By on August 6, 2014

rentals

Well, here I am — just a contributor again, and no longer the EIC. It’s freeing. Reminds me of when I was just a fresh-faced twentysomething doing competitive pin-and-plate shooting back in the days of the Clinton Administration. Back then, I had a good friend who worked at the best of the local gun shops and who sold me a lot of the equipment I used to participate in dominate various events. Then as now, gun shops are notorious for being a place where people discuss ridiculous theories or misinformation, and it was a particular and oft-sampled pleasure for this fellow to stand impassively with his hands on the counter for as long as it took for a customer to get it all off their chests before saying, “You’re wrong, and I’ll tell you why.”

When Jalopnik’s Raphael Orlove did us the courtesy of promoting my Malibu rental review, a few people brought up the usual chestnut that “you shouldn’t review rental cars, it’s not fair to the car companies” and so on. Well, those people are wrong, one of them in particular, and I’m going to tell them why.

The prizewinning quote is from “ohio991″:

STOP BASING YOUR FUCKING VIEWS ABOUT CARS BY GOD DAM RENTALS

people drive them like they stole it, they don’t get worked on by anyone who should be underneath the hood and are generally mistreated .

Basing your views on a car by driving the rental version is terrible and if you report on it its bad journalism.

There’s so much to love here, isn’t there? You can smell the Asperger’s syndrome wafting off the screen, from the bizarre all-capped FUCKING business about what should be a dispassionately considered subject all the way to the tone-deaf insistence that his opinion is the only permissible one. I hate to say it, but I am reasonably certain this individual is a Millennial; he has the unique combination of entitlement, certainty, and childlike grammar that marks the detritus of the Least Great Generation.

Not that all you Millennials are bad. I quite like your women.

But I digress. Let’s address this fellow’s complaints and then we can go on to a few more legitimate concerns about rental reviews before TOTALLY SMASHING them as well.

To begin with, is there a “rental version” of a modern car? Like, do the worst cars get sent to rental companies, the way that all my friends thought they let the very best S-10 pickups be promoted to GMC S-15s when we were kids? I’m not sure it needs to be said, but of course not. Sometimes, there are fleet-only combinations of equipment, and where that happens it should be noted, but the notion that the manufacturers are somehow cheaping-out on rental cars doesn’t hold water. A rental car is built to the same standards as a retail version of that car. Remember that seemingly obvious statement, because we’ll return to it later as a contrast.

Now, do people really “drive them like they stole it”? Of course not. While it’s certainly true that young people given their first taste of a rental car tend to be a bit abusive — I can remember “Gork” from BMX Action! magazine bragging about how if you drive a rental around town in “L” it, and I quote from memory here, “sounds like a race car” — the vast majority of rental cars are driven in indifferent fashion by businessmen who are just trying to get somewhere and are also reasonably aware that they will be punished by their employers for any damage that is done to them. The average rental car hasn’t seen any deliberate abuse. While the employees of the rental agency might be a touch uncaring in their ferrying of the cars from one place to another, the same is true of dealer employees at a new-car shop, particularly the detailers. When you buy a new Corvette, it’s anybody’s guess whether or not your detailer felt like winding the thing to the stop in first gear or not.

What about “they don’t get worked on by anyone who should be underneath the hood”? Is that legitimate? Well, it’s hard to imagine that the oil changes and brake/tire changes are done any less enthusiastically than they would be at a Jiffy Lube or a dealer service shop, and for modern cars under 45,000 miles that’s all the “working on” they should get anyway. What, do you think that there’s someone re-grinding the cams on a 15,000-mile rental Impala? It’s not a Stradivarius, it doesn’t need to be lovingly adjusted by a wizened old man wearing a jeweler’s loupe.

Last but not least, the cars are supposedly “generally mistreated”. Well, the vast majority of cars are “generally mistreated”. This kid may rub his ’04 Sentra SE-R with a cloth diaper and check the tire pressures every time the ambient temperature exceeds a five-degree delta but in the real world no adults do that. The experience a rental car has is very similar to what a family car will have. I can only think of one group of non-exotic cars that receive constant loving care during their term of service. Remember that statement, too, because we’ll come back to it as well.

The reality of rental cars is very different from what an under-25 crowd of people who don’t travel anyway thinks. It’s very amusing to imagine that every rental has a “Days of Thunder” finish or an impromptu ass-ramming at the hands of an inebriated club racer, but the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of rental miles are put on at the hands of people who treat the cars in no special manner whatsoever.

So. Rental cars are the same cars you can buy at dealerships, with minor exceptions, and they have the same kind of lives that other cars have, with minor exceptions. So they’re just like any other cars, right? Almost. There is one kind of car out there that lives a completely charmed life. It’s often built before any of its brothers and sisters in regular production. It’s usually examined down to the last nut and bolt using a checklist that is considerably more detailed than any dealership PPI sheet. And every time it’s driven, it receives that check again, complete with meticulous and skilled adjustments or replacements wherever it might be necessary. Every time it leaves its garage, it is in a condition that exceeds what a new-car buyer should reasonably expect out of showroom stock.

What kind of car is that? Why, it’s a press car. I don’t subscribe to the belief that is commonly held among automotive journalists that press cars are “ringers”. Not in this day and age. Production is too automated now to make something like that feasible. At the most, there might be a slightly different ECU tune that favors driveability and power over emissions compliance. I do, however, believe that they undergo a unique and rigorous quality-control procedure both when they enter a press fleet and whenever they are returned from a loan period.

Press cars rarely leak or squeak. They are aligned properly and they have even inflation pressures. Minor fit and finish issues, such as the crookedly-installed center speaker grille I just noted in a new Buick LaCrosse rental this past week, are handled in the press-loaner shop by people who know how to make those problems disappear. In other words, they are the best that a new car can be.

When you add up all the above, it’s easy to make the following declarative statement: A rental car might be worse than a new car, but it’s representative of what can happen to a new car. A press car is better than a new car will ever be. In other words, the new Malibu you buy at a showroom is more likely to be prepared to rental-car standards than press-car standards.

