's field, but a chance comment from a friend let us know about Easycar, a spin-off of Easyjet.After some research and much deliberation, we decided to go ahead and book a car with them. It turned out well: we drove a six-month old Renault Kangoo for the remarkable hire-charge of £176 total for four weeks, including insurance. We were pleasantly surprised to find that we would have 70 'free' miles per day. While we knew that we would drive more than this on some days, we had calculated that we would probably do something in the region of 1800 miles in the four weeks when we wanted the car. As it happened, we did about 1750, so were well within our free allowance. Excess miles are charged at something like 20 pence per mile, which is not unreasonable at all.
That's the summary for those who don't want to read a lengthy opinion - but for the details, and why I've only given it three stars, read on:* How Easycar works *
Part of the reason that this is such an inexpensive firm is that they have minimal staff, who apparently do minimal work. The entire booking is done online (indeed, that's the only way an Easycar can be booked) and each depot - of which there are many, in London and other cities around the UK and Europe - has a portacabin with two young and not very knowledgeable staff who are probably not paid much, and who stick rigidly to what they know.When booking an Easycar, credit card details must be entered online, and the booking confirmation must then be printed and taken to the depot when collecting the car, along with proof of identity, valid driver's license, and proof of address. There is an 'empty to empty' policy on petrol, meaning that the staff don't even have to check fuel levels.
* The web site *We were pretty impressed with the web site, http://www.easycar.com, which loads quickly and looks professional, albeit featuring a rather garish shade of orange [actually not much different from the colour of the Ciao bar at the top of pages on this site, but considerably more of it]. Cars can be booked up to about six months in advance, and as prices increase nearer the time, it's a good idea to take advantage of early booking.
The front page gives a simple selection of countries (UK, Spain, France, Netherlands or Switzerland) and of cities within the country (within the UK, it offers London, Birmingham, Glasgow, Liverpool or Manchester). When these are selected, a list of locations appears, of which one or more can be chosen to look at the cars available, once you've chosen start and end dates for your proposed rental. We found it well worth taking time to look at several different locations, particularly within London: some of the more popular depots, such as Hounslow, were significantly more expensive than others which were further away from Heathrow Airport.Once you've selected your dates and places, Easycar gives you quotations, and you can then choose one depot to explore further. If you only selected one place, it takes you directly to the detailed day-by-day charges, where you can adjust the dates if you prefer, or go back to look at another location. We found great variations in the costs - weekends are always a little higher priced than weekdays, and popular periods such as Christmas or school half-terms are also considerably more expensive than other times. Different cars and different depots also charge varying amounts, depending on popularity, so it's well worth spending time exploring as many options as possible to get the best deal.
After you've chosen the car, period and depot you want, you have to choose the time of collection and delivery (note: allow extra time for returning the car since the fines for being late are excessive) and are then able to make the booking with your credit card. All this is done under a secure server, so should be safe. At the end you *must* print the booking page, as instructed. All very straightforward and reassuring. So what are the drawbacks?* Limited and basic styles of car *
Most of the depots offered the Renault Clio or Corsa, which we're told are pretty small and would be cramped in the back for teenagers, besides having rather small boot space. Some offer other cars, and we were able to find one (Earl's Court in London) which had Renault Kangoos. We chose this make because, having checked its specifications online, we found it to be large with a good-sized boot, although we'd never heard of it before! A friend who knows about cars said that the Kangoo is basically a converted van.* Uncertain availability of the chosen car *
When we arrived at Earl's Court via the Underground, we saw eight or nine Kangoos in the car park. We had the booking page, the credit card, proof of identify, and a driving license. So far, so good. One of the young men in the portakabin went to get the Kangoo which was allocated to us. We noticed that it had a warning light on the dashboard, and he said the mechanic should have fixed it, and it probably wasn't anything to worry about. We looked in the car manual, and it said that a car with this warning light showing should not be driven.'OK,' we said, 'we'll have one of the other Kangoos.'
'Ah,' said the other young man, 'Unfortunately most of them are out of service.' He told us that there was one which was safe, but as the passenger side wing mirror was completely shattered, he wasn't sure if it would be legal to drive. All the others, apparently, had serious problems and could not be taken out.So there we were, potentially stranded in Earl's Court. There were dozens of small cars available, but that was no good. We asked what we could do. We were told that they would give us a full refund. We said we *needed* a car. They shrugged, and said there was nothing they could do about it. However the more intelligent of the young men checked his computer and said that there was a Kangoo due to be returned within the next half hour, so we could wait if we liked. We decided to wait, and thankfully this Kangoo did return - so we were able to take it. But the young man helping us said he had no idea what he was going to do, since there were several more bookings for that day, and no other cars available. He also said he was looking for a new job, as this kind of thing happened almost every day :-(
* The Kangoo *Once we finally claimed the car and drove away, we were pleasantly surprised at its comfort. While the exterior does look much like a van, and is strictly utilitarian rather than attractive, the inside was like any middle-of-the-range car. There was indeed plenty of leg-room in the back seat for two tall teenage boys, and the front seats were easily adjustable, more comfortable than many other cars we've been in.
