Rent cars frequently? Have an opinion? Please share.
May 14, 2013 6:43 PM   Subscribe

We're going to be driving from Seattle, Washington to Ashland, Oregon in July, doing it in one long day's drive each way. We'll be driving a rental. What model of car is the most comfortable? What model has the best gas mileage? What model has the optimum balance between the two?

We're both average size. We would definitely want air conditioning in Oregon in July, but I think every car comes with that now?

I'd also welcome opinions about rental car agencies. We usually rent from a local, non-franchise rental business near us for vans & trucks, but their selection of passenger cars is severely limited. Any company wonderful? Any company to be avoided? Other tips? (I know not to pay for extra insurance, to check the car very carefully before we leave, to get both of us listed as authorized drivers .... anything else?)
posted by kestralwing to Travel & Transportation around Houston, WA (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
In my experience, almost all rental cars are the same. For this reason, I often use priceline... I don't care what agency it comes from. You will probably not be able to choose an exact model, you will be able to choose a class (standard, compact, full size) and get what they have on hand when you arrive. For the type of trip you're going on, I would probably choose a mid-size car.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 6:53 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

There are no "bad" cars made in the last decade. Anything you get will be relatively comfortable. Chose by price alone. Unless you have some extreme luggage requirements, I'd get a compact. For two people it's sufficient. Don't listen to the rental agent that will try to upsell you to a bigger car, as a compact isn't suitable for highway driving, which is unadulterated bullshit, 400 million Europeans agree.
posted by Keith Talent at 7:07 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I rented from Avis today. I was able to use two coupon codes. One brought the price down and one guarantees me a free upgrade when I pick up the car. UUFA018 and D302003.
I'm paying $207.63 for a boring 4 door, not compact car, 7 days. Have your pick up and drop up times exact, they charge by the hour!
posted by myselfasme at 7:22 PM on May 14, 2013

Best answer: I'm a frequent renter and actually just did the LA-SF PCH run in a rental Honda Civic last week. It was great. A tad underpowered on some of the bigger hills, but very comfortable for two plus luggage.

I like renting at airports with the choose-your-own lots. You can try out a few cars for comfort and visibility before committing to one. This may not be an option for you though.

If you're going compact or midsize, a Toyota or Honda is usually a really safe bet. Get a Corolla or Civic and you won't be sorry; not sexy, but good mileage and very comfortable. I've found the lower-end compacts from Ford and GM pretty uncomfortable lately.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 7:32 PM on May 14, 2013

I rent a lot of cars, and I totally disagree that almost all of them are the same. I've had everything from a Toyota Yaris to a Mercury Grand Marquis (and several SUVs too). I do agree that if you're a casual and very cost-conscious renter, most of the rental companies can be treated as interchangeable in the sense that it's ok to just pick the cheapest one. (Personally, since I rent a lot, I find the convenience and perks of sticking with a specific company outweigh the relatively small cost savings available by shopping around each time.)

That said, my favorite rental car I've had in the last year or so was probably a Chevy Cruze. It was a LOT nicer than the Corollas I often get (and is in the same class, so was the same price). No clue on fuel economy; I know they advertise the Cruze as efficient, but I didn't pay attention to it.
posted by primethyme at 7:45 PM on May 14, 2013

This is why I use National. At most National locations, you can pick between whatever is on the lot. It usually takes me a few minutes to find "The Car" that I'm going to spend the next day driving.

I like getting to pick as opposed to being stuck with the car they give me.
posted by 26.2 at 8:07 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: On a long-haul drive like that, don't nickel-and-dime it just to get the cheapest deal. A compact may not have enough oomph if you are dealing with any sort of uphill grade, and/or sharing a highway with ass-haulers and truckers.

It's a good idea to know how all the bells and whistles (and basics) work before you drive off the lot. Where is the spare, and how is it accessed? Which side is the gas cap on? If the manual is missing from the glove compartment, ask for another copy (or have them note that it is missing so you don't get dinged).

I like to take the rental to a quiet street or empty parking lot and practice some evasive/emergency driving moves: slam the brakes; hard turns; that sort of thing. Just to see how it handles under duress.