It follows, therefore, that a rental car review is more likely to align with what the average new-car buyer experiences than a press-car review would. Low-mileage rental cars are pretty much the same as new cars. Higher-mileage ones offer a valuable chance to see how the interiors and the suspension components age with wear and time. If you want to know what’s going to happen to that Camry or Malibu you’re planning to buy, a rental-car review serves your interests better than would a new-car review.

Which isn’t to say that every review could or should be a rental ride. Some cars, as the man said, you just can’t rent. Others can’t be rented for a reasonable cost. Still others can’t be rented until after the buzz wears off and the allocation goes to the fleets. For that reason, TTAC is likely to continue to offer a mixed bag of review samples, with the goal being to get you the most reviews possible of the most diverse field possible. The people who complain about rental-car reviews will continue to have their opinions dismissed, whether they are manufacturers, “advocates” in the media, or regular people who simply don’t understand the business as well as they think they do.

Sometimes, too, renting the car just lets do you things that can’t be done when you are holding hands with the OEM. For instance, this Friday we’ll have a review of the LaCrosse eAssist… with a racetrack component. Do you want to read how a mild hybrid performs at over 100mph? Of course you do. Come back and see us, why dontcha.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

138 Comments on “No Fixed Abode: The rental reviews will continue until morale improves....”


  • avatar
    blackcayman

    for some of us, the very idea of reviewing a rental car or a friend’s car made perfect sense the moment they heard about it.

    Cheers

    • 0 avatar
      wolfinator

      Agreed!

      Great piece Jack, and I think it makes a great case.

      However, let’s set that aside for a moment and assume your “critics” were right. Even if rental cars WERE abused, I’d still like to see them reviewed.

      I tend to buy my cars for the long haul. I like to buy a new car and put 6 figures of mileage wear on it. I’m not interested in how it looks right off the lot, or how it would look if some anal retentive bought it and put in 5 hours of time with a shammy every week.

      I want to know what cars are like after 100,000 miles of average wear. And while a rental car isn’t quite that far along, it’s a lot closer than a press car.

      Keep the rental reviews coming!

    • 0 avatar
      tuffjuff

      “You can smell the Asperger’s syndrome wafting off the screen”

      Quote of the year, hands down.

      Reviewing non press fleet vehicles makes so much sense, I’m surprised this isn’t something that was done (in such wide volume) earlier. Reader reviews are a great “long term” measurement, as websites and magazines that have “long term” vehicles often have a dozen people driving it, giving an inconsistent impresson.

  • avatar

    “A press car is better than a new car will ever be.”

    Yup. That.

    • 0 avatar
      tresmonos

      Bullsh1t. It will be polished, but it will be the biggest piece of sh1t you will drive compared to 90 days post Job 1. Panel gaps, powertrain calibrations, supplier quality tweaks will all be sh1t. You’re driving a buffed and waxed pre-production car.

      I cannot tell you how many press cars I’ve seen horrid parallelism in body and supplied trim panels. Or ditch molding that looks like hell. Or paint mismatch. The list goes on…

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        “or regular people who simply don’t understand the business as well as they think they do.”

        Indeed.

        Pre-production press cars are often quite sloppy as even reviews on the pages of this site have noted on several occasions.

        • 0 avatar
          racer-esq.

          Nice turn of that critique. Jack don’t talk out of his ass any less than anyone else, but he does write well. Which is not nothing.

        • 0 avatar
          tresmonos

          The volume of press cars usually come from the very first builds at the assembly plant. Timing is everything when it comes to debuts.

          • 0 avatar
            Jack Baruth

            Not necessarily. “First Drives” account for a minor percentage of press-fleet interaction.

          • 0 avatar
            tresmonos

            But those vehicles stay in the fleet. Preproduction vehicles are cheaper to the department. Budgets are tight, and if your car gets crushed, its even cheaper to procure. From what I could tell you, Public Relations and Marketing gets first priority on preproduction builds. Build events would be altered just for these two departments. And I never heard of them procuring production (Job 1+) vehicles. Ever. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but it would be very rare.

            Edit: calibrations are usually updated in these departments, but not as stringently as say engineering units. Saleable units will usually get their J1 parts put on right before auction, but that’s it, unless they had some rapid prototyped trim or substitute trim visible.

        • 0 avatar
          colin42

          If a good percentage of press cars are pre production this just adds weight to Jack’s case that rental reviews are a better reflection of what you or I would see if we purchased said model.

    • 0 avatar
      Scott_314

      Interesting counterpoint but a counter to THAT is that when issues do arise, manufacturers and many auto journalists are extremely willing to spew back the excuse “but it is a pre-production car so we expect that to get fixed”.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    Two months ago, I rented a ’14 MINI Cooper for 13 days and 2300 miles. I was going to write a RCR about it, but then I realized that the ’15 model was about to come out, and it’s all new.

    So why bother?

    • 0 avatar
      tuffjuff

      The new Cooper looks *really* nice.

      • 0 avatar
        Quentin

        The tech in the new Cooper looks really nice (turbo 3 in the base is apparently very good). Aesthetically, the car is a mess, though. We did the MINI Marque of the Year event at the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix in our ’05 MCS. The newest Cooper hatches were there and the proportions are all wrong. Way too much front overhang* and a frightened face. Sitting beside the R53 and R56 MINIs really highlighted how much the styling was butchered. I even like the looks of the Paceman and Countryman, but the new Cooper S is not good stylistically. The non-S, though, does carry the new look better. Still not attractive, but not the worst.

        *I’ve heard this is due to sharing a new platform with the BMW Series 2 tourer microvan thing.

    • 0 avatar
      pragmatist

      You can ‘bother ‘ for the guy planning to get a leftover or used one

    • 0 avatar
      Slow_Joe_Crow

      Because you will provide valuable information about living with the previous generation Mini Cooper for those who buy used rather than new.

