Fleet management

Returning your vehicle: everything you need to know

  • 03/05/23
  • 6 min

People are often apprehensive about returning a rented vehicle or a fleet of vehicles, for fear of receiving a bill for any possible penalties. Here are the key points you need to know when preparing for this, to take the stress out of the whole experience.


Returning a rented vehicle can often be a source of stress within companies as this can result in charges quickly mounting up if the vehicle has been badly maintained, or even damaged. However, for small to medium-sized businesses operating a vehicle fleet, this is often one of the top 3 items in their budget. It’s therefore important to be particularly vigilant. When returning a vehicle which has been supplied on an LTL basis, (long-term leasing, often for between 24 and 60 months), the average cost of the refurbishment charges (often referred to as depreciation costs) is estimated at around 800 euros, a figure which can naturally vary from one country to another. Here, we’re talking about the LTL perimeter, or that of LWPO (leasing with purchase option) if the purchase option has not been exercised. For MTL contracts (medium-term leasing) this average figure is logically lower, as the period of possession ranges from 1 to 12 months.

However, returning the vehicle should not become a cause for concern. You should keep in mind that it is covered by a contractual agreement between both parties. In France, the vehicle return checklist, also known as the “vehicle return clauses”, offers a guarantee of transparency as both parties are aware of it at the time the contract is signed and it governs the joint inspection performed at the time the vehicle is returned. If you have observed a few golden rules, you can confidentally return the vehicle to the hire company on the return date.


Prevention is better than cure

First and foremost, returning a vehicle is something which should be prepared in advance! With this in mind, at the time the vehicle is delivered, you should make the driver aware of the importance of taking care of his vehicle and of reporting any problems (warning lights on the dashboard, for example) and above all any accident or incident. An undeclared accident or incident, even if apparently harmless, will always result in unexpected charges.

Additionally, regardless of its type (LTL, LWPO, MTL) a leasing contract covers a period of time but also the number of kilometres driven. If you exceed the threshold in kilometres, this must be reported to the hire company and renegotiated before returning the vehicle, in order to avoid any penalties. Naturally, you should scrupulously keep to all of the maintenance and service appointments to ensure that the vehicle remains in good mechanical condition.


Before the inspection: check the key points

As the date for returning the vehicle draws near, it’s important to carry out an in-depth inspection of it. At this stage, armed with the vehicle return checklist, you yourself can check that the vehicle is in standard condition, matching its age and the number of kilometres covered. The initial checks concern the outside of the vehicle:

Points to be checked on the outside of the vehicle

Bodywork (dents, scratches, condition of bumpers and any possible protective features)

  • Example of generally accepted wear-and-tear: small scratches without rust which can be removed by polishing.
  • An example of damage resulting in billing: damaged tailgate or door.


Tyres (including wheel hubs, alloys and wheels)

  • Example of generally accepted wear-and-tear: tyres whose structure is > 4 mm (wear < 50 %).
  • An example of damage resulting in billing: gashes or notches, tearing or foreign body in the tyre wall.


Windscreen and optical features

  • Example of generally accepted wear-and-tear: small chips in the glass, light scratches which do not impair visibility (safety).
  • An example of damage resulting in billing: a chip in the area required for driver visibility.


Don’t neglect the interior of the vehicle

The second round of checks naturally concerns the driver and passenger compartments:


Seats (stains, burns, tearing)

  • Example of generally accepted wear-and-tear: stains on interior seat coverings which can be removed through general standard cleaning.
  • An example of damage resulting in billing: tears or holes in the seats.


Interior upholstery (condition of coverings and door upholstery)

  • Example of generally accepted wear-and-tear: light traces of abrasion (without perforation).
  • An example of damage resulting in billing: holes in the upholstery on the doors or dashboard.


Any possible vehicle equipment and accessories

  • Example of generally accepted wear-and-tear: slight traces left by telephony or GPS equipment.
  • An example of damage resulting in billing: broken or inoperable electronic/radio equipment.

You should also take account of the notion of a standard condition. Differing from one vehicle to another according to their specific characteristics, these also change according to the country in which the vehicle is returned. Although the above mentioned factors are essential and are common to numerous European countries, some other points must also be taken into consideration according to the case in question. For some light utility vehicles, the loading area, the buckets and the flat cargo beds, etc. are inspected. This notion of a “standard condition” is also dependent on each contract and is therefore in no way subjective. It is also based on recommendations put forward by various European bodies laying down the rules to be followed for their countries (Sesamlld for France, the PVRLA association for Poland, the AIAGA association for Italy and the AEGFA association for Spain, the BVRLA for the UK, etc.)

Anticipating these factors enables you to possibly carry out some repairs before returning the vehicle and by doing so you can minimise some of the above-mentioned return costs. If you are pushed for time, you can have a pre-diagnostic check performed by a third-party or by your hire company. You should never forget that your hire company often proposes advisory services and that they are keen to earn your loyalty.

As a reminder, one example of unacceptable damage is noted on average per vehicle in France, according to the Sesamlld.


Make sure you have all of the administrative documents for the vehicle

Finally, an aspect which is often overlooked, it’s naturally important to gather all of the administrative documents for the vehicle together (the contract, the logbook, the vehicle inspection (MOT) certificate, etc.) and the related items (spare set of keys, maintenance record, manufacturers’ instructions, alarm system details, etc.). By adopting this methodological approach to returning your vehicle, when the day comes all you need to do is clean it out and take it back, with no unpleasant surprises awaiting you. The rental agreement comes to an end once the return certificate is signed.

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