Enterprise is my preferred company. I've always had really good experiences with them.
posted by nacho fries at 8:33 PM on May 14, 2013

I prefer a two door if its only one or two people, lots more room for getting in and out, but they very rarely have them (except Mustangs). The last few times the high pressure to move up has been incredible:
Rental Guy "You're going up in the the mountains? You need an SUV!"
Me "No, it's July, I'm alone and I'll be on the interstate the whole way"
Him "Well, you at least need a V8"
Me - "No, give me the compact I reserved"
Him "At least a V6, I can't be responsible for sending you with anything just won't have the power to climb the hills"
Me "No. I want the compact!"
So I finally got a Chevy Cruze, and it was great in the mountains.
posted by 445supermag at 8:37 PM on May 14, 2013

26.2 nails it. I used to travel all the time for work and rented ars almost every week. National is the way to go. Sign up for Emerald Club and select a midsize during rental reservation. When you get to the rental lot you can pick any car on the Emerald Aisle. If you search throught Flyertalk threads you can find one about the types of cars at various locations and do a little diligence on those models. I've gotten everything from a VW Beetle to a Toyota Prius to an Infiniti. All while being just a regular Emerald Club member.
posted by FlamingBore at 9:00 PM on May 14, 2013

Yeah, National + Emerald Club is the way to go if you want a particular model of car. I have a thing for Nissan Versa hatchbacks, myself; they get good mileage and are surprisingly roomy on the inside. (It has a weird Merry Poppins / Bag of Holding ability, where the inside may actually be larger than the outside, I suspect.) But not all locations have them.

If you don't care that much about choosing your own car, then just go with whatever one of the major national companies is cheapest.

Personally I avoid Dollar, Thrifty, and Alamo as the cars always seem dirtier than Avis, Hertz, Enterprise, and National, but that probably varies depending on where you are. But driving in a car that is filthy or smells like old cigarette smoke bothers the hell out of me; YMMV.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:09 PM on May 14, 2013

I'm not sure it matters. I stupidly picked a Fiat on a recent trip because it looked cute and the car guy let me choose and I happened to be standing next to the Fiats. I was a little nervous because you can't check the blind spot by turning your head and I freaked out and almost went back to the rental place, but it did have a little mirror on the side mirror that could see the blind spot. It ended up fine and it was probably best that I was being a careful driver. All you'll probably care about is it having enough space for your stuff and having the controls set up in a familiar way. Just pick a car similar to one you've driven before. Stuff like air conditioning and power windows and so on will be in all cars.
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:21 PM on May 14, 2013

I like Hotwire. I've gotten some crazy cheap deals from Hotwire at various airports for rental cars but I never really care what I get. I never get the smallest possible class of care but I always get the next size up and it always works fine.
posted by fieldtrip at 10:16 PM on May 14, 2013

Best gas mileage means hybrid. If you're a AAA member you can get a discount from Hertz.
posted by brujita at 10:47 PM on May 14, 2013

Useful driving-an-unfamiliar-car tip: there's usually a little tiny arrow next to the picture of the gas pump on the gas gauge on the dashboard, and that arrow usually points to which side of the car the gas filler cap is on.
posted by sanderman at 11:49 PM on May 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

Make sure you get cruise control. I recently rented a compact car (Toyota Corolla) and was shocked that it wasn't "standard" for that class though most models have it anyway. I would double check before leaving the lot.
posted by saradarlin at 12:00 AM on May 15, 2013

Anything but a Chevy Aveo. Fuck Chevy Aveos. So uncomfortable.
posted by oceanjesse at 2:37 AM on May 15, 2013

Best answer: DO NOT rent with Dollar Rent A Car or their sister company Thrifty, they have documented deceptive sales policies - their scams even made the New York Times earlier this year. I generally consider myself a reasonably alert consumer, and a moment's confusion at the signature pad = paying $250 over the original estimate of $470 for a weekly rental thanks to Dollar's practices. Dollar also claimed I brought the car back empty when I had filled the tank just prior to arriving at the airport, nicking me for an additional $150 on service & gas charge.

I disputed the extra total $400 both first with Dollar and second with my credit card company and both refused to even reduce the charges. BEWARE!!!

