A hire-car problem

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Sir,

Having read and enjoyed your magazine for several years, I now feel a compulsive urge to contribute to it. This prompted by ponderings in my mind over the question of accuracy of odometers.

I moved from London to Queensferry, near Edinburgh, in March, 1970, and, being short of money and material possessions, I hired a self-drive Transit to shift what little I had. The Transit was hired from a nationwide firm and I was able to make the single journey in one day, leaving the Transit at the firm’s kiosk in Edinburgh Station. I duly received an invoice from the hire company charging me for a distance of 527 miles, this being the difference in odometer readings over the hire period.

Now I must confess that I had not noted the final odometer reading on the Transit as I had had a very tiring day, but upon checking the route with the AA mileage chart and my own car I concluded that 427 miles was a more realistic estimate. I queried the invoice, but was told that the hire firm’s records were correct. By this time I had been awarded a re-location allowance, and so I let the matter drop, putting it down to exeprience.

More recently my father also hired a car, an Escort Estate, and drove the same route. He is more fastidious in checking his mileages, and has measured the door-to-door mileage from his home in London to Queensferry as between 400 and 405 miles. On this occasion two things surprised him; the route had apparently “stretched” to 462 miles and the Escort was able to cruise “effortlessly” at 80 m.p.h.. despite being loaded with five golden retrievers, a week’s luggage, and me mum.

It would seem from these figures that the Transit’s odometer read 23.4% fast, and the Escort was in error by 14.1%. I telephoned Edinburgh Police, who issue licences to the local cabbies, and they provided me with some interesting ammunition.

1. The law concerning speedometer accuracy (plus-or-minus 10% at 30 m.p.h.) does not apply to odometers, which are not even mandatory instruments.

2. When a fare meter is fitted to a taxicab the Police check its accuracy over their measured mile. Maximum permitted error is 25-30 yards in favour of the customer (1.7%) and nil in favour of the operator. The Police then seal the meter.

3. There is no control over the accuracy of odometers fitted to private or self-drive hire cars, which are sealed by the operators themselves.

So once again the motorist is apparently being fleeced, and I for one should like to see regulations introduced to safeguard the “tenant” of a self-drive vehicle. I am sure the self-drive companies would support such a move as they must by now be sick of the incredulous expressions on their clients’ faces as they check their mileages with those recorded.

I think you will agree, sir, that it is most ingenious to increase one’s profits not by increasing tariffs but merely by placing the cities further apart.

Ian W. Price.
S. Queensferry.

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