… with Autocaravan Express S.A. - aka Spaincamper.com.
Firstly let us introduce ourselves. We are a mature English couple living in New Zealand and have recently spent 6 weeks touring France, Spain and Italy in a Campervan. When we were planning our trip we did a lot of research and eventually chose the above company as it had the exact vehicle we wanted for the back-road driving we planned – a Hymer 312.
We would never use this company again.
Pick–up was from Madrid. Length of Hire 6 weeks May – June 2012.
The Main Problems:
• The van we SPECIFICALLY booked 5 months before and were promised (the Hymer 312) was not available when we arrived at the yard.
• We were refused a refund and were contractually obligated to accept an ‘Upgrade’ or lose our 1800 Euros deposit.
• The ‘Upgrade’ offered by the manager Frank Ooms was the Hymer Excis 512 – WAY bigger than we wanted – but our only choices were to a) accept it b) take an incredibly shabby 322 or c) lose our deposit and try to contest the contract in a Spanish court. We later discovered that the Excis 512 was over 4 years old with over 140,000 kms. But their web site states “Our vehicles range from a month to 18 months old and have a mileage of up to 40,000 kms”.
• On the first night the roof mounted overhead second bed above the driver and passenger seats broke free of its TOP restraints and fell down. If this had happened while we were driving it could have killed us. On the third-to-last day the BOTTOM screwed-in support gave way – again the bed fell down – and, again if driving this could have killed us. To get back to the depot we had to jury-rig a support for the bed using the swivel metal TV stand arm and the ladder from the back bed as a prop. On the last day in particular the bed hung over us like the Sword of Damocles as we negotiated an 8 lane motorway through the centre of Madrid in the rain. For us the most frightening thing was that the bottom fixings used to secure the bed had obviously ALREADY FAILED ONCE and been relocated. (photos available but can't post them in this forum).
• On the second day the water pump failed – fortunately next door camper was an engineer and motorhome expert and fixed it for us.
• Three days into our journey fellow motorists kept stopping us warning us the rear right wheel was wobbling and about to fall off .. it turned out that the tyre was so unevenly worn it would have appeared to be oscillating – that was the first of 3 replacements. The spare was so bad that the garage refused to fit it so we had to buy a new one.
• By the end of week 1 we were contacting the company every second day asking them for a replacement vehicle. They would take a couple of days to reply each time we asked, and then say there was nothing available. We made it clear we would be happy to drive from Venice (or anywhere on our trip) to either their Madrid OR Malaga depot – but no go.
• Near the end of our 8,000 km journey the rear tyre exploded when we were doing 115 kph on a motorway viaduct. We swerved terrifyingly before eventually coming to rest on the inside lane (no hard shoulder) … right next to the one steel barrier separating us from a 15 meter drop. The blowout took off the wheel arch trim (and, incidentally, damaged the water tank pipes so that for the last 5 days we were unable to use any water in the van without flooding the floor of the vehicle!)
• I admit that we didn’t give the tyres a proper inspection before we left. But in our defence we had just got off a 30 hour flight from New Zealand; had just had the disappointment of discovering that our promised van was not available (and we had agonized over the van choice for weeks!); were just coming to terms with the fact that we would have to drive something far bigger than we had bargained for; and just spent over an hour trying (and failing) to cancel the whole deal with the company. As you can imagine we were rather stressed and distracted.) However I feel it was morally wrong of the company to allow us to drive off with such worn tyres. (Photos of all tyres available.)
• When we returned the van to the yard we were dismayed (but not surprised) to see that another Hymer in the yard had similarly worn tyres.
• The booking process was wonderful – every question answered; every e-mail attended to. However, since we finished the hire and sent a list of our problems we have not even had the courtesy of a reply. Disappointing. It seems these guys are all about the money.
• The list above is vastly shorter than the one we sent to Autocaravans SA – there we had 31 points including a mind shattering squeak which took us 2 WEEKS to locate and was so loud that at time it drowned out the GPS directions (finally fixed with water bottles weighing down the dashboard!); broken window struts; broken roof lights; table knobs and drawer knobs falling off; inadequate water and electrical connectors; sending us off with an almost empty fuel tank – etc etc.
• We raised all the issues with the front line staff when we returned the van. They were extremely embarrassed. However, the Manager remained firmly tucked away behind his closed door. We have not asked Autocaravans SA for compensation – in fact we are still waiting for them to answer our e-mails where we listed the problems in the first place. So, we have written this off as a bad experience. Pursuing them for compensation would be practicably difficult from NZ and probably prohibitively expensive.
If this letter saves another couple from enduring the stress – or possibly even experiencing a fatal accident - that hiring a vehicle from this company could cause then at least we can feel that some good has come of it.
And as for Europe? Fascinating, wonderful, scenic, friendly – absolutely marvelous. In a different vehicle it would, indeed have been the trip of a lifetime.