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Birmingham Parent magazine

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Thing About Rental Cars - Part 1

By John Graham, guest blogger

Summer isn't over yet, and a lot of people will be traveling.  That often means renting a car. I travel a lot, sometimes two or three cities in a single week. That means a lot of rental cars. Each city I go to becomes not only a new experience but an opportunity to drive a different car.

I find there are two experiences that come with renting a car.

First, what type of car to choose? With so many options this is not as simple as it sounds.  Second, the excitement of what car I will get my hands on when I arrive.

For this month, let’s focus on choosing the type of car. When logging on to pick your rental not only will you select the pickup location, arrival time, drop off location and when the car will be returned, you also get to choose what kind of car you want to rent.

The options seem to grow with each passing year. Years ago you had 3 choices - small, medium or large. No, no, no, like cereal, you now have dozens of options. The list of categories is longer than my computer screen. Here are just a few examples and what they really mean.

·       The Sub-compact - That is a euphemism for a pedal operated car. This one is simple, never choose a sub-compact.

·       The Compact - That is the one you choose because your company says you need to save money. It will get you back and forth from the airport but you must admit that you chose the car because you had to be cheap.

·       Mid-size, Full-size, and Luxury - I often wonder what rules rental companies use to define categories. Certainly not rational ones.
o   Mid-size cars should be middle size meaning something that can comfortably fit five people and allow the driver to have his or her own portion of the armrest. To the rental company it means a compact that has a rear middle seatbelt. No actual room for a human that eats, but there is a seatbelt. The mid-size is like your local restaurant that no longer sells a small pizza. You have the choice of a medium, large or extra-large and by golly you will pay more for the medium because, well, it must be larger than a small. The mid-size is by no means middle of anything.

o   Full size cars are what mid-size cars used to be. Five people fit but not necessarily comfortably. Full-size cars come with warnings about sleeping and driving. As you walk to the car you begin to feel drowsy as the boredom of the mundane cars that surround you makes you sleepy. There wasn’t any excitement when they were designed, certainly no thrill when they were built, no celebration when they were delivered and absolutely nothing to make you say ‘Wow, this is going to be fun’. While full size represent what most of us will rent we must all be wary of the sleepiness factor that comes with them. No-Doze needs to be standard in the rental agreement.

o   Luxury cars. Short and sweet – cars for grandma and grandpa. Be extra careful with these boats because the port-side (left hand) turn signals do not turn off. Legend has it that people have rented these land yachts, stopped at their hotels and waking the next day to find that their car was gone, to be found later by the State Police either in Florida or trying like crazy to get there.

·       CUV, SUV, Extended SUVs and Supersize Me - You will pay through the nose for one of these brutes. Not just at the rental lot but also at the gas station, at the parking lot where they won’t fit into any spots, and with the small amount of luggage they can actually hold. This is the car that people say:

      ‘I rented the Supersize Me because there is no way you will get me in a mini-van. These are the   
            best people carriers you can get.'

People really say this, with a straight face, as they lift and muscle their 92 year old grandmother into the third row seat. Meanwhile, she struggles for air due to the high elevation. Don’t forget though, you will look cool doing it.

·       Mini-van - Ah, one of the most maligned vehicles in existence. They are an un-cool car but is that really true? Yes, the first ones, the ones that came out right after the Conestoga wagon were awful things. Under-powered, uncomfortable and ugly. Be honest, does that view still hold? Mini-vans have traveled a long way and now come standard with features like nearly 300 HP, fully digital controls, DVD players, 192 and ½ cup holders, automatic stop baby crying devices and a host of other family features. I have no issue renting a mini-van to transport my family. It truly is the best people mover in the world. It’s not like you are buying it, it is yours for a couple of weeks. If someone makes fun of you just say ‘Hey, it’s a rental’ and then brag at the water cooler about how you would never OWN one of those things all the while thinking about your spouse loading the 18 month old into the middle seat of the Supersize me while standing on tiptoes to do so.

The plethora of categories continue. The Adrenaline collection, the Green Collection, the ‘I Don’t Know What Category This Car Fits’ collection and the list goes on and on. There are just too many to list here.
To summarize, rent the car that works for you and your family, even if it might not be cool or simply because it is cool. It's not like you will be forced to take it home.

That’s the thing about rental cars, tune in NEXT TIME to find out.

 About the author: 

I am 49 years old and am a Yankee that has transplanted to Birmingham. Had I known this areas was so beautiful I would have asked God to let me be born here instead of being a transplant. It will take wild horses to drag me out of this city. I have 3 teenage children and have lost most of my hair as a result.  I have been married for 26 years. While I work in healthcare technology my true passion is for cars. I can't remember a day that I haven't simply loved cars. I don't mean an infatuation but a true, true love of them. In a recent blog post I noted.

"If you love cars, I mean really love them you know what a burden it is to live with this genetic trait. People don't understand us. Conversations about what's playing at the movies? What is on the news? Your neighbor's new baby is really just biding time until you can mention a car and some obscure factoid that would only interest you, and a fellow fuel veined soul. Talking about Weber carbs and the sound they make when the accelerator  is pushed through the firewall makes your heart race, your eyes dart around and makes you, well, ALIVE! " That is me.

I currently own and drive daily a pristine 1974 BMW 2002 and a very ratty, slowly being modified, 1976 BMW 2002. 

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