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We used http://www.arguscarhire.com/cartrawler.php to hire at Lyon a month ago and got a better deal with them than anywhere else.

No, they don't automatically charge a 'large excess' on your card.  The details of the card are taken and held as a security deposit and would only make a charge (other than for the hire, fuel, sat nav rental etc) in the event of the car being stolen or damaged.  The amounts that apply were all explained at the hire desk and you can purchase insurance at the desk to avoid paying the excesses if you are unfortunate.  Alternatively there are companies that offer an annual policy to cover car hire excesses if you intend to hire on a regular basis and that is much more economical.

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Yes but they do actually pre-authorise the whole sum against your card which if you are using a debit card or dont have a lot of remaining credit on a carte bleue effectively blocks you from spending your own money as I found to my cost when my card was refused for refilling the fuel tank prior to returning the vehicle.

So to the OP, yes they do efectively charge a huge amount t your card although in my area most accept a cheque caution of €2500 as most people dont have plastic, I somehow doubt that this will be the case with the airport hire companies.

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My understanding is that they don't charge anything on your card unless you take the car back damaged or it is stolen. What you are doing is agreeing that in the event of damage/theft then yes, your card will be charged. They are not taking thousands of £/€/$ out of your account 'in case' something happens, only if it does unfortunately happen.

We have hired cars from the major international companies in various airports in Europe, USA and Canada with no charge made on the Visa or Mastercard  and the only time anything was charged on the card was for paying for an extra driver or prepaying fuel. We don't use a carte bleu so don't know how they are affected by any outstanding balance.

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I used to think that too until I found out the hard way[:(]

Whilst it is not charged or debited to your card and hence does not show on your statement it is pre-authorised, (pre-autorisée) to ensure that if they need to deduct the deposit they can.

What this means in practice is that they swipe your card for a pre-authorisation of say €2000, the card issuer confirms that you have that amount of credit available and then alocates the sum provisionally to that transaction until either the transaction is reversed or a time limit is exceeded.

Do a Google search on pre-authorisation (or pre-autorisation Google.fr) to find out all the details or find out the hard way like me that your card provider will not allow you to spend your own cash with your debit card or up to your credit limit with a credit card.

I havnt hired a vehicle since but will always use a credit card with a substantial limit next time, I thanked my lucky stars that I wasnt on a foreign holiday at the time.

You could also serch this forum as I posted on this subject and someone kindly explained it all to me.

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