Hell is Other People's Cars

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

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.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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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/

  • Bkojote Allright, actual person who knows trucks here, the article gets it a bit wrong.First off, the Maverick is not at all comparable to a Tacoma just because they're both Hybrids. Or lemme be blunt, the butch-est non-hybrid Maverick Tremor is suitable for 2/10 difficulty trails, a Trailhunter is for about 5/10 or maybe 6/10, just about the upper end of any stock vehicle you're buying from the factory. Aside from a Sasquatch Bronco or Rubicon Jeep Wrangler you're looking at something you're towing back if you want more capability (or perhaps something you /wish/ you were towing back.)Now, where the real world difference should play out is on the trail, where a lot of low speed crawling usually saps efficiency, especially when loaded to the gills. Real world MPG from a 4Runner is about 12-13mpg, So if this loaded-with-overlander-catalog Trailhunter is still pulling in the 20's - or even 18-19, that's a massive improvement.
  • Lou_BC "That’s expensive for a midsize pickup" All of the "offroad" midsize trucks fall in that 65k USD range. The ZR2 is probably the cheapest ( without Bison option).
  • Lou_BC There are a few in my town. They come out on sunny days. I'd rather spend $29k on a square body Chevy
  • Lou_BC I had a 2010 Ford F150 and 2010 Toyota Sienna. The F150 went through 3 sets of brakes and Sienna 2 sets. Similar mileage and 10 year span.4 sets tires on F150. Truck needed a set of rear shocks and front axle seals. The solenoid in the T-case was replaced under warranty. I replaced a "blend door motor" on heater. Sienna needed a water pump and heater blower both on warranty. One TSB then recall on spare tire cable. Has a limp mode due to an engine sensor failure. At 11 years old I had to replace clutch pack in rear diff F150. My ZR2 diesel at 55,000 km. Needs new tires. Duratrac's worn and chewed up. Needed front end alignment (1st time ever on any truck I've owned).Rear brakes worn out. Left pads were to metal. Chevy rear brakes don't like offroad. Weird "inside out" dents in a few spots rear fenders. Typically GM can't really build an offroad truck issue. They won't warranty. Has fender-well liners. Tore off one rear shock protector. Was cheaper to order from GM warehouse through parts supplier than through Chevy dealer. Lots of squeaks and rattles. Infotainment has crashed a few times. Seat heater modual was on recall. One of those post sale retrofit.Local dealer is horrific. If my son can't service or repair it, I'll drive 120 km to the next town. 1st and last Chevy. Love the drivetrain and suspension. Fit and finish mediocre. Dealer sucks.
  • MaintenanceCosts You expect everything on Amazon and eBay to be fake, but it's a shame to see fake stuff on Summit Racing. Glad they pulled it.