QOTD: Losing at Rental Car Roulette?

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
qotd losing at rental car roulette

We’ve all been there at one time or another — standing in line at the counter of the rental car company. Perhaps you made a reservation in advance, perhaps not, but your fate was sealed the same when a class of vehicle was selected. From there, you were left in the hands of the person working the counter at Rental Car Incorporated.

Today we’re going to talk about the times you’ve lost at rental car roulette.

Your author has not rented that many cars in particular, but one in particular was much worse than the rest. The time was late October, 2017, and the place was Florida. The need was transportation around the St. Petersburg area — a short vacation after a work conference. Conference completed, I returned to the airport to pick up my rental, a “We Choose For You” class at Enterprise. It saves money, but the person at the counter picks a car for you.

The three options presented to me were bleak: A basic white Ford F-150 XL, a basic silver Nissan Frontier, or a shiny red Hyundai Accent. I knew I had some extensive driving to do. After a quick internal struggle, the fuel economy of a VQ40 and the size of a quad cab F-150 seemed less desirable than a small sedan. Accent, then.

The cheery red paint (photo of actual car) was full of orange peel, and the gray interior was unrelenting in its monochromatic attack on the ocular senses. It was equipped with only basic options, and lacked even Bluetooth connectivity on a 2017 model. I was none too impressed with my rental ride; then I exited the parking lot.

The ride around town was compliant enough, although the brakes were a bit mushy and, perhaps as expected, steering was numb. But at freeway speeds the Accent was not a pleasant place to be. The seat was not comfortable for long journeys, and the interior noise level was befitting a car from a different generation. The biggest problems by a mile, though, were the steering and suspension at highway speed. At speeds over 60 mph, the tiny sedan bounced around over undulations in the road and was hard to keep in a straight line. It seemed like the ultra-light steering effort at high speed went a little overboard and eliminated any on-center position. It was very tiring to drive for any distance due to the constant corrections required at the wheel. And since I had to handle it a lot, I noticed the thin steering wheel had a rough edge along its circumference. The cheap rubber was poorly finished.

I was never so glad to turn in a rental car. Unfortunately, I was forced to witness other people returning their Challengers and Sonatas with smiles on their faces and wondered what that sort of happiness might be like.

So tell us about your worst rental car stinker. Could it possibly be worse than a previous-gen Hyundai Accent?

[Images: Nissan, Corey Lewis]

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  • JohntheNole JohntheNole on Sep 12, 2019

    In Oct '18 I reserved a full size from Budget for pickup at Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) Flight arrived early but experienced a 50 minute wait to get to the counter at the off-site rental center. My full size turned into a Subaru Crosstrek. Not happy since I had to drive 138 miles from BWI to Ocean City MD. in an unfamiliar vehicle. My first drive in an AWD, first Crossover, and first Subaru. Budget got a less than positive review but the little Crosstrek was a nice, enjoyable drive. No plans to ever use Budget again but from the large string of comments, not sure there are any rental agencies that performs better.

