I experienced a bizarre incident when I returned a hire car to Apex at Queenstown (NZ) Airport. I had just refuelled the vehicle but was not believed because the (faulty) range indicator was showing less than 500kms. The fuel gauge showed full and I produced receipts for all fuel purchases made during the hire period. But I was still not believed and was told that I had to either leave it for Apex to decide if the tank was full and therefore risk a refuelling charge or return to the filling station to fill up (again!).
I was suspicious that this strange behaviour may have been part of a scam, so I elected to go back to the local filling station and attempt to put more fuel in the vehicle. I have been driving for 45 years and am confident in my ability to refuel a car, but strange things can happen. However, as soon as I started to ‘fill' the tank, the pump cut out. It was full. Undeterred, I pulled the nozzle back to the very top and squeezed some fuel in, drop by drop. I managed to dispense 2 litres, some of which inevitably ended up on the forecourt. The tank was now filled above normal recommended levels and certainly had far more fuel in it than when I initially hired the car.
Back at the Apex depot, armed with yet another fuel receipt, I was at last believed, though the range indicator had not changed. I wanted to ask the manager (who, apparently, had made the decision not to believe my earlier statements) what was going on, but he was no longer available. I left the premises totally bemused by the whole episode. I later discovered that the issue with the range indicator is a known problem on that model (Toyota Corolla) – a relatively small amount of fuel added may not be enough to impact the range reading, as stated in the owner's manual. (When I had earlier filled the car up, it had only required around seven litres.) I did not know that as I have never owned a Toyota Corolla, nor was there a manual in the hire car. But I would have thought that Apex would be aware of that.
I wrote to Apex NZ Head Office, asking why I was not believed and why the manager would not speak to me. I received a holding email, promising a response within a few days, but that was over a month ago. I am still at a loss as to what it was all about.
My advice? If you use Apex, allow plenty of time when returning your vehicle, keep all fuel receipts, record kms travelled, note range readings on collection, before and after every refuel and do not trust Apex to decide later whether you owe them money or not – get the matter resolved at the time. I would not be tempted to bypass this potential nonsense and accept the pre-purchase of a full tank. This never makes economic sense when hiring a car unless you have the ability to pre-plan distance and can accurately predict fuel consumption and thus return the car empty, but in NZ it is not at all practical. Towns and therefore fuel stops are few and far between, so the golden rule is to top up whenever you are able to. I think it is shameful that hire car companies in NZ promote this money making practice.