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    “Not that all you Millennials are bad. I quite like your women”

    Should read:

    “Not that all you Millennials are bad. I quite like the women”

    You are making it hard to like you for no discernable reason.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Explain your correction please

      • 0 avatar
        MrGreenMan

        It’s these little throw-away Baruthisms that make me smile when reading your writing. I vaguely remember that line from a TV show or a movie or a book – I can’t place it while searching. Perhaps it was from a video game.

      • 0 avatar
        Detroit-Iron

        I think the possesive sounds possesive, but maybe I am just channeling the 90s.

        • 0 avatar
          MrGreenMan

          The 90s did horrible things to make everybody uptight about language. It was a horrible, humorless time in which to live.

          If you want some joy, go read some Chaucer or some happier product from the “Dark Ages” of Church oppression wherein people somehow were happier in the monotony of life – start with the Good Wife of Bath. The language police would have a problem even with what was considered the prototype of acknowledging female libidinousness for not being sufficiently dour:

          “An overskirt was tucked around her buttocks large,
          And her feet spurred sharply under that.
          In company well could she laugh and chat.
          The remedies of love she knew, perchance,
          For of that art she’d learned the old, old dance.”

          Sounds like she’d rock a Harley, and smoke, rather than rent a Malibu.

          • 0 avatar
            matador

            Hey, I dreamed about cars all through English class!

            Now, car sites are stopping me from dreaming about cars.

            I give up. Must be nap time.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      Another example of Aspergers Syndrome leaping off the screen. I can almost smell it…

    • 0 avatar
      thats one fast cat

      NOPE. The original sentence said (in Baruthian tones) exactly what he meant it to say.

      I know this because I spit coffee all over my f*cking keyboard when I read it.

    • 0 avatar
      CrapBox

      It should be…

      “Not that all Millennials are bad. I quite like their women.”

      or…

      “Not that all of the Millennials are bad. I quite like their women.”

      or, to emphasize the use of jargon…

      “Not that all of youse Millennials are bad. I quite like your gal pals.”

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        I think the “your” there is sensible because the comment is aimed *at* the set of Millenials.

        Thus “your” meaning “of the Millenials”, not “possessed by individual Millenials”.

        It’s a possessive, but a group membership one; just as someone might say [speaking of, say, a nation or a faith or a family] “our men” or “our women” without denoting ownership.

  • avatar
    wolfinator

    Another plus to rental car reviews is that I immediately know they’re going to be more even-handed than a review where someone gave you a new shiny to drive for free.

    Just like how CR buys cars off lots for review, I think rental reviews are a great way to source unbiased perspectives.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “I am reasonably certain this individual is a Millennial”

    Funny. To me, that reads more like a boomer or an older X’er who grew up as a Big 3 fan and who remembers the days when Detroit owned the rental agencies and the rental cars often carried less content.

    As for condition, I would suggest that every rental car is bound to have someone who will abuse it during its tour of duty. But a typical passenger car should be designed to withstand some abuse, and some do a better job of that than others.

    • 0 avatar
      tresmonos

      I agree but for the fact that fleet sales are where many preproduction issues are ‘biased’ towards when it comes to early gate released saleable units. This may not be a practice solely relegated to the Big 3, but I doubt it.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        A lot of magazine testing is conducted with early production or pre-production models. If anything, a rental review conducted some time after the launch might offer a better representation of what a consumer can buy than the press car.

        That, and a lot of press cars are heavily optioned, also not necessarily reflecting what consumers are likely to buy. Testing the fully loaded V6 with a manual is not necessarily a good indicator of what one should expect from the mid-level trim 4-banger with the automatic.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        Is it true that the press cars are not able to be titled, so they go to the crusher after their time in the fleet? (Or hopefully for crash-testing or other internal tests?)

        • 0 avatar
          bosozoku

          I believe this may be true for manufacturer-tagged press and pre-production cars, but I can confirm that press-fleet motorcycles are indeed sold after their term or service. My current daily bike is a Honda CBR1000RR former press sampler that I acquired on the cheap. She may have been flogged by every throttle jockey journo and racer-cum-magazine ringer, but the Honda mechanics put her back right each time, including before I took delivery.

  • avatar
    jjster6

    Some good points but I remember reading a Car & Driver article about the Ford Escort GT some years back. The car they got to review had two different front seats in it. I’m not so sure the cars get any special preparation before they get to be press cars.

    • 0 avatar
      hubcap

      The key phrase being….”some years back.”

      • 0 avatar
        jjster6

        Do you think the humans of today are any better than the one in the early 90’s. Press car fleets are probably managed by someone who is just doing a job with limited resources.

    • 0 avatar
      mike1dog

      I remember another magazine years ago getting a press car and finding a checklist with flaws that needed to be corrected before it was released to the press. The flaws weren’t fixed, if I remember correctly. I kind of doubt their press fleet people are any better at fixing problems than they were then.

  • avatar
    319583076

    This post *is* the truth about cars.

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    This was a funny read. It’s also sad that the ordinary life of a rental car had to be explained.

  • avatar
    LeeK

    “..,the vast majority of rental cars are driven in indifferent fashion by businessmen who are just trying to get somewhere and are also reasonably aware that they will be punished by their employers for any damage that is done to them…”

    This is spot-on. My employer requires its employees to decline the rental agency insurance and use our own personal auto insurance in case there is any damage. I can assure you that whether I’m driving a BMW 116i on the autobahn near Stuttgart or cruising the Hutchinson River Parkway in Westchester County in a Ford Focus, I’m in absolutely no mood to hoon. It all comes out of my pocket if I do something stupid.

    • 0 avatar
      cpthaddock

      The American Express rental car insurance option is worth every penny IMO.