The rear passenger doors opened sideways, like those of a van, but this was no problem at all: indeed it was, if anything, a benefit, since we didn't have to worry about doors bumping into another car in a car park! We were also delighted at the boot space, which was more than big enough for our luggage. The car was higher up from the ground than we're used to, but it wasn't a big step; when taking a couple of older people out in it, they commented that it was easier to get into than many cars which are low down and awkward.* Returning the car *
This was no problem at all. We took it through a car-wash the night before, as it was looking fairly grubby after a month, and also gave it a good sweep inside. We actually got it back to the depot about half an hour early. Two different young men were in attendence; they noted the mileage and accepted that it was clean enough. We were pleased to note that there were only two other Kangoos in the car park this time, suggesting that the 'out-of-service' ones had been put right.* Accident waiver/insurance *
When we first researched Easycar online (we didn't find it on Ciao - but I've since learned that the old name for this company was EasyRentaCar) we read that customers were generally pleased with them, but that there were potential enormous damages to pay in case of any accident, or even a minor bump or scrape. We also read of times when people had returned cars in good condition, and had later found their credit cards charged for hundreds of pounds, and that the company claimed that there had been scratches or dents.This was worrying - however it does seem that Easycar have taken note of such concerns, since there is now a compulsory damage waiver included with the insurance costs. They promise that there will be no unexpected extra costs due to damage - although they do still charge fines for certain items.
* Huge potential fines *Here's where Easycar probably makes most of its money! Late return of any vehicle leads to a fine of - wait for it - £70. Yes, even if the car has only been rented for a couple of days, at a likely cost of about £10-£15, and it's only five minutes late. The idea is to discourage late returns, since they lose money if cars are not returned on time, but we felt that this was unreasonably high as a flat fee. Still, it was easy enough to decide what time we planned to return the car, and add on an extra hour, so this wasn't actually a problem.
Loss of keys also leads to a very high surcharge of £100, although as they're remote unlocking keys I gather it's not unreasonable. Bringing back the car dirty leads to a surcharge of £10 for cleaning, although as a car-wash costs around £4 or more, this is fair enough.* Charging *
We check our credit card online, about once a week, and I was a bit annoyed to discover that EasyCar had taken the fee for our car about three weeks before we actually took it - just a few days after we had made the booking, in fact. I had thought that companies were not supposed to charge credit cards until goods were actually dispatched. After we had been driving the car for about a week, we checked again and noticed that a further £50 had been taken on the day of collection. Apparently this was some kind of extra deposit.When we returned the car, we asked for this to be refunded, but the young men on duty said that they were unable to do this - we would have to claim it online. A day later my husband found several emails awaiting him, telling him to claim the refund, and he did so.
* Update * Although the refund did not appear at once, and I was dubious if we'd ever see it, I did check the policy online. Apparently it changed recently, and the £50 deposit is standard, refundable a month after the car is returned, assuming that nothing has to be subtracted for cleaning. Sure enough, our credit card was refunded for the full deposit at the beginning of October.
* Other potential problems *
Although we were pleased with our car, we did hear of various possible problems from others who had used them. Apparently anyone who arrives without all the necessary paperwork will not be allowed to take a car. More worryingly, the same credit card used for the booking must be shown when collecting the car; if it's expired since the booking, and cannot be used - even if shown along with the new one - then this also means that the car cannot be taken. Refunds are offered sometimes, and customers told to find an Internet café and re-book the car - but on the date of collection it's considerably more expensive to do so.If a car breaks down while it's out on a rental, the customer is not liable for the cost of its repair, but will not be able to have another car as replacement. They say that partial refunds may be offered, and that if another car is available it can be booked instead, but this could be extremely inconvenient. However as the cars are mostly quite new, this shouldn't be a problem too often!
We also heard from a friend (after we'd booked!) that when she used the company, she asked for a petrol-driven car; indeed, 'petrol' was marked on her booking form, but she was instead given a diesel car. The filling nozzle wasn't marked, and when she drove off after filling up with petrol, the engine died. When she contacted EasyCar, they told her that they could not replace the car; she would have to book another one online and pay another full fee.Fortunately she was in the AA, and was able to have a rental car from another company for the period she needed it. Moreover, after several weeks EasyCar did acknowledge their liability, and refunded her fee in full. Still, she was in a difficult situation - and knew that there were several cars available at the depot she had been to, and was unimpressed (as were we) with their genuine unwillingness to help where possible.
One other niggle, albeit minor compared to the other possible problems: if you arrive earlier than you booked to collect a car, then even if it's available in the car park, the computer will not allow it to be taken.* Conclusion *
It's hard to understand how this company can make a profit with the amount they charge. Our car was only six months old, and most of those in the car park looked almost as new - yet several were out of service, and many of the smaller cars were not being used. No doubt they save money by using untrained staff, and minimal facilities, but our feeling was that by next time we want a rental car they'll either have improved or gone out of business!Would we use them again? We're still undecided. Price-wise, they're excellent, and this may well be the deciding factor. But next time we'd try and have an alternative plan just in case things go wrong. Would we recommend Easycar? Only reservedly (and as I have to choose one below, I'm opting for 'no'), and only if you can cope with the possibility of your chosen car being unavailable. For a single day's rental - perhaps to visit some friends - or even for a couple of hours to go to the supermarket, then it's probably well worthwhile, particularly with one of the smaller cars, as there do seem to be plenty of those available.
Product Information : EasyCar
Manufacturer's product description
Listed on Ciao since: 12/10/2003