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Does anyone *like* renting a car?

This article on Hertz’ change in insurance policies to have drivers responsible for acts of god just adds yet another log to the “rental cars hate their customers” fire.

My experience with Budget after my accident is seemingly typical — even though I was not at fault, Budget was still hostile toward me, sending terse threatening letters about how I owed them money.

Or the car I rented this past weekend from Avis — the Lost Damage Waiver was $23.99 a DAY, which is more than the car cost. I declined, trusting the gold card to cover it. But, I mean, come ON.

Does anyone have satisfactory rental car experiences? Even Enterprise, whom I had trusted, gouged me on both the additional driver fee as well as an underhanded upgrade that caught us off-guard until we realized what had happened. Why do I have to be “on my guard” when renting a car? Why do I have to assume they are out to get me? How does that build customer loyalty and trust?

Where is the JetBlue of the car rental industry? Hell, why isn’t JetBlue in the car rental industry? It is so clearly an industry in need of some form of disruptive competition, because the current set of companies are simply racing to the bottom.

  1. Forget rental agencies. My hope is that ZipCar will set up shop in airports. Already my membership is DC is good in NYC, SF, Boston, and the other cities that they’re working in. I don’t have to worry about insurance, gas, waiting in lines, etc… it’s lovely.

  2. From experience this past year I found being a member of a rental car company’s preferred program had a large improvement in service. Having clients provide rental cars using their elite programs and realizing that the experience was much better (not orders of magnitude better). Not having to fill out the paperwork, having the “bargins” pushed to my e-mail a day ahead of arrival, having all of my preferences preset, having the “incidentals” (extra driver, XM radio, etc.) already decided or selecting the service with the best rates for these gets rid of the pain.

    My favorite so far is National’s Emerald service. All of these things are preset, I get off the plane, go to National, find the well marked Emerald Isle, and get in the car and go.

    I really do like the Jet Blue approach of treating everybody like their are a preferred member. Jet Blue does this service at a great price (except this past summer during the normal rush).

  3. Car renting can be a drag but, quite frankly, I like it. Other than boarding an airplane, there’s no better start to a trip than climbing into a well chosen rental car on the way to racking up hundreds to thousands of relatively care-free miles throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

    True, you have to pay attention to the details of the contract and possess sufficient sense and experience to make good decisions, but aren’t those the same attributes you need when you get behind the wheel?

    The Internet now makes it easier than ever to scope out the best deal on a car rental. I always seem to be able to find a good deal either from the big companies or the small.

    Enterprise was very good to me on my last drive north. First, the local Marina Office honored a web site error that gave me four days on the Weekend 50% three-day special. Then they upgraded me to a very comfortable drive (not as great as the Grand Van Dollar gave us a few years ago), and when I returned the car, the agent advised me that I had more gas in the tank than required and gave me a chit for 1/4 tank credit on my next rental.

    I am now looking forward to my upcoming drive north in my $10.95 a day Intermediate size rental from Ace Rent a Car. Can Jet Blue beat that?

    But if you want to read about a real abuse of a sales contract, Customer Service round-around and client helplessness, check out my recent report on Norton Anti Virus:

  4. The large insurance premiums can be avoided by using your own insurance. I don’t even have collision on my own car (its old), but I can add it to my policy for the days I am driving a rental for pennies. Then remove it when I’m done renting.

    Try that!

  5. I forgot to include Europe and the UK in my car rental experience. But the important thing I forgot to mention is that I have never had a bad experience with a car rental.

    I once had a vehicle replacement in Philadelphia effected in a timely manner, and a tire replacement in Puebla, Mexico accomplished likewise. And any dispute I ever had over a reservation or an invoice was always resolved in my favor.

    Alternative strategies like Joel’s are shrewd. One of mine is to have at least two reservations at different rental agencies so that I always have a fall back position.

  6. JetBlue is a truly awful comparison here, because they don’t let you drive away in a costly asset. In fact, during the actual service you pay em for, they don’t let you do much of anything (which is TSA’s fault, but still true).

    The opportunity here is not a new rental agency that’ll charge everyone higher rates in order to cover edge cases. The real business opportunity is — hurts to say — insurance. Where are the third-party insurers for people who want 3 days of coverage (and don’t have a regular auto insurer that provides it)?

    Perspective (since I’ve been lucky enough not to have bad things happen to me in rental cars): I only rent a car because I just got off a plane and my own car is not available. But I’d like the experience to be as close as possible to having my own car. So it doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch that if a tree falls on the thing, I can’t walk away worry-free. Walking away is a luxury I’d have to pay for on my car or a rental.

    It’s the ridiculous expense that’s objectionable. It costs me a damn sight less than $24 a day to insure my own car. But single-day insurance costs a lot, not just at rental companies — if you’ve ever bought a day of Mexican car insurance ($20) you know this. The high price buys me anonymity I don’t need.

    But if I had an ongoing account with some insurance carrier, and sporadically bought a few days of coverage from them, likely the price would be cut in half. Geico, Esurance, USAA, are you reading this?

  7. Maybe it’s just the branches I go to (Broadway, West Grand in Oakland) but Enterprise has always been a really great customer experience for me. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like I needed to be “on my guard” with those guys, and they have gone out of their way to be helpful on numerous occasions. I think it has something to do with using branches that aren’t connected to airports or other high-demand areas.

  8. My experiences with Enterprise are completely mind blowing. First, I got into an accident. I was greeted with a handshake and a smile, which helped alleviate the tension from the wreck. They were running low on cars, and my insurance company only covered me at 26.99 per day for a car, so Enterprise offered me an available Large SUV (yukon) for the same rate. The tank was on half way, but when the attendant noticed it she quickly filled it back up to Full and told me to bring it back on 3/4 tank because of the time i had to wait ( a whopping 4 minutes). I have rented numerous times from Enterprise and somehow I come out on top every time. I will only use Enterprise for my car rentals, my experiences with Hertz have been absolutely horrible. I feel like I’m cattle when I’m there, in and out, just another sucker renting a car with NO customer service. Never use Hertz, they don’t care about the customer at all.

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