      • 0 avatar
        Nick 2012

        +10^10 on the AmEx rental insurance, and they offer a premium version as well.

        https://www295.americanexpress.com/premium/car-rental-insurance-coverage/home.do

        • 0 avatar
          LeeK

          Thanks for the link, Nick. Unfortunately it appears to exclude Corporate AMEX cards and my employer demands that we use our Corporate Card exclusively. Bastards…

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      Referring to car rental customers as “businessmen” leaves out close to half of their customers. It is 2014, not the Mad Men era :-)

      Other than that, spot on article.

      • 0 avatar
        jim brewer

        Well, OK. Tourists who are looking for the turn off. Some cars, Chryslers I think, have an “hours of operation” readout. I believe I’ve been told that that the correlation to odometer shows normal operation overall.

        As pch 101 points out they have a more normal option package. They also are broken in. No drivers under 25 usually.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      My employer is the opposite. We have an umbrella liability policy, but we always take the damage waiver. However, I too have no desire to hoon rental cars. But I was glad for that damage waiver when some asshat in a jacked up pickup backed into my rented E350 (MB, not Ford) in a hotel parking lot in the middle of the night. Had to be $5K++ in damage.

      I think Jack is spot on. The only complaint I have ever had was that I think an unfair amount of fuss was made over the stalling problem (IIRC) the Fiat 500L had. It was obviously broken, and should have been returned for another one, not castigated for it. I get about one rental car in 50 with something actually wrong with it. Most recently, an eAssist Regal with a bad transmission. Hertz will truck a new car out to you if you yell loud enough. Having to yell did not impress me though, as a top tier renter. The car was not safe to drive, the transmission would randomly go to neutral when I stepped on it. Fun in Dallas traffic.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Great rebuttal Jack and quite accurate.

    In fact since rental cars get regular oil changes, fluid top ups and washed and vacuumed on a regular basis the case can be made that they are cared for better than the average auto.

  • avatar
    davicont

    I just got back from Florida…had a 2014 camry rental for 10 days and 800 miles. I drove the think just like i drive my car. I had no interest in pretending it was a sports car or driving it like I stole it. The only mistreatment it got was i didn’t care how much sand the kids tracked in after the beach. I would think that a majority of people are the same.

  • avatar
    cpthaddock

    … and three cheers for rentals in lieu of extended test drives. You might not get to rent the exact package you’d be interested in buying, but you can learn plenty about the vehicles functions, features, ergonomics and general livability.

  • avatar

    Don’t lend your car to Ohio991. He’ll trash it.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    I can’t really imagine anyone being so clueless as to not understand what you just laid out Jack .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    But but but…. anecdote!

    It’s safe to say the same percentage of the population that abuses rental cars abuse their own cars.

    I suspect at some point the technology will be cheap enough that rental cars will come with Progressive style engine management recorders that will nanny you while you drive their cars. If you over do it, you will get fined. And the rental car abuser likely has the least means to pay said fine and the problem will eventually be eliminated all together.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      I’m surprised the rental agencies (or any vehicle owner, for that matter) cannot set the ECM parameters to make hooning virtually impossible. Every vehicle should be able to have the parameters set by the buyer at the time of sale and reset anytime thereafter.

      I can set the ECM parameters in my commercial trucks to limit maximum rpm’s, cruise and pedal speed, reduce horsepower at higher RPM’s (to encourage shifting into a higher gear), and many other little tricks.

      Being able to do the same for rental cars would make sense, or to do the same in a car your teenager would be driving.

      • 0 avatar
        shaker

        I would think that limiting the performance capability of the average sedan could make it dangerous in highway merging scenarios, and open the rental agency to lawsuits.

        • 0 avatar
          319583076

          I will argue that the most dangerous factor in highway merging situations are the human drivers. In fact, I would make that argument for ALL merging situations.

          • 0 avatar
            Steve65

            The VAST majority of merging issues I see in daily traffic are people who wander up the ramp at city street speed, wander onto the highway at about 50mph, and then spend the next two miles drifting up to 70.

            The next most common are the 6-8 car packs with about 1/2 car length between them.

            I’m always befuddled and amused by the people who insist that they “need” some insane amount of horsepower to safely merge. I never had any trouble merging with my 95hp Sidekick. The phrase “driver error” springs to mind.

          • 0 avatar
            319583076

            @Steve65

            Interstate/highway merge behavior illustrates two general traits that may actually *be* destroying society:

            1. Failure to plan ahead. I’m happily cruising along when I see bozo coming up/down the ramp at a speed that guarantees we will meet at the merge simultaneously. Bozo, use your feet to control the pedals that control your speed in order to avoid the collision. Which brings me to…

            2. Complete self-absorption. It’s my lane, not yours. Regardless of how you drive, I’m not required to accomodate a merging car. Bozo is required to yield to traffic, there are usually helpful signs explaining this point.

            There you have it. 80% of the world’s problems are due to self-absorbed people that fail to plan ahead. Both traits conveniently expressed simultaneously by these people when they attempt to merge into freeway traffic.

          • 0 avatar
            Steve65

            I generally cruise in the #3 (of 4) lane, with cc set to a couple of mph below the limit. It’s amazing (in a really disheartening way) how much doing that clearly shows the disruptively random behavior of the average driver. Possibly the worst aspect is that moving to the right to pass now seems to be the norm (at least in my area). And if I try to use the #4 lane, then I’m constantly having to deal with the random mergers.

            Another thing I see routinely is people who snuggle up alongside the right end of my back bumper, and then formation fly there. Bear in mind that I’m driving a truck which is so long (22′) that head-checks are functionally not possible. Human heads just don’t rotate that far. It makes things exciting when it comes time for me to move over to exit.

            In another few years, I’ll have the opportunity to influence at least one new driver toward the concept that driving requires proactive decision making, not just unthinking reaction to stimulus. But overall I think the war is lost. Bring on the automated cars.

          • 0 avatar
            burgersandbeer

            “Possibly the worst aspect is that moving to the right to pass now seems to be the norm”

            I’ve noticed this as well. If I’m in lane 2 and someone wants to pass, 80% of the time they use lane 3, even if 1 is open.

