It has been law in Germany for a couple of years now that the driver of a vehicle has to make sure that the tyres on the car they are driving are suitable for the conditions they are driving in. What this actually means is that if you are driving in winter and snow is forecast, you should have ‘winter’ tyres fitted. Winter tyres, according the German Embassy in London,  is any tyre which has the ‘mud and snow’ (M+S) rating.  This has opened up an opportunity for rental firms to extract more money from their customers as I found out in January when I had a winter rental from Hertz.

Basically it works like this. Rental firms, like Hertz, offer ‘winter tyres’ as an optional paid for extra, and in my case that was almost a 50% premium on the rental. If the weather forecast predicts snow, and you have not selected the optional winter tyre cost, you get called up and reminded of your legal obligation as the driver. I was also told that if it was snowing on the day I collected the car they wouldn’t let me take it. That all sounds perfectly reasonable doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t want to make sure they had proper tyres on their rental car before driving it away?

So I ask you these two questions.

  • Is it reasonable to expect that a car being made available for rent should already be equipped to the legal minimum standard?
  • What if the car already has the right tyres fitted?
Back in January, it astounded me that Hertz were willing to supply a car which was variably legal for me to drive depending on the weather. If it didn’t snow the day I collected the car I would have been fine, but any snow during the rental and I wouldn’t have been able to drive the car, even though it was in exactly the same condition as when supplied to me. Surely the company should have a duty to make sure that tyres fitted to the car are legal and adequate for any reasonably expected driving conditions in the country of rental. Tyres are a part of the supplied vehicle, it’s not like they an optional extra like a satnav unit or child seat. Put it this way, I don’t see an optional extra for making sure that the tyres have the right tread depth, or one where I can pay for a vehicle safety check if the previous one expires while I have the car. Any charge for tyres should be factored in to the general rental cost of the car – and in fact it probably already is.
Since that January rental, I have had 2 subsequent rentals from Hertz, one in June and one in August, hardly the coldest of months. Out of curiosity I checked what sort of tyres they had fitted and both had  ‘all weather’ tyres with the M+S ‘Mud and Snow’ mark, the legally required standard for winter tyres.So, what do you actually pay for when you are ‘encouraged’ into the winter tyre option? You have no way of knowing if the car has the right tyres fitted already. Does anyone really think that once a car has winter tyres fitted the rental agent is going to switch them back to summer tyres between rentals?

To be honest this seems a bit of a scam to me,  defined by the Oxford Dictionary as

a dishonest scheme; a fraud:

If the car already has winter tyres, then charging the customer for them is dishonest. The whole scheme is designed to make you think you are getting something extra for your money, when really you aren’t.  I am curious to know how much of Hertz fleet has all-weather tyres, all year round, and if this is simply a great way of injecting pure profit into the company coffers.