Hell is Other People's Cars

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
hell is other peoples cars

The sex industry has a motto: if you don't get it, it's not for you. Never mind all those activities involving non-reproductive bodily fluids, military fatigues and/or extra-legal restraining orders, I don't get hookers. I'm not saying I don't understand why other people employ prostitutes, and I'm not saying I've never paid for sex (and not in that "one way or another" sense). But if I had done so, I am saying I probably would have found it an incredibly unsatisfying experience. (Can you imagine the tortuous language OJ Simpson must use in his non-confessional confessional?) Same goes for rental cars.

I am fully aware that many pistonheads relish rentals, safe in the knowledge that there won't be any long-term consequences for any motorized misbehavior (provided they tick the right boxes). But I can't stand them (rental cars, not my beloved pistonheads). I suppose I might change my mind if I ever rented a car worth driving– as opposed to the asthmatic pre-beaters the rental companies foist on their suspecting customers. Ford Mustang V6? Chevrolet Impala? Toyota Vanilla? You gotta be kidding. Quite simply, I've never met a rental car I liked.

And while I will never compromise my commitment to calling it like I see it, I have just about enough tact left in me not to want to return someone else's car in pieces. That said, it happens. I've knocked the wing mirror off a Land Rover, watched an electric gate crease the side of a Civic and woken-up to an Infiniti sitting on milk crates (as opposed to tires). And I've seen journos crash press cars. In all cases, the PR flacks involved trotted out the "as long as no one was hurt" shibboleth. Which says a lot about PR flacks– one way or another.

When it comes to lunching a rental car, I reckon the paperwork must make it worth not crashing. Sure, you only pay the deductible, but insurance companies know all too well that traumatizing all parties involved with endless, excessive, obsessive bureaucracy is the best way to prevent future accidents. And, of course, you have to fill out a police report. "I was driving at a safe and reasonable speed when the car's front end suddenly and inexplicably began to understeer. The vehicle plowed nose-first into the curb, at approximately 25 miles per hour." Thankfully, I can only imagine the look the trooper must give drivers of recently creased automobiles when they hand over the rental car agreement.

In short, I don't like breaking cars. It runs against my nature, imprinted into my subconscious mind during all those times I broke my own car with one stupid ass stunt or another. [Note to self: check road for leaves before testing tire adhesion.] And while I can appreciate the skills involved in driving a really horrible car really fast, I find that the really horrible cars that rental car companies provide are so horrible that driving them fast is, well, horrible. And for me, defying death is not half as satisfying as trying to find my way where I'm going without wandering into the middle of a 3am drag race in the wrong part of Philadelphia (no, really).

Anyway, JD Power reckons the rental car industry is getting better: faster, happier, shinier and more customer friendly. Well, good for them. And good for all the poor sad bastards who must take their laptops to places where people couldn't care less if they died in a horrible car wreck, never mind whether or not they made a compelling PowerPoint presentation. I’ve seen those haunted faces in the rental shuttles. I’ve heard their loud locker room talk with their cohorts, as they prepare their egos to drive a car that grinds them down with the mechanical equivalent of an endless loop of Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

I know there are exotic car rental companies that will loan you a Porsche, Ferrari or Merc. And the mainstream players are beginning to catch on that people are willing to pay extra for a car that doesn’t suck-out their soul. But until and unless Hertz et al rent out an Audi S4 for the price of a V6 Mustang, I’m always going to regard that walk to space H8 as a stroll down death row. They can wash them, clean them and de-cigarette smoke them, but rental cars will always be a kind of automotive purgatory, always endured rather than enjoyed. Which probably accounts for so many enthusiasts’ desire to punish their rentals. And that, my friends, is kinky.

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  • Jfranci3 Jfranci3 on Nov 21, 2006

    I travel for a living, which gives me plenty of oppertunites to play Hertz roulette. While I do enjoy driving a sporty number in it's proper environment (the track or back road), I find most of their qualities provide for a boring drive while commuting. Give me a responsive 100hp economy car w/ a stick anyday. It affords me the oppetunity to flog something w/o the risk of hurting anyone. As for the rental lot, I look at it as an oppertunity to experience as many cars as possible. Granted, they aren't enthusiast cars, but that aside it does give me a chance to give realistic advice to my friends and family purchasing cars, compare notes with media impressions, and fine tune my own opinions. It is true rental companies are making lots more fun. At the core of this are additions to their fun/luxury lines, consolidation of the industry, and Hertz being spun off from Ford. THese changes have made the selection on rental lots a more interesting expernce. One day I'll see a Lotus Elise on the lot (they are out there) and you can bet I'll shell out the dough for it, but until then I'll be happy with a Nissan Maxima.