          • 0 avatar
            319583076

            Ah, the highway buddy. I think Jack wrote a piece about that here at TTAC. If not Jack, someone did.

            I try to promote win-win situations in traffic, but occasionally I will cut someone off by moving right so they can pass me on the left. This is from the center of three lanes when the left (a.k.a. passing) lane is clear.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        They can do that on Ford products with the MyKey system. My wife rented a Focus a few years ago and she got it with the MyKey and not the Admin key. So it was a miserable trip since her mother was along who liked to take her seat belt off which mutes the radio. It was also set with the 80mph top speed and the area she was driving had a lot of 75mph speed limits.

        • 0 avatar
          golden2husky

          The biggest abuse one could inflict back in the day was a neutral drop, or say, coast downhill at speed, put the car in neutral, floor the engine and slam it into reverse. Today’s drive by wire cars don’t allow such behavior.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    thos dam Ohio milenneals r the worse.

  • avatar
    bball40dtw

    “A press car is better than a new car will ever be.”

    Unless it is Derek’s MKZ.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I have seen another example in the wild of MKZ with saggy gas cap as well.

      They don’t build em south of the border like they used to, hombre.

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        I have never seen one, and I think there are more MKZs in my neighborhood than some states have MKZs. The perponderance of Ford executives and laywers with A-plan as neighbors leads to a strange make up of cars nearby. More Explorer Sports than Civics.

        • 0 avatar
          CJinSD

          I went for a walk this morning and saw 4 Karman Ghia coupes. Three of them were at three separate houses and the fourth was in an Albertson’s parking lot. When I saw the third, I asked my friend what the odds were we’d see a fourth.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            The joys of living in California or the Southwest. I usually only see Karmann Ghias around Dream Cruise time or at an indy VW shop. Rust never sleeps in the Upper Midwest.

  • avatar
    cbrworm

    I abuse rental cars to about the same level that I abuse my own cars. I think it is fairly abusive, yet my cars always last well past the 150K mark (well, except for that Audi) with minimal repairs and careful maintenance.

    My biggest problem with rental cars is typically the abused paint from the automated washes, but I assume that will buff out before sale.

    I usually rent cars every other week or so, and I definitely make mental notes of how the cars feel with miles on them. This is where I have seen the biggest improvement in recent Chryslers.

    Rental cars are why I own my current G35. I rented one in Texas in either ’04 or ’05 and loved it. Now, 150K miles later, I still enjoy getting back into my ‘old’ G35 after driving most of the new rentals – with a few exceptions.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Same reason I own a Fiat. Had a couple Pops and Sports as rentals, loved them, went to look at them at the studio, bought an Abarth.

      Similarly, if I had any use for a sedan, a Regal Turbo would be near the top of my list. I never in a million years would have set foot in a Buick dealership.

      • 0 avatar
        beanbear

        Ditto, our Town & Country. I was surprised by the Grand Caravan we rented for a week, and it stuck with me. And the rental GC’s were optioned smartly for potential buyers… not too loaded, but had the things that – if you lived with them for a week – you could probably see paying up for: built-in sun shades, rear view camera, full 3 row climate control, super console, etc.

        Same with the Fiesta ST, which we’re considering. I rented a mid-level Fiesta in Portugal last year, and forgot all about the Polo I was hoping for.

        And I’d written Chrysler off after our dodgy 94 Grand Cherokee, and had never been in a Ford dealer until my Fiesta ST test drive.

  • avatar
    SilverCoupe

    I have no argument with the points you make, but in my experience a rental car is usually a lesser version than the one a person would actually want to buy. It’s the four cylinder instead of the six, or the six instead of the eight in the case of a Mustang type vehicle.

    And they always have these transmissions that shift automatically, instead of a proper manual. Actually, it is the transmission that usually bothers me most about rentals – the delay between when you put your foot down and when the car downshifts and finally begins to accelerate.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      Anecdotal, but a number of rentals I’ve had in the past couple years have gone beyond the base model, up to a 5.0 Mustang with the glass roof.

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        The last rental that I got — in Texas — was a Ford Taurus “Limited” Hardly a stripper. All I asked for as full-sized car, since I was carrying 4 adult passengers.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      @SilverCoupe

      Those are the cars regular non-enthusiast people actually buy. The overwhelming majority of cars that have an optional engine are sold with the base engine. Or the mid-spec if there are three. The six cylinder Mustang is the best seller by far. If you want to rent a V8 Mustang, you certainly can, but it will cost a lot more. Hertz has piles of them in their “Adrenaline Collection”.

      Today, the rental car companies for the most part want to maximize the resale value of the cars. So they tend to be mid-trim on the ordinary stuff, and fairly loaded for the premium and up. Though you do find things like the really low spec Nissans that they probably buy super cheap. Still it is nothing like in the 90’s where the Big 3 owned the rental 3 and it was a sea of dreck. Sooo many Oldsmobile Unda-Achievas…

  • avatar
    mitchw

    Years ago I read a Top Gear review of a BMW 3 series coupe. TG was having a ball, thrashing the car through twisty mountain roads, until it all came to crashing halt as the writer owned up to the brakes having been upgraded for TG’s story.

    That was the last Top Gear review I ever read, and I still keep a black mark next to Munich’s prestigious roundel.

    • 0 avatar
      juicy sushi

      I like TG for the photography and cinematography. Those teams really do their work well. I don’t treat any of their written/articulated opinions or suggestions with any more authority than I would those of a 7-year old.

  • avatar
    SixspeedSi

    It’s funny how some people who have never been around rental cars think they’re utter pieces of shit. I work at Enterprise and like Jack mentioned, we take care of our cars and for the most part our customers do too. I’ve never seen a “rental version” besides some cars that just have less features than dealer cars (Like no carpet floor mats). Half the time I pick cars up from the dealer lot and then service them every 5000 miles. Keep doing these review. People should know the difference between a regular car and a press car!