  • Pwrwrench Pwrwrench on Sep 13, 2019

    Plus 4 (or whatever the count is) on the Grand Am. Someone crossed a double yellow line and wrecked my van. While it was in the body shop the other driver's insurance paid for rentals. This was the mid 1990s. First Enterprise gave me a Ford Aerostar. I was glad when they asked for it back in less than a week. Suspension and ride were poor. It probably suffered from a trend I have noticed on many vehicles. Apparently in an effort to get a cushy ride soft springs are used. Which then have to be preloaded a lot to get a proper ride height. Then small bumps and cracks in the road are magnified. Larger bumps and cornering feel mushy and wallowy. Next was a Maxima which was fine except a previous driver had hit something with one of the headlights. One mount/adjuster was broken. Hit a bump just right and it would be aimed at Jupiter. Enterprise wanted the Maxima back within a week as it was above my pay grade. Then came a Mazda Protoge which was also fine. Eventually Enterprise wanted that back for "service" and replaced it with a Grand Am. Later I concluded that the Grand Am was the Purgatory that you had to go through if your car was in a crash. Had it for the longest time of all the cars. Seats were uncomfortable, the S O would not ride in it. She insisted that we take her Toyota if we went somewhere together. The cruise control did a lot of weird things so I only tried it a few times. Worst was the freeway performance. If you needed to accelerate from 60-65 mph you had to carefully work the throttle. Full on would cause the trans to downshift 2-3 gears followed by the engine over revving while the car actually slowed slightly. After a second or two the trans would up shift and you would start going faster. It was irritating and unsafe in SoCal traffic. By getting the pedal at just the right place, not 1mm more or less, acceleration would occur at an unspectacular pace, but at least you were not slowing down and waiting for something to happen. Wanted a different car, but Enterprise said no. Until the Grand Am was due for "service". Then came the Mercury version of the Escort wagon. Which was fine except whoever had it previously smoked some awful cigars. Every time I parked it, I opened all the windows and the back hatch. The stench was just starting to go away when I got the van out of the body shop. A few years later the shop was out of business as the insurance companies got tired of paying for rental cars while the customer vehicles sat in their parking lot for months before they worked on them. The insurance companies went after the shop for the rental fees which bankrupted them. And of course all those rentals had the tires overinflated. More recently, rented a Ford Edge. So nice thinking about buying one. A Mazda CX-7 was awful. Rode like a forklift even after lowering the tire pressure 2 psi below the sticker. The tires were about 12 psi above the sticker. Might be part of the reason that its not sold in the USA anymore. Latest was a Jeep Renegade. Similar to the CX-7 the ride did not improve much when lowering the tire pressure to the door sticker. Steering was twitchy at center, but also mushy when cornering. Lots of other problems. Still wondering how/why any vehicle company would sell something like that. Maybe younger drivers that have less experience won't know the difference. They are sold at a low price for these days. The tire pressure thing is not just at rental places. I have seen it come out of many service/tire/repair/dealer shops. More than once I have caught someone looking at the tire sidewall and inflating to the "Max pressure". When it is pointed out to them that there is a sticker on the door jamb with the correct pressure they react like you are lecturing about the perturbations in the orbit of Neptune caused by Pluto.

  • Bkojote Electrify America has been a total eff-up (this should be no surprise given it was a VW led project.) Say what you want about Tesla, but their charging network is their greatest asset. Ford's also had some serious quality control issues. Apparently those center displays on their new vehicles are prone to straight-up failing. And for those being like 'see this is why them EV's are terrible' I'm sure a few Bronco owners would love to tell you about their engine failures as of late.
  • Wjtinfwb How does the ICE mid-engine C8 platform work for... anything else? A sedan? SUV? With a mid engine configuration? A mid-engine SUV will have to be Suburban sized to offer the utility of a CRV. GM should dust off the Omega platform designed for the Cadillac CT6 for an SUV/Sedan offering with exceptional handling, Rear or AWD capability and acceptable space utilization. They also need to focus on interior fit & finish, trim choices and high quality final engineering and assembly. What GM doesn't need is another half-baked product with a storied and prestigious badge on the decklid and a premium price on the Monroney. No more Cimarron's, Allante's or X-cars needed to tarnish the reputation of Corvette.
  • InCogKneeToe BUILD It and they will come.By Build It, I mean a Vehicle that the Customer Wants and it works for them. It could be called Chevette for all that that matters. The Mach E's success isn't because it totes the Mustang on it.Just build what people want, the next Caravan/Taurus/Beetle/Maverick (truck).
  • YellowDuck Wait...how do you make a mid-engine crossover? Or even a 4-door coupe? Me not get.
  • 28-Cars-Later Thanks Corey. The head stud job on NOrthSTAR-T was $3K *years ago* as it involves an engine pull so rear wheel arch rust in and of itself isn't a show stopper. I'll be sure to check out the trunk as it may start to add up on deferred maintenance. Supposedly this was garaged so the underneath the rockers etc. should be decent but if those are shot its not gonna work.