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When it comes to product quality and customer care from a global company, it probably doesn't get much worse than this. I am willing to try anything once and when I made a booking direct with EUROPCAR 4 months ahead of my arrival, I believed I had allowed ample time for them to prepare a nice car for a new customer. For several years we'd been making regular trips to Spain to relax and also to work on our house renovation project and, when we collected the car late at night from a dimly lit compound at Murcia airport, our main priority was to get moving as soon as possible. We faced a long journey on a mixture of motorways and twisting mountain roads and would not reach our destination until well after midnight at the earliest. THIS VEHICLE HAS BEEN INSPECTED FOR YOUR SAFETY." Not much chance of misunderstanding that statement and, when coupled with an image of a car covered in yellow ticks and a 20-point checklist, the large green, yellow and black tag hanging from the rear view mirror of our hire car was an unequivocal warranty. It had no purpose other than to instil confidence in the quality of the car. For reasons of copyright, I can't show my photograph of this tag but as events were later to prove, we felt that we were grossly misled by it. We had always enjoyed fairly new, good quality low mileage cars on our previous 20 or so trips and it didn't occur to me that this car would be so greatly different. However, In the cold light of day I noticed a large stain on the ground under the car and discovered a significant leak of oily fluid. I was then concerned to find that the front passenger side tyre was almost completely bald. When I examined the car's paperwork I found that this vehicle was nearly 4 years old and had covered 66,942 km. This seems excessive for the rigours of a multi-user hire car and, judging by the long list of dents, scratches and stains described on the schedule, it had not been driven gently. It was becoming clear that this car was not up to the standard we had expected or were accustomed to. I then noticed that the international insurance certificate (production of which, is required in the event of an accident) had long expired and was now almost 9 months out of date. For this and the defective tyre the Spanish Police could have fined me heavily on the spot or even arrested me. Clearly I needed to report my concerns to EUROPCAR. My call to Irini at the service desk at Murcia Airport produced a polite but casual response and I was told to contact the emergency number if I was worried about the car. After several unsuccessful attempts and an ever increasing mobile 'phone bill I gave up and didn't pursue it which, in hindsight was a mistake because the most serious defect of all hadn't yet come to light. We made just one trip to the supermarket for essential supplies and on our return I parked and locked the car outside the house, which is in a small hamlet of other houses that are built on a natural platform of solid rock. The pathway in front of the house slopes very slightly and leads to a ridge beyond which, is a deep valley. About 25 minutes after parking the car, I heard a faint sound of crunching gravel and caught a glimpse of the car rolling past our kitchen window. When I rushed outside, it had disappeared over the edge and into the abyss. Racing to the edge of the ridge I could see that the car had somersaulted and landed upside down 20 metres or so down the steep hillside. Precariously, a front wheel had snagged a branch of an almond tree, which was all that had prevented the car from crashing to the valley floor far below. Others had witnessed this distressing scene and many of our Spanish neighbours gathered to offer help and solace. As they made signs of the cross, the sheer horror of what had just happened began to sink in. The handbrake is designed to prevent the car from moving even after the brake components have cooled down and contracted. The circumstances of this incident were wholly consistent with the failure of this essential safety device. Calmly and repeatedly I tried to contact the emergency number but in the end I had to contact my son in the UK to 'phone them and get them to 'phone me. Once the incident was reported, the process of recovery began but it took 3 separate crews and a variety of trucks and cranes over 3 days to haul the wreck away. Only after the car was recovered did EUROPCAR arrange for a taxi to take us to collect a replacement car. Because the location of the house is fairly remote, we were effectively stranded for 4 days out of a 15-day trip. Upon our return to England, I immediately sent a comprehensive report to the EUROPCAR customer service office in Leicester together with photographs of the bald tyre, the fluid stains on the ground, the crashed car and, copies of the expired documents. My reasonable expectation was that EUROPCAR would take prompt action to address my genuine concerns with diligence and honesty. In a nutshell, the car was supplied with a visibly bald tyre and was therefore defective, dangerous and illegal before we ever got into it. In the interests of life and safety, It should never have passed an inspection or been allowed to leave the parking compound in that condition and, given the photographic evidence, it's hard to imagine how EUROPCAR could argue with that. However 2 weeks after my letter was sent by recorded delivery I received an e-mail stating that I would be charged over 1,800 euro's for the recovery of the car. I replied to confirm that a complaint had already been submitted to Head Office but I then discovered that the sum of £1,671.11 had been charged to my credit card. I immediately wrote to complain and informed my credit card company that the matter was in dispute. Then, 4 weeks after my original letter I received a letter from EUROPCAR stating the reasons why they would not refund the charges. To my astonishment