Rental cars for unpaved roads, Las Vegas
June 2, 2008 5:12 PM   Subscribe

We want to rent a car in Las Vegas, and drive it on dirt roads in Arizona and Utah. What is the cheapest company that allows this (or who will be unlikely to notice we've been doing it)? Bonus points if they provide reasonably-maintained cars. Also, should we get a "Standard SUV" rather than "Mid-Size"? Do they use GPS tracking, and if so does it just check that we stay in permitted states, or do they also check that we stick to paved roads?
posted by thirteenkiller to Travel & Transportation around Las Vegas, NV (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I did exactly what you're describing via Budget rent-a-car several years ago and experienced no trouble whatsoever. My experience is that, regardless of whether they Lojacked the car or something (I highly doubt it), they were concerned only with the mileage you racked up and whether you returned the car undamaged.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:33 PM on June 2, 2008


These are roads, marked on the map for general use, maintained, not considered off-roading? I believe they have to be considered the same as any other road.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 5:36 PM on June 2, 2008


"I believe they have to be considered the same as any other road."

I don't know why you believe that. The rent-a-car company can limit you to driving on 4-lane or bigger, asphalt-paved roads, with medians at lest 4' in width if they so choose.

I'd call the corporate HQs and ask. Don't give them a name or number, just tell them you're interested in doing what you describe and ask if they have any rules against it. I called Enterprise about a different "can I do X with your car" question and they were happy to answer.
posted by toomuchpete at 5:44 PM on June 2, 2008


Well, for instance, the Avis rules say you have to stick to "paved" roads, and Hertz rules say you have to stick to "regularly maintained" roads. Budget said "specific gravel and dirt roads not regularly maintained are forbidden." Other companies don't have any information about this on their website.

We're thinking about driving to Tuweep on the Grand Canyon. You drive there on a dirt road.. some sites call the road maintained, but others warn of dust and washboarding and stray rocks and stuff. I guess I'm just not sure what "maintained" means for the desert Southwest.

We called Payless at the Las Vegas airport and the guy said we can take the car anywhere in the local four states but he didn't seem to really understand English, and the guy at the airport Dollar said we shouldn't drive off paved roads because it might damage the car, but he didn't say whether it's part of the contract or not.
posted by thirteenkiller at 5:49 PM on June 2, 2008


They can make whatever rules they want - I meant in the absence of a specific "no dirt roads" policy you should consider maintained dirt roads as roads.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 5:51 PM on June 2, 2008


I rented a Jeep Compass from the Enterprise in W LV about a year ago for a long weekend.

Note that that particular Jeep was really a Jeep, but IIRC it was $70/day and they really didn't care where I took it, as long as it came back in the same condition I got it.
posted by tachikaze at 6:05 PM on June 2, 2008


I did just that last week. We rented a car from Enterprise and took it from Las Vegas through Zion, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon North Rim, and through the rocky uneven dirt roads of Monument Valley. We booked it online and it said when you rent from Las Vegas, you can take it to the nearby states (can't remember exactly which ones other than Utah and Arizona) no problem and with unlimited mileage.

When we rented the guy asked us if we were going out of state- I said Utah and Arizona. He said that if we ran into any problems, flat tire or whatever, to just go through the glove compartment and find the AAA number to call for assistance... all covered with the regular car rental and didn't have to pay any of that fancy nonsense extra insurance damage stuff. PLUS, we had reserved the smallest compact size and he upgraded us to a nice Mazda6 free of charge... it's a small one-man Enterprise location and the best service I ever had with car rentals. It's the Polaris Ave location if you want to look further into it.
posted by Jimmie at 6:11 PM on June 2, 2008


I did that, even got the car stuck in the mud, and returned it covered in dirt, with no problems. It won't be an issue, unless you have an accident (or break an axle, or something like that) in a place where you aren't supposed to be.

"Maintained" can be a pretty minimal designation, meaning something as minor as the country drives a grader up the road every couple of years, or it can mean a perfect, smooth road -- there is no consistency to the labeling, and maps are often out of date. Sometimes unmaintained roads are signed as such, but not always, and sometimes "unmaintained" roads get maintained. So a "maintained" road can be in terrible shape, and an "unmaintained" road in great shape, or vice versa, with no rhyme or reason. And people have really different ideas of what a "rough" or "dirt" or "rugged" road really is, so you can't trust guide book or online descriptions, either. Similarly, just because something is sold as a "SUV" doesn't mean that it has any more dirt capabilities than a family sedan -- a lot of SUVs are offroad in looks only, and are meant for pavement driving only.

If you see a sign warning that only high-clearance 4wd vehicles should be on the road, don't keep driving unless you are in that kind of vehicle and you have the gear to extricate the vehicle if it gets stuck and you have all the water and supplies you are supposed to have. Be careful driving through sandy washes -- that's where it's really easy to get stuck. If your spidey-sense is going off, and you are hearing the music from Deliverance, turn around and let discretion be the better part of valor. That old joke about 4wd letting you get stuck further from the road is sometimes true; don't get in over your head.
posted by Forktine at 6:42 PM on June 2, 2008


If you see a sign warning that only high-clearance 4wd vehicles should be on the road, don't keep driving unless you are in that kind of vehicle and you have the gear to extricate the vehicle if it gets stuck and you have all the water and supplies you are supposed to have.

I can't stress this advice enough. The lats thing you want is to get your vehicle stuck off-road, 15 miles from the nearest anything in summer desert weather.
posted by mrmojoflying at 7:42 PM on June 2, 2008


I drove to Tuweep two years ago in my mom's Highlander. I've driven rentals on *much* rougher roads with no problems (death valley - to the Racetrack). Do it. It's a great drive, if a little long. lots of washboarding, but nothing you can't do at 50 mph with a couple zongo turns.
posted by notsnot at 8:15 PM on June 2, 2008


It's a great drive, if a little long. lots of washboarding, but nothing you can't do at 50 mph with a couple zongo turns.

Do it, except don't do this. 50 MPH on dirt washboard isn't smart. That's how severe washboarding is created - it's not water or wind that makes washboarding happen, but vehicular traffic.

You can't see far enough ahead to avoid tire-puncturing rocks embedded in the road, or dips or gullies, or washouts which can send you flying off the road at that speed. It also massively increases raised dust - which in the Southwest is rightly classified as "air pollution", and is a huge issue in rural areas - and may be subject to fine in some places. Depending on wind conditions, road dust can linger for hours or days. You also can't see small animals.

Most consumer vehicles aren't very happy about 50 MPH on washboard, either. Besides shredding tires, breaking an axle or getting stuck in sand, all kinds of important bits can be shaken loose or damaged even if nothing else goes wrong. I've seen everything from damaged batteries to cracked radiators and loose hoses from people pushing their cars way, way too hard in the desert on washboards.

Travelling safely in the desert means slow-and-steady, and stepping lightly. Take your time. Watch where you put your feet - both literally and metaphorically. In the desert you need to "watch your feet" for your own safety as well as to protect the desert. No where else in the US is the ground so fragile, yet so dangerous.

And do bring enough water and food for desert survival. You should also consider having a shovel, a couple of planks and a tow strap or chain in the car. Desert locals will be much more happy to help you if you're apparently at least partially prepared.
posted by loquacious at 11:12 AM on June 3, 2008


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