Apache Trail in a rental car?
January 16, 2013 10:40 PM   Subscribe

Planning to drive the Apache Trail (AZ-88) from east-to-west next week. In a rental car.

Is this feasible or advised? We don't know what car the rental agency will give us. I'm worried about damage to the car, and potentially the chances of getting stuck. Any veterans of the drive care to weigh in?
posted by OHSnap to Travel & Transportation around Phoenix, AZ (6 answers total)
In case he doesn't see this, you might want to email loquacious. He recently wrote up this long comment that made me really want to check the trail out.
posted by mannequito at 11:20 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I live in Flagstaff and drive to the Apache Lake Resort along the 88 anywhere from 5 times a year to every other weekend.

I can only speak to the conditions of the road from where it starts (at the Roosevelt Bridge/188) down to the lower dam (horse mesa dam) as I've never gone all the way into Apache Junction; it is graded and maintained to the point that I drive my motorcycle to the resort. If there has been heavy rain then I drive my jeep to avoid having to clean mud off the motorcycle. Every dirt road has it's potential hazards, especially after a good rain, but because of the heavy use of the road any issues are reported and alleviated quickly. It has a few narrow parts where you'll want to honk your horn going around a turn and tiny bridges here and there where only one car can cross at a time, but that's as rough as it gets. The road has some gorgeous views, if you're into photography.

To drive the point home: my cousin drives his Miata to the lake all the time.
posted by MansRiot at 12:39 AM on January 17, 2013

I've done the drive in a poorly-maintained 90s Mitsubishi sedan, a car that was singularly ill-equipped for powerful driving. There were no problems whatsoever. I can't imagine the car that the rental company gives you will be damaged by the Apache Trail drive.

There will be a couple white-knuckle moments, when you see the tight turns or when you're close to the ledge because the road is so narrow. But it's never really rough; it's more the shock of the unexpected.

Have fun!
posted by .kobayashi. at 3:46 AM on January 17, 2013

I can't speak to the Trail specifically, but I've driven probably hundreds of poorly-maintained rental cars over terrible roads (some of them dirt) over the years, and on the rental front, I'd suggest the following:

-It's easier to get a larger car than a smaller car, esp. these days. If you're looking for an SUV, your only real threat is that of the minivan or light truck. It might be worth calling the rental car people to verify you're not coming in at an extremely busy time of the day, when they will have the least choice.

-If possible, plan on driving the car for a bit before starting to make sure it's not about to fall apart.

-Bring a can of Fix-A-Flat. Rental car companies can and do rent cars with tires with a slow leak. They are unreliable about providing roadside assistance, and if they do, it will be limited to replacing the tire with the spare, which may also be poorly maintained. Other basic auto materials (like a tire gauge) may also be advisable. I just carry a tire gauge in my purse these days.

-Get the car company's insurance. Yes, you may not actually need it. But I've noticed that when you have an issue and their insurance is on the car, it just... goes away. When your insurance is covering it's a massive pain in the ass, even if it is covered. For one week, I figure it's worth the overpriced insurance. (I've never wrecked a rental car, but my coworkers have.) And make sure it covers going off-road.

I'd suggest calling the local car rental folks to discuss -- I'm sure you're not the only ones who've asked about this.
posted by pie ninja at 5:26 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Did it last year on a motorcycle and I am pretty sure I passed a family in a rented minivan doing it. If we can do it you can do it as well.
posted by alfanut at 5:47 AM on January 17, 2013

I've never driven this trail (and I never would) but I will give you some practical advice about driving in AZ.

1. Water. Lots and lots of water. For you, for the car, for random strangers. Stay hydrated. Even if it's not broiling hot, it's still dry.

2. Tell people where you are, where you're going and when to start worrying if you don't check in.

3. Gas up! Don't take the smallest car with the smallest tank, unless it's a hybrid or gets great milage.

4. Don't go in wet weather. You would be AMAZED at how quickly desert roads become roaring rivers in just a few inches of rain.

Have fun!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:01 AM on January 17, 2013

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