Two women start out on a road trip. The perfect opportunity for a smiling selfie, right?

Sadly, this wasn’t the case for me. I was hot, bothered and fuming!

Do you usually check Google reviews before buying a product or service? There’s a big debate over whether or not they’re accurate. And understandable concerns about fakes. Companies pay people to write positive reviews. And others post fake negative reviews of their competitors.

But one thing’s for sure, if I’d checked Google reviews before my recent road trip, I’d have seen they were bang on the money. We weren’t left smiling like Thelma and Louise. Instead, I was kicking myself for ignoring due diligence and falling for the car hire company offering the cheapest deal.

Here’s what the company’s reviews looked like:

But I didn’t see them, did I?

Here’s what happened

After two years of lockdowns, we finally went on an overseas holiday. I flew to France with my daughter and hired a car. We drove out to Cap Ferret and met her dad who’d cycled there from London (lucky him).

The experience reminded me that there’s nothing like doing your research before you buy. We booked flights on EasyJet and they use an aggregator called CarTrawler to provide car hire quotes. These options pop up right after you book the flight, so you’re in the perfect mindset. And you make your choice slightly on auto-pilot because you want to hurry up and check-out.

I chose Goldcar because their quote was the cheapest. But If I’d checked the Google reviews, I wouldn’t have bothered.

Not so hot

I haven’t hired a car in a while. I forgot how sharky they can be with the “extras”.

It was a hot, sunny afternoon when we landed at Bordeaux Airport – and a few degrees hotter in the Goldcar office (a shed in the carpark). The queue wasn’t bad but it felt busy. A couple of people were waiting around on their phones. I found out later they were trying to move money around in order to jump through various hoops in Goldcar’s car hire process.

When our turn came, we were obviously keen to do the paperwork quickly. The woman at the desk kept trying to sell us additional car insurance and I kept saying no thanks. Finally, she was about to hand me the keys when she said: “We just need to take 1,200 euros as a deposit”.

She explained that my credit card didn’t work in their machine so they couldn’t put the money on hold. Instead, she’d have to take the actual money from my current account or accept cash. [I read later on the Google reviews that they do this a lot].

1,200 euros?!!

Who has that sort of money sitting around? It was a nightmare.  We spent 2 hours in the car hire office sorting it out. The woman kept reminding me that if I just paid 106 euros for the extra insurance, I wouldn’t have to pay the 1,200 euro deposit. What a racket.

I woke up in the middle of the night worried I’d never get that money back. There were already a few scratches on the car and I’d been so wound up, we didn’t take photos. I got even angrier thinking how this whole thing was messing up my holiday.

When we returned the car three days later, it passed the inspection in 5 minutes. I got my deposit back (minus £40 transaction cost) two days after that. Overall, the rental was relatively cheap and value for money. But we had a whole lot of stress and missed spending that evening as a family.

No, I wouldn’t recommend Goldcar.

Next time

So next time I travel I’ll do my due diligence beforehand.

I’ll read the Google reviews. I’ll also look at Trustpilot (remembering all the “invited” reviews are positive so taking them with a pinch of salt) and Tripadvisor.

My other favourite is Glassdoor, because there’s nothing like reading employee reviews of a company to tell you how they operate.

These online reviews create social proof. They tell me which companies offer a great experience – and which companies don’t. Of course it’s possible to game the system, but the sheer number of reviews, especially across different platforms, should give me a good picture of any company I’m thinking about using. And a happier holiday next time round.

Why peer recommendation works: my Airbnb experience