their response suggested that the car was in good order and my complaint was unjustified. It triggered a protracted exchange involving 3 separate EUROPCAR officers and its CEO (Mr Kenneth Mcann,) independent tyre quality experts, a major road safety organisation, solicitors, a bank and a credit card company. My file is thick with documents and correspondence but in brief, EUROPCAR said, "I can confirm that this vehicle was inspected and was in suitable condition and safe to drive." (Extract from Michelle Shuttlewood's letter.) "The Spain customer service manager confirms the tyres met the minimum legal standard." (Extract from Christopher Caruso's letter.) "The handbrake was operation when the vehicle was repair and checked over." (Exact wording in Stuart Hayes' letter.) However, an independent tyre expert stated, "the tyre is worn substantially below the limit- in fact it looks almost smooth in some parts and therefore illegal and extremely unsafe." Tyresafe.org say "drivers risk death by driving on illegal tyres. My solicitors informed EUROPCAR that "the unroadworthy condition of the car was a fundamental breach of contract and of the criminal law." 7 months after my dispute began, I received a letter from my credit card company to whom I had previously sent my evidence. They informed me that, following their representations to Europcar's Bank in Spain, a full refund of the £1,671.11 charges would be made. The matter was therefore determined in my favour by third party intervention and my complaint vindicated but EUROPCAR then ceased to acknowledge all further letters and e-mails. They have never responded to the outcome or to my demands for reimbursement of the £580 losses that I suffered in respect of legal fees, interest charges and other expenses during the process. In the end I decided against the tortuous process of further litigation but felt compelled to publish the details of my traumatic experience. My expectations were not unrealistic but in my view, EUROPCAR knowingly supplied a car to me that was inferior and defective. Their preparation of the car was either non-existent or negligent and their local service was inadequate. Given the clarity of the evidence that I supplied, the members of their customer service team in England and certain officers in Spain were either disingenuous or just had to be compliant with some inflexible aspect of "company policy" relating to liability. In the absence of any statement from EUROPCAR to suggest otherwise, I can only conclude that my experience as a whole is typical of the service that they might provide to anyone as a matter of routine. Perhaps this information will be of value to those formulating plans for car hire in the future.
SAVAGE JAWS BUT A FRIENDLY NATURE. The jaws of the Black & Decker Alligator look fearsome when they're wide open but when you place a tree branch between them and squeeze the handles together, you realise how friendly this animal is. With far less effort than a bow saw and much less potential risk than a conventional chain saw, the alligator is perfect for anyone who occasionally needs to cut up logs and branches up to 100mm (4") thick. The alligator is a very clever tool that combines the technology of a pair of garden shears with a small chain saw. The result is a safe and simple beast that can devour a pile of logs quickly and with little effort. The business end of the alligator comprises a lower jaw with backward facing teeth and an upper jaw, which houses a small chainsaw track and blade. A 550 watt motor drives the chain blade and can only be engaged by simultaneously depressing the triggers that are mounted on both handle grips which means that using the alligator is always a two handed operation. Kickback (one of the most common causes of serious injury with regular chainsaws) is not a problem with the alligator because the rotation of the chain simply pulls the log deeper and more securely into the jaws as it slices through it. As with all power tools, care must be taken but In terms of health and safety, only by placing some part of your anatomy or the power cable between the jaws and deliberately squeezing both triggers at the same time can injury be sustained. The labelling says that the motor produces 105db but I've never felt it necessary to use my ear defenders with this equipment. Drawing much less power than most hairdryers, the alligator can be used almost anywhere with a small generator or inverter and the compact size of the alligator means that it is easy to transport, handle and store. It is clean and requires minimal maintenance apart from having to lubricate the blade every 10 minutes or so during a cutting session. This is achieved by injecting a small amount of oil into the head of the saw using the bottle provided. As you would expect from Black and Decker, spare parts and servicing are readily available as necessary which means that with a little care, your alligator should give many years of faithful service and more than repay the investment you made in it. With ever increasing fuel prices, the growing popularity of wood burning stoves and open grates is not surprising. The other day and in the space of 10 minutes I loaded the boot of my car with a few dead branches that were lying unloved and unwanted by the roadside. Later, using my trusty alligator, I cut them into a stack of logs that lasted several days on the wood burner. The same amount of cut logs would probably have cost over £10 in a store. Even if you have no use for free heating fuel, the alligator can still earn its keep in the garden by reducing tree branches to pieces small enough to transport to the local re-cycling centre. Perhaps the alligator is not the type of tool you'll need every week but if you've already got a lawnmower, hedgetrimmer, strimmer and leaf blower in your shed, an alligator is all you need to complete the set. The model featured is the Black & Decker Alligator GK 1000 type 1