Posted by: David Stewart | September 27, 2010

Car Rentals – I hate them

Modern travel usually involves a triple play: flights, hotel and car rental.

I’m realized today that more and more I am falling out of this mainstream. I actually can’t think of the last time I rented a car for a business trip.

Some of this is because of my destinations. These days for business travel, I mostly visit cities in Asia, which generally have both a phenomenal public transit system and a driving culture that is best to avoid. Even for an upcoming business trip to Cambridge, England, I would much prefer to take the trains and perhaps a taxi if needed than fight with directions, petrol refueling, parking, narrow roads designed for horses, roundabouts, ancient cities, bobbies and the bizarre habit the Brits have of driving on the wrong side of the street. I have done all of these before, in both business trips and holidays, and I’m just not that macho any more. I have nothing left to prove in that department.

Even an upcoming personal trip to St George, Utah to run the marathon will be without an auto rental, even though it will be borderline nuts in such a small town. Why bother with the expense of a car if I will mostly be there to loaf or to run?

It used to be a point of pride that I could drive myself in any country without fear or defeat. Now I don’t care to be so macho. The one exception to this was a business trip to Israel in 2008. Public transit there isn’t available or acceptable for the places I needed to go, and the roads/directions/drivers are quite European in style.

The other factor to consider is poor service. As soon as I saw the title of this article in the New York Times, "Stalled at the Rental Counter," I knew I would resonate with it. If you are not fortunate, you can get tagged with strange charges, bizarre coverages and long delays without any recourse.

I love the way some agencies will leave the keys in the car so you don’t need to wait in line for them. One time in the San Jose airport, a business associate and I walked up to our rental with an open trunk. We plopped our bags in the boot, slammed it shut and then walked around to get in. But the doors of the car were locked, with the keys inside! We had to wait for over an hour for the agency to figure out where to find the duplicate key (if there was one) or to jimmy open the doors.

To this article I would add the following: Always walk around your car to check it for damage. We neglected this step on a recent vacation, and got slapped with a big fee to cover a big scratch on the fender that we did not cause. Take the time, even with someone reputable like Hertz. You never know when you might have to pay for someone else’s carelessness.

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