This would be my 4th airport car hire in as many months this year. The first John Lennon Liverpool with, the 2nd Glasgow with, the 3rd Belfast City airport with Sixt, and the most recent from Istanbul airport with….. Pandora Car Hire? A company I found on the car hire comparison website carrentals.co.uk where they are promoted as ‘worry free’ with a solid review score of 8.1/10.
At the same time, Trust Pilot review scores are not so solid (2.2/5) with 72% 1-star reviews which are really quite concerning. It’s mostly about taking random payments, keeping deposits, their beat-up cars, ghosting problems, and anything that can really go wrong. Then it’s 17% 5-star generic reviews with occasional broken English and they’re just not very believable.
Anyway, with a 6000km road trip across Turkey ahead with a £16/day car hire, what’s the worst that could happen? Well, it could have been a lot worse, at least going by other users’ experiences on Trust Pilot. But the whole car hire experience was a disaster from start to finish and I felt like I was being scammed at every interaction. I sum it up here but find full details below:
- The “airport” car hire was at a sketchy car yard 5-miles/12-mins drive from the airport.
- It took 50+ minutes to finally receive the car due to pushy/manipulative upselling.
- The car provided was not very similar to what we had paid for.
- We were forced to pay a 590 Euro deposit (expected of their upper and luxury class cars).
- Reservation promised full-to-full fuel policy but the car supplied was in the red.
- The toll charges we paid were double what we recorded and the toll documentation showed different dates and figures.
- “Worry Free” Zero Excess is only offered when police provide accident and alcohol reports.
- For minor/cosmetic damage we were charged 3x what I was quoted independently elsewhere.
The Airport Meet and Greet
There is a legitimate car rental zone for legitimate car hire companies at Istanbul Airport. Instead, we get a random WhatsApp message for a ‘meet and greet’ next to a column at the pick-up/drop-off area. This is where we wait next to what I’m guessing was another local car hire company filling up the forms for a customer. So we kind of expected to do the same.
So we wait for our ‘meet and greet’ with Pandora Car Hire which takes roughly 15-minutes to arrive. He arrives and helps throw the luggage in the back of the car and I expect him to hand over the keys or fill out the documents. Instead he says “I drive”. Expecting it to be a mixup with a taxi driver, given the car was nothing like our reservation, I ask “Pandora Car Hire”. The lad replies yes and points to the Pandora logo on the back of his hoodie “going to my office”.
Pushy Upselling at a Sketchy Car Yard
Going by the time stamps of my WhatsApp message on arrival at the airport (08:55AM) and the time stamp of my petrol receipt (11:48AM) for filling up the empty car 50-metres from the Pandora “office” the car collection process took just 53-minutes. This could have been much longer were it not for Fanfan getting all shouty at them.
This included a 10-minute drive to a sketchy car yard for the sole purpose of upselling and trying to force us into taking a pricier car. Meanwhile the customer/car hire we watched next to us at the airport took no more than 10-minutes. So it was captive marketing in a literal sense. They’ve got our luggage, we’ve got no way of leaving, and we’re pretty much hostage in some sketchy rural car yard.
So arriving at the sketchy car yard we are brought to another car, still nothing like the Renault Clio we expected, and we really just want to get out of there. “Extra. 15 Euros/day”. “No we’re happy with what we paid for”. We’re brought to another car and are ready to get going…. “This one extra”. Seriously, can we just have the car we paid for.
After getting a bit pissed at the lad he goes to get his colleague who would finally do up the paperwork for the car. So this new lad comes out and brings us to another car and starts writing it up. As he does I ask if this is our car, but, again “extra”. I show him the printout of our booking with the Renault Clio and he says okay Renault and points off to a bunch of Renaults. “Extra”.
Our Beat-Up Jalopy
It was only when Fanfan became a bit shouty that we are finally brought back to the Fiat Egea (aka Fiat Tipo) that we were originally picked up in. The car had a fair few dents and bruises, it’s a bit squeaky when driving, and it was not like the compact Renault Clio (or similar) we paid for. Having paid roughly £16 per day, however, I was still happy enough with the beat-up jalopy.
But it continues as we are then forced to pay a 590 Euro deposit which is expected of their upper and luxury class cars rather than 295 Euros which is for their economic and middle class cars. This car sure wasn’t luxury. We were also promised the full-to-full fuel policy with the booking but instead they gave it to us in the red. Everything was the opposite of what we expected but our only priority was to get out of that sketchy car yard.
When it comes to cars I have little interest other than it getting me from A to B. This is all that really mattered and this car did just that. You can see the full road trip from start to finish here:
Toll Fees in Turkey
In Turkey, they have a handy (HGS) Fast-Pass System (HGS) that uses radio frequency technology to eliminate the need to stop at toll booths. These toll-payment devices are installed in all cars in Turkey and it more or less means we can pass through toll booths without hassle and the toll fees are then recorded and charged to the car’s account. Unfortunately, we do not have access to this account and so we rely instead on Pandora Car Hire to bill us on the return of the car.
As expected I did not trust Pandora Car Hire to do this truthfully or hastily and so I messaged a day in advance to try and find the charges so far. No luck as expected. Otherwise, Fanfan did take note of them and calculated 590 TR (£24). We were asked to pay 1180 TR (£48). Literally, double what Fanfan had calculated. So I’m not really sure what happened here.