  • avatar
    Maymar

    As an Asperger’s Millenial, don’t lump us in with that guy. I’d like to think our clinical pedantic-ness would lend us a basic respect for grammar. Maybe excessively stilted and formal language, but coherent nonetheless.

    I will say, the most abusive I’ve probably been to a car was a rental Sonic I caught air in at 100km/h. Not out of a deliberate attempt at evoking P.J. O’Rourke, I just didn’t realize that was a possibility on the Saskatoon backroad I was on until it was far too late to do anything but hold on. Other than that, I haven’t driven anything different from how I’d drive my own cars.

    Also, at least a rental is branded as such – there’s no guarantee your garden variety used car hasn’t been piloted by a freshly-licensed teen eager to show off the skills he’s built up after about a decade of playing Gran Turismo.

    • 0 avatar
      tjh8402

      I’m with maymar – as another Aspeger’s Millenial, I would never stand for such horrible grammar, bad spelling, and generally poor elucidation of his thoughts and premise . We tend to place a high premium on proper and sophisticated language. As far as the rentals go, you have to look at the car you’re driving and what deficiencies you’re finding. Rentals do see some abuse in certain areas (I speak from working in a job that requires me to move and service rentals cars). Many airport rentals will inevitably have scuffs on the bumper in front of the the trunk from loading baggage. I’ve seen a lot of rentals with mismatched tires. The company my employer partners with regularly defers maintenance – check engine lights and “maintenance required” driver display messages are quite common. Again, not unheard of abuse for a car, but definitely a rough life. I generally will say that if the car appears to have had a rough life as a rental, I don’t hold that against it. If it’s feeling pretty solid, then I take that as a good sign.

      I had a similarly negative experience with a Malibu rental. It was not “rental fleet spec” – indeed it was an LTZ so you can ‘t blame the experience on that. I also don’t think the cramped back seat, tiny trunk, flinty ride, droning sluggish engine, or lagging infotainment are complaints that can be blamed on it being a rental.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    “…are handled in the press-loaner shop by people who know how to make those problems disappear.”

    Yup. Lutz found out that GM cars were prepped the same way before executives got to drive them, that’s why the execs thought GM cars were class leading.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    On the subject of ringers, many years ago there was a factory supported team running in an SCCA Showroom Stock class. Team members spent much time in a warehouse cherry picking the parts that worked best. For the engine, this had the same effect as balancing and blueprinting. Since all the parts were perfectly stock, the cars were completely legal even though they outperformed ordinary examples made from a random collection of parts.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      Parts matching is mostly banned in SS classes now, for exactly that reason. What you describe was the norm for big and factory teams that had the budget to buy up lots of spares.

  • avatar

    Thrice (this year) I have picked up rental cars from Hertz that had one or more tires severely overinflated. The Chevy Cruze 2LT RS that I borrowed a month ago had one tire that read 62 PSI, and I confirmed that with two separate instruments. I guess that didn’t warrant a warning light either, because the only reason I knew about it was that I just happened to check via the TPMS readings in the instrument cluster. When I went to Dallas to buy the SportWagen, I rented a 2014 Chrysler 200 (whose only redeeming quality was the responsive 3.6-liter Pentastar), and it had two tires that were at 44 PSI. Not that people pay much attention to their own cars’ tire pressures until something happens, but good grief!

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    I generally agree but…as a businessman who would be severely punished for ass hattery in a rental car, I going to mainstream rental agencies I have had some cars that were horrifically maintained.

    I had an Avis Saturn Aura with brake rotors so warped and brakes so worn that I never even left the airport before swapping it out.

    I had a Ford Fusion with 44K miles on it out of Denver that was on its death bed. The driver’s seat belt was screwed up, the check airbag light was on, the ABS light was on, the car had parking lot rash from stem to stern.

    I had a Ford Taurus (circa 2008) so bad (again Avis) I swapped it out while driving from LA to Sacramento an Avis between.

    I had another Ford Taurus (Enterprise) with missing parts that ended up leaving me for dead on the side of the highway.

    I had an 11 passenger Astro van (long story) that also left me for dead, this one at 3AM in the middle of the desert just outside of Palm Springs.

    I had a Camry LE (this time a Sacramento to LA rental) with steering so worn out it was reminiscent to a 1976 Oldsmobile – it was also horribly out of alignment.

    Never mind my international experiences. The little Chevy Aveo I got stuck with in Mexico earlier this year had bald tires that were all out of balance, warped rotors, and felt like it was going to shake apart at any speed over 90 kmh.

    It isn’t all bad, I’ve rented literally hundreds of cars through the years. This is the list above of real dogs that saw hard lives and negligent care. I just had a Chevy Suburban LT rental with 56K miles on the odometer that when I walked up to I thought was brand new (ditto interior).

    I agree with the premise that not all rentals are abused but Jack, some have had very hard lives. Some poor slob is going to get stuck with the Dodge Challenger R/T I tried to drive through a stopped Toyota Camry down the road. Thankfully that was a personal rental and not with my employer.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I just had a Dodge Avenger that the inside door panels on one side were a different color than the other, also had warped brakes and indifferent alignment, and had obviously been in an accident. It happens. If I hadn’t only intended to put about 25 miles on the thing, I would have returned it. But it was late at night in Cleveland, and it was raining, so F’it. I managed. It balances out those times they surprise you with an upgrade to something really nice. I got a Hertz Corvette as a surprise upgrade in San Francisco one fine spring weekend. That forgives a lot of sins.

  • avatar
    7402

    About half the cars we buy in our household are purchased when they are 3-5 years old, so I think rental car reviews are awesome. My wife was dying to buy a BMW X3 until she got an accidental rental upgrade and lived with one for a week. She loved the test drive at our local dealer, 500 miles of lousy visibility and she was dying to get back into the Subaru Forester we got for less than half the cost.