  • Tummy Tummy on Nov 21, 2006

    You need to start renting frequently. I've been traveling for work every week for the last 6 years, renting a car for the week, and sometimes one on the weekends. Hertz has been very good too me. I pay for a Taurus, but have never seen one in over 4 years. It's always been something "better". When you rent from the same location for long stretches, they get to know you and you always get something nice. I constantly get or can request Infiniti G35s FX35, Volvo S80 & S60, Audi A6, Mazda MX5s, Dodge Magnum RT, 300Cs for the same cost. I've also gotten great value on vacation using Hertz points. No other rental company has such a wide selection of specialty cars which you can reserve using points. My business rentals have been converted to free week long rentals of Hummer H2 on Hawaii (normally $325/day), Audi A8L in LA ($125/day), Cadillac XLR in Orlando, and countless G35 and Volvo S80s as free upgrades from my free Taurus reservation. http://www.thaitum.com/photos_public/hertz/

  • William I think it's important to understand the factors that made GM as big as it once was and would like to be today. Let's roll back to 1965, or even before that. GM was the biggest of the Big Three. It's main competition was Ford and Chrysler, as well as it's own 5 brands competing with themselves. The import competition was all but non existent. Volkswagen was the most popular imported cars at the time. So GM had its successful 5 brands, and very little competition compared to today's market. GM was big, huge in fact. It was diversified into many other lines of business, from trains to information data processing (EDS). Again GM was huge. But being huge didn't make it better. There are many examples of GM not building the best cars they could, it's no surprise that they were building cars to maximize their profits, not to be the best built cars on the road, the closest brand to achieve that status was Cadillac. Anyone who owned a Cadillac knew it could have been a much higher level of quality than it was. It had a higher level of engineering and design features compared to it's competition. But as my Godfather used to say "how good is good?" Being as good as your competitors, isn't being as good as you could be. So, today GM does not hold 50% of the automotive market as it once did, and because of a multitude of reasons it never will again. No matter how much it improves it's quality, market value and dealer network, based on competition alone it can't have a 50% market share again. It has only 3 of its original 5 brands, and there are too many strong competitors taking pieces of the market share. So that says it's playing in a different game, therfore there's a whole new normal to use as a baseline than before. GM has to continue downsizing to fit into today's market. It can still be big, but in a different game and scale. The new normal will never be the same scale it once was as compared to the now "worlds" automotive industry. Just like how the US railroad industry had to reinvent its self to meet the changing transportation industry, and IBM has had to reinvent its self to play in the ever changing Information Technology industry it finds it's self in. IBM was once the industry leader, now it has to scale it's self down to remain in the industry it created. GM is in the same place that the railroads, IBM and other big companies like AT&T and Standard Oil have found themselves in. It seems like being the industry leader is always followed by having to reinvent it's self to just remain viable. It's part of the business cycle. GM, it's time you accept your fate, not dead, but not huge either.
  • Tassos The Euro spec Taurus is the US spec Ford FUSION.Very few buyers care to see it here. FOrd has stopped making the Fusion long agoWake us when you have some interesting news to report.
  • Marvin Im a current owner of a 2012 Golf R 2 Door with 5 grand on the odometer . Fun car to drive ! It's my summer cruiser. 2006 GLI with 33,000 . The R can be money pit if service by the dealership. For both cars I deal with Foreign car specialist , non union shop but they know their stuff !!! From what I gather the newer R's 22,23' too many electronic controls on the screen, plus the 12 is the last of the of the trouble free ones and fun to drive no on screen electronics Maze !
  • VoGhost It's very odd to me to see so many commenters reflexively attack an American company like this. Maybe they will be able to find a job with BYD or Vinfast.
  • VoGhost I'm clearly in the minority here, but I think this is a smart move. Apple is getting very powerful, and has slowly been encroaching on the driving experience over the last decade. Companies like GM were on the verge of turning into mere hardware vendors to the Apple brand. "Is that a new car; what did you get?" "I don't remember. But it has the latest Apple OS, which is all I care about." Taking back the driving experience before it was too late might just be GM's smartest move in a while.