So, before paying, I asked for a copy of the toll fees as it was important for the road trip itinerary (to come) and I was told they would send them to me. I followed up the next day only to be told “a general invoice will be issued and sent to you”. They obviously have this information, they literally used it that day to calculate the fee, but they refuse to show it to their customers that actually pay for it.
Two weeks on and we finally receive the document from the main Pandora customer service email account although the details seemed to be a bit off. The charges were less than what we had been charged (1070 vs 1180 paid), none matched our own records, some dates shown were from days before collecting the car, they were listed in an editable Excel document, and I really don’t have time to chase this up. But again it is undeniably sketchy.
The Car Rental Return
What annoyed me about the original meet and greet at the airport is that it could easily be done at the airport. The only reason for that journey to the sketchy car yard was to try and wangle more money out of us customers. In short, they could do airport returns, but they really don’t want to.
Anticipating a similar situation when returning the car I again message their WhatsApp a day ahead highlighting urgent onward travel from the airport and that we would drop the car off at a specific time at the agreed drop-off point (ISTANBUL AIRPORT MEET & GREET, CALL ON ARRIVAL TAYAKADIN MAHALLESI TERMINAL CADDESI NO:1) which is given on the booking. Of course, they refused the meet and greet at the airport.
Instead they insist I bring the car back to what I’m assuming was that sketchy car yard (they sent a point on the map). Again, expecting them to upsell me on the airport transfer or something weird. I refused and forwarded them the agreed address on the booking. But they also refused and dismissed my communication repeating “I’m waiting for you here have a nice day”. Having no luck through their WhatsApp I tried the phone number listed on the booking, and I may have woken someone, literally. They said they’d phone me back but never did.
Anyway, I paid for a meet and greet at the airport and I was going to get that meet and greet at the airport. So I more or less told them I’d be leaving the car at the same collection point at the airport and we would pay the tolls online “We will leave here. No. 13. I can sort the HGS toll payments with the company directly.” So they had no option but to honour the meet and greet at the airport which took roughly 10-minutes including payment of the tolls. Simple.
Worry-Free Zero Excess Car Hire?
The main reason we booked with Pandora Car Hire is that it was one of few “Worry Free” options on carrentals.co.uk. As they offer exactly what I need as below:
“Only rental companies with a high level of customer satisfaction are eligible to be included in our Worry-Free selection. This rate includes excess cover and unlimited kilometres. Your vehicle will be provided and must be returned with a full tank of fuel. With a vehicle from our Worry-Free selection, you can travel with peace of mind and no hidden costs.”
But the main selling point for me was zero excess. Now, I do rent a fair share of cars when travelling, but honestly I never really have a clue about the ins and outs of insurance. However, a quick search on Google tells me “Zero Excess means that you won’t be responsible for paying anything in the event the car is damaged or in an accident” and so this is kind of what I expected.
The following is my fault, but I’m still going to blame this one on Pandora, simply because there were so many dents, scrapes and bruises on the car, that I failed to notice a new mark appearing on the wing mirror. I had no idea on how/where it happened but it was undoubtedly on my watch going by our original photos of the car from the collection. Anyway, if I had noticed it, I would have tried to fix it myself. A bucket, sponge, and a good scrub may suffice.
A week or so later I noticed a withdrawal of 150 Euros from the credit card account from Olimpia Car Hire. A withdrawal I somewhat suspected as the mark was pointed out during the meet and greet. I just didn’t expect anywhere near that amount. So I messaged the main Pandora offices and they confirmed that the charge was for the mark on the wing mirror.
To get an idea of how much a fix like this would actually cost I messaged a local bodywork shop and was quoted around £40 (45 Euros). A third of what Pandora charged. Throw in a cheap Wizz Air flight and he could probably hop across to Istanbul to fix it for cheaper. So they undoubtedly profit from potential scrapes/incidents of their customers.
What is Zero Excess Car Hire?
Anyway, back to the worry-free zero excess, and again to the booking voucher that reads:
“Rental includes Collision Damage coverage and Theft Protection for the vehicle. Rental limits potential vehicle damage or loss liability to an excess of approximately EUR 0.00”
Again, I’m clueless with this legal stuff so I decided to ask an expert. ChatGPT. Who tells me; “The rental includes Collision Damage coverage, which means that the rental company should cover the costs of repairing the damage resulting from the scratched wing mirror”. It also tells me “the rental limits your liability to an excess of approximately EUR 0.00. This means that even if there is a deductible or excess amount specified in the rental agreement, it is effectively reduced to zero in this case. Therefore, you should not be responsible for any payment related to the damage to the wing mirror”.
However, after doing a bit of digging into the fingerprint, it is not quite this simple, and “In case of any damage or accident, damage photos, accident reports, and alcohol reports should be taken by calling the police without removing the car. So I’d have been screwed either way here as I’d be reluctant to involve the police for such slight cosmetic damage, if I had known about it. Anyway, 150 Euros is Pandora Car Hire just blatantly ripping off its customers.
Car Hire Scams in Turkey
There are a number of different companies involved in this booking. I started off with the price comparison site CarRentals.co.uk. Then (a fair bit of oversight from my own side here thinking their ‘Partner Deal’ was with Pandora) the booking was actually through one of their “partner websites” EasyTerra which is pretty much an identical website. Of course, there is Pandora Car Hire itself. Then the direct payments in Turkey for both deposit and toll fees were paid to a different company called Olimpia Car Hire. I don’t really know who to blame. Although probably myself for trusting a £16/day car hire company. But it was the “worry free” zero-excess offer that steered me away from the legitimate global car hire companies.