    I’d like to see a series on “craigslist” or “classifieds” car reviews. A lot of craigslist sellers would happily cooperate for a tank of gas and twenty bucks. Take a 10-year-old Civic or Ranger out for a 50 enthusiastic miles and get back to us. Reviews for the “under 5k” purchaser. Granted, a lot of the necessary info can be had from forums, but a TTAC perspective would be appreciated as well.

  • avatar
    GS 455

    All the car mags do long term tests where the vehicles are subjected to 40,000 miles of abuse. Their various staff members take these cars for errands and trips so that the test vehicle becomes a “rental car”. Body damage, bent rims and worse are common occurrences in these test fleets. I suspect that long term test cars are abused far more than the average rental.

    • 0 avatar
      hgrunt

      I remember reading the Car and Driver Audi S8 long term review, noticing they had a $27,000 fender-bender, did $1200 of damage to electronics underneath the seat when a water bottle emptied itself out onto the seat cushion, and they went through 9 tires and 3 wheels–in 40,000 miles.

  • avatar
    jfranci3

    Here’s the argument against rental car reviews – they’re driven by people who don’t know where they are going and drive into thing. They aren’t driven harder. They aren’t equipped differently. The problem is that they get driven into curbs over and over again. Competent drivers out of their element going to places unknown drive them into square curbs. I’ve rented a LOT of rental cars and many had damaged front suspension and wheel bearings. Curb after curb after curb.

    Also, If it’s a premium fuel car, it’s filled with regular gas. Tire pressures aren’t set to spec.

    As a bonus to the rental review, you see how the car ages. You see the Nissan 1st-gen interior fall apart. You see the finish coatings wear off radio knobs. You see how the Chevy Traverse’s rear window guzzle washer fluid.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      If the complaints in the reviews are about steering wheel misalignment, rattles from the suspension and stains on the seat, of course we as readers should take into consideration that it might be due to abuse.

      The majority of Jack’s review of the Malibu focused on the actual design of the vehicle rather that items that could be subjectively chalked up to rental abuse.

      Since it’s clearly disclosed the car int he review is a rental, we can easily discern which points are valid for comparison against similar models we might prospect.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I like this aspect of it – it’s accelerated aging. I have had rental cars with relatively low mileages from some brands that are consistently dogs. I have had high mileage rental cars that are consistently NOT from other brands. In my experience, Nissans do not hold up as well as Fords, for example, which is not what conventional wisdom would tell you. Chryslers seem to be just as bad as I would imagine. Hertz at least is keeping cars a LOT longer these days. I have recently had rentals with over 60K on them! That was unthinkable 20 years ago when I started travelling for a living.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      Where are these 2014 cars which may be driven into a square curb after square curb without tearing the front fascia off?

  • avatar
    wmba

    Well, at least the rental reviews will likely be about cars, not trucks. Fed up reading about them on a suppised car site – they need their own TTAT site.

    Jack, it’s funny to read Chev’s latest ad about the Malibu Eco, and I quote:

    “Under certain conditions, the engine turns off at a stop, and seamlessly starts again as soon as you lift your foot off the brake.”

    Just like yours did.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    I agree with Jack 100%. There is nothing unfair about rental reviews. Rental reviews are an excellent adjunct to press car reviews. Good luck finding a press-car version of the Chevrolet Captiva. If you see one on the used lot, you’d like to have a review handy to know what to expect.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Bingo. Or as I’ve said living here in the American Southwest: “Seeing a Captiva is a sure sign you’ll have to give that tourist directions to the nearest turquoise jewelry store.”

  • avatar
    doug-g

  • avatar
    balreadysaid

    This was excellent! I liked this very FUKING much lol. Growing up in a family of mechanics, i drive countless cars of every make, some ready to die some brand new like my own. THANK YOU! for giving some incite to the people that only read peak specs, and expect them at the drop of the hammer. Smoke and mirrors! review any new car you want but make sure you drive it for 5k miles! the only way to do a complete review is with a RENTAL with miles on it so it is “BROKEN IN”. Thats what happens when everything wears into the common place it should be for the majority of its service life. Well now if these guys arent just brilliant! Instead of letting a manufacturer give them a prepped to impress model that could allow them to spew lies. They go and get a already “BROKEN IN” model that is an actual real world car that lives in the same universe every red, white, and blue collar grew up in.

    One point i would make is that when picking up a rental to review. It should be checked accordingly by a shop with a good rep. not a dealer with rate pay mechanics. Any steering or suspension that is broken or worn out will make the car drive slightly different, not necessarily worst. Even better sometimes if your driving fast. If parts are replaced I would put 10-200 miles on to break in the new stuff. Thanks again ! and stick to your guns wyat!

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I completely agree with doing rental car reviews.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    I prefer the rental car reviews to the typical press car reviews. The cars are representative of what the typical purchaser will experience after the bloom comes off the the rose.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “Not that all you Millennials are bad. I quite like your women.”

    I do too.

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    The most unfair part of the review is that you didn’t try to rent a previous generation Malibu. But that’s mostly GM’s fault.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    As a regular reader, I guess I missed the complaints about rental reviews.

    I’ve always thought they were the cleanest reviews you could have for the regular driver. Personally, I don’t care much anymore for track data because I drive on the road.

    Mass press reviews are interesting, but always suspect to me. It’s amusing to check among the various media outlets to see how they photographed and judged the VERY SAME car.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Looking at the GM fleet website, they do have 2 specifically different Malibu selections available, a special Malibu Fleet (1FL) which appears to be the rental spec version Jack tested, and the regular retail Malibu trims. So with the Malibu, it looks as if there is a special rental version that cuts $1,270 worth of content out that might not necessarily be fair to compare with the rest of the model line.

  • avatar
    JCraig

    I certainly hope the Impala (last gen) rental I had last year was a fleet only trim. It had the nice wheels and spoiler so it looked like a higher trim from the outside, but the seats were taxi cab grade in shape and quality of vinyl, the sunroof did not open, and the plastics everywhere couldn’t have possibly been expected to ever sell in a showroom. It was an odd mish-mash of options, like the Bose logos over the speaker grills but not on the stereo (and it sounded terrible). If it wasn’t made for fleet only then it was several trims that accidentally got made into one car and assigned to the next batch of fleet sales.

