The Joy of Renting a Car

Two vandalised and burnt out cars on a street in rome The joy of renting a car


Is there any other collection of companies out there quite as devious at getting maximum dollar out of unsuspecting consumers?

Think about it. You reserve a car for the ridiculously low rate of $29.95 per day. Whether you reserve over the phone or on the Internet, when you sign off, you are king (or queen) of the world. You have truly taken these guys to task. Ripped them off. Negotiated a deal that will surely cause a dip in their stock, maybe even put them out of business.

Let’s see now. That works out to $119.80 for four days.


That is, until you pick up the car.


Then everything changes. $29.95 a day vanishes very quickly. That’s because nobody ever drives a $29.95 a day car. I think most of them are rusted-out, standard transmission Ladas with 280,000 miles on the odometer. So you need to upgrade. The agent even tells you that they’ve never actually rented a bottom-end car. They wink. They don’t even think they have one.


So you look over the laminated sheet of paper with pictures of cars and stickmen and luggage and decide how far up the evolutionary scale you want to go. Mid-size is fine, until you look up and see the expression on the agent’s face. This is where they check your driver’s license and ask if your address is a trailer court. So you go to full-size.


“Sorry, we’re all out of full size. Very popular today for some reason.” Big smile.


Because you won’t rent anything below that level, thinks now-wary consumer.


“All right, let’s go with luxury.”


So $29.95 just morphed into $49.95. But that’s only the tip of their trickery. Like icebergs. Lots more to go.


“Will you be the only driver? Do you plan on taking the car out of state? Will you be filling the car up with gas or should we top it up at prices that would make Exxon blush?”


The questions keep coming. The extras add up – fast. Except, if you take the time to think about it, you’re not actually getting anything for all that extra money you’re spending. A car is a car. Point A to point B.


Then comes the zinger. The mother of all car rental questions.


“Will you require insurance coverage with your rental?”


This is where the whole thing becomes unimaginably painful. You try to escape the financial axe by telling the agent that your credit card will cover any damages to the car. They snicker. It’s a snicker worthy of a Oscar. It’s a knowing snicker. They know something you don’t.


“What’s wrong with that?” you ask.


“Nothing.” Slight snicker again. “Except that our company is going to bill your credit card directly and then you have to fight it out with Visa (or MasterCard or Amex) to get the money put back on your card.”


So the little hamsters in your brain are whipping about the wheel like a fat man reaching for the last muffin. You against the evil credit card company. You can afford three billable lawyer-hours and they have four hundred and twelve barracudas on staff, ready to find hundreds of reasons why clause 3, subsection 4 should be stricken from the cardholder agreement and you should be left to flap in the wind.


So you agree to the collision-damage-waiver, or whatever it is they call it. But they’re not finished. Not even close.


“So, any damage to the car is covered. But if they sue you and win, you’ll have to pay out a two or three million dollar lawsuit. You okay with that?”


Of course you’re not okay with that. Even Bill Gates would buckle under. What’s a few dollars more to ensure driving about a strange city for one day doesn’t completely destroy you?


“Give me the full coverage,” you say with false bravado.


“Very good. Wise choice.”


Yes, it is. But not for you. For them. Full coverage for a vehicle is in the range of $27.95 a day. So let’s work that out to what they’re charging you a year. $27.95 times 365 is pretty simple math. It totals to $10, 201.75.




To me, this seems a little excessive.


Anyway, one time when I was renting a car in Las Vegas, I asked the rep a simple question.


“If I bring the car back and it’s a charred little piece of molten metal and fried plastic, and only a full-blown forensic autopsy could actually identify that at one time it was a car, will this be covered by the insurance?”


Shocked look. “Yes.”


“Good, then that’s the insurance I want.”


They still rented me the car. That speaks volumes.


Back to the four day rental that started at $119.80. Now we’re at $49.95 a day for the car, $5.00 a day for the extra driver and $27.95 a day for the insurance. Add in tire tax, fuel tax, airport tax, federal tax, state tax, some crazy thing called convenience tax because you picked it up at the airport, and you’re in the range of $420.00.


Plunder and pillage. Plunder and pillage. The cornerstones of every successful car rental company.


But $420.00 is cheap compared to what happens if you don’t take the insurance. The moment you decline, they have you sign and initial the contract in six places indicating you will allow them to inspect the vehicle with an electron microscope upon its return. The slightest speck in the windshield requires a new one be installed immediately. At a cost of hundreds of dollars. Billed to your credit card, of course. Someone should tell these guys that you can have windshield chips repaired for twenty-five dollars. Body damage to the car is unthinkable. Don’t even return the car. Run for it.


So the next time you get off the plane and drag your bag over to the line of car rental booths – Dollar, Budget (now that’s a funny name), Hertz, National, Alamo and Enterprise – be ready. They’re good at what they do.


Unfortunately, it’s not renting cars. It’s maxing out your credit card.


Want to get in touch with Jeff? Click here to send him an email.
Subscribe to Jeff's RSS Feed.