    • 0 avatar
      dtremit

      The entire car is fleet only, at this point. (Though I don’t think they’ve ever had a Bose logo on the stereo itself, and I suspect the sunroof was just broken.)

      • 0 avatar
        JCraig

        Yeah but this was before the new Impala had replaced the ancient one. Did they cancel retail sales in between the two generations?

        • 0 avatar
          dtremit

          Are you certain of the timing? The new (2014) model came out pretty early in 2013 — around March or so.

          I wouldn’t be surprised if they switched to the fleet spec a little earlier than that; nobody much was buying them retail at that point.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      The sunroof is vent-only in that old Impala, and it’s a terrible, terrible car for all the reasons you name plus some more. The only good thing about it is the 3.6 V6, and even that sounds and feels coarser than it does in other GM cars.

      There were decent W-bodies; the 2006+ Impala was emphatically not one of them.

    • 0 avatar
      Max_Power

      There have been some fleet-only trims for W-body Impalas. But based on your description, I’m guessing that the Impala you rented was none other than the top-of-the-line LTZ, which was available to retail customers before the ’14 redesign. That’s the one with Bose audio and leather (front seating surfaces only, IIRC) and vinyl upholstery. Impala sunroofs are supposed to vent and slide–at least the one on my ’12 LT (mid-level trim with cloth seats) does.

  • avatar
    DrGastro997

    This is what a great comeback reads like. Great report!

    Btw, I thought Toyota produced rental-car only Camry… Thought I heard it was a “E” model. Maybe not? Anyone know?

  • avatar
    redav

    Wait, people take Jalopnik posters seriously?

  • avatar
    WaftableTorque

    I liken the difference between rental and press car reviews to be dating someone on a vacation trip versus a dinner date + movie. The former is going to be more casual; you’re spending more time together so everyday situations become both more revealing or frustrating; there’s less opportunity for either party to hide your quirks and foibles; and ultimately more opportunity to see if there’s long term chemistry.

    As for me, I married someone who didn’t even speak my languages, so I didn’t even take my own advice in seeking chemistry. Still happily married to her after 8 years though. Some things you just make it work out.

  • avatar
    dude500

    I’ve driven horribly abused rentals before, and did my fair share of redline shifts, sliding tires and smoking brakes. Being able to handle that abuse, I actually have a positive opinion of those rentals…

    …the rentals being Miatas at Skip Barber and the Fiestas at Team O’Neil.

  • avatar
    jimbob457

    Keep up the good work! Reviewing rentals with a few miles on them is a great service. The average age of the US light vehicle fleet is 11.2 years, up from 9.8 years in 2002, so every new car sale is just the beginning of a much longer journey. New car buyers are very interested in resale, so how well or badly a car ages is important.

  • avatar
    turboprius

    I like these rental reviews. Something that I thought about doing (but school now, so this won’t happen), was writing car reviews, not on rentals or personal vehicles that are only a year old, but personal cars that are at least five years old or so. Would give a great perspective for someone buying a used car.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I’ve often wondered if cars bound for rental get worse tires than retail models.

    The worst offender I can remember was a previous-gen Charger (2011? can’t remember the model year) which drove as though it had Nerf tires. Soft, wallowy, wandery, zero grip, constant corrections. It had few enough miles that I’m sure the tires were the factory set. It shouldn’t have been the car itself; I’ve driven plenty of other base, rental-spec Chargers and 300s of that generation and never had that experience.

    I’ve also had truly atrocious tires on a number of rental GM products.

  • avatar
    sgeffe

    Was it 2009 that fleet Impalas were found to not have side airbags?

  • avatar
    claytori

    I once “abused” a ‘2000’ rental Malibu going down a road labelled as “S6″ from the Mt. Palomar observatory. Lots of steep descents & switchbacks. That road was the territory of sportbike riders. A car is simply an obstacle to them. I returned that car with badly warped brake rotors. In contrast to this road, California 74 across the Eagle’s Nest to Lake Elsinore is HD/Hog territory and more relaxed.

    I was working on a project in the Los Angeles area, and would rent a different car every week. As the company had a deal with National, we mostly had GM mid-size cars. The Malibu was meh. I liked the Century and especially the Olds Intrigue 3800. Around 2000 was when GM made big leaps in the handling department on their cars.

  • avatar

    Honestly, I’ve always thought that the supposed “abuse” that some people give a rental more accurately lets you know how a car behaves under stress. How will this normal, boring car hold up after actually being USED?

    Sure, the knobs who get press cars are probably even more likely to drive irresponsibly than your average renter, but the rest of it–the everyday abuse on interior components, the lessened care on driving over potholes because it’s not your car–seems to be a better simulation of real-world wear and tear. No one wants you to SEE wear and tear on a press baby.

  • avatar
    mkirk

    I’ll vouch for that bit about new car detailers.

  • avatar
    motormouth

    I’ve had a couple of press cars that were not in the best shape. I well recall a Passat CC that had a DSG ‘box that was slipping all over the place and when I mentioned it to the VW people they were suitably mortified. Never found out what happened to that particular ‘mobile, but goes to show that some shitters do get through the net.

    (Or maybe the DSG is just shit – but that’s an individual call.)

  • avatar
    DougD

    Great Article,

    I can confirm that hooning my rental car is the last thing on my mind when I stumble into the lot at midnight trying to find my ride. What is on my mind is finding the headlight switch in the dark, and getting to my hotel.

    It’s amazing how much of the business travel dance is learned behavior, and how people who haven’t don’t know the dance.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributing Writers

  • Jack Baruth, United States
  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Vojta Dobes, Czech Republic
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Cameron Aubernon, United States
  • J Emerson, United States