So be CAREFUL, read your rental agreement in detail, do not trust what the counter agent says, get printed versions of everything, especially a printed receipt from the gas station for your final fill-up just before returning the car.
posted by Ardea alba at 3:41 AM on May 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Ill agree that dollar is shifty as hell. I stopped using them when the manager at the Boston/Logan location tried to tack on an extra $80 in bogus charges and when I caught it he threatened me with calling the police on me. Additionally, Alamo is the sister company to National, for what it's worth.
posted by FlamingBore at 3:56 AM on May 15, 2013

Best answer: National is good for the frequent business traveler, but Enterprise at your local place (not the airport) is great for weekend rentals. Enterprise always has an interesting selection of cars, much better than the usual rental fleet.

I usually reserve the least car I'd be happy with (mid-size) and then I hondle a bit when I get to the counter. The easiest upgrade to get is the mini-van, which I think is the BEST vehicle for a road trip, even for two people.

Mini-vans have powerful engines and are like driving your living room, most even have the entertainment system. I love the GPS, the satellite radio and the roominess.

When we drove to Orlando for a week, the minivans weren't available (boo!) so we ended up with a Hyundai Sonata. It had satellite radio, but it was pretty uncomfortable. Hard seats.

The mini-van isn't going to get great gas milage, but on the open road it'll be respectible at around 28 mpg.

The other car I like is the Lincoln MPX. A smallish luxury car with all the trimmings.

But walk into your local Enterprise and see what they have, the managers have the ability to cut you a deal. They also have a $9.99 per weekend day rental deal, so check that out.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:53 AM on May 15, 2013

The last couple of times I rented a compact from Avis in Seattle I got a Chevy Spark. This is a really, really small car -- barely larger than a Smart. I thought it was fun but you might not enjoy it as much.
posted by miyabo at 6:17 AM on May 15, 2013

Best answer: Anything but a Chevy Aveo. Fuck Chevy Aveos. So uncomfortable.

I once rented an Aveo and, yeah, it sucked. It was OK enough for city driving, but I took it on a road trip and it was horrible on mountains and just not very comfortable. If you go with the 'economy' class - the lowest one - you might get stuck with something like an Aveo. Now, I always go for 'compact,' the next level up, which is usually just a dollar or two more per day and it's always been fine.

I actually sorta like driving off the lot in whatever they give me. Driving an unfamiliar car adds another element of adventure to a trip, although it's always a little weird initially.
posted by breakin' the law at 7:21 AM on May 15, 2013

Best answer: I rent quite often for work. I have a corporate rate and get to expense the costs, so I'm really not the best to comment on price. I generally rent from Enterprise and have had nothing but an excellent experience with them over probably 70+ rentals. I think part of it is that the office I use most often has a great staff, but I think there's something in their corporate culture that really makes it a customer friendly company.

Occasionally, I have to rent from Avis due to car availability, proximity to my destination, at an Airport, etc. Of the 5 or 6 times I've rented from Avis, I've had a poor experience probably four times and a TERRIBLE experience twice. They've tried to upsell me every time even though I've booked everything online in advance and on two separate occasions they've tried to charge me after the fact for services/upgrades I did not request or they did not provide.

Based on what you're looking for, I'd probably rent something in the "Standard" or "Mid-Size" ranges. Any smaller and you lose comfort for two people with bags and any larger and you can start to lose gas mileage. Some of the larger models, like the Nissan Altima, are great on gas and super comfortable, but it can be a crapshoot to get one.

YMMV, but I've had nothing but good experiences with Enterprise. I'd definitely recommend them. Also, as others have mentioned, they seem to have the best car choices of the bunch.
posted by Vonnegut27 at 10:02 AM on May 15, 2013

Best answer: I used to rent cars every other week for work for a year and a half, from Avis, with whom FWIW I always had a positive experience. The one time I rented from Enterprise I had a car engine smoke up on the road as I was skidding on ice, which was not fun. But, to be honest, I think that most national agencies are the same and it's really the local personality of the particular office you happen to rent from which will shape your experience.

I will also disagree that all rental cars are the same. When I was frequently renting, I found that I had some very strong preferences (Chevy Impala) and some very strong dislikes (Nissan Altima and, oh my god I'm sorry but driving a Chevy Cruze was the least physically pleasant and most un-ergonomic driving experience I have ever had in my life.)

As you can see upthread, people have different opinions on the Cruze, for instance, which just serves to underline that for a trip of this length, I would be sure that I like the car. In particular, I would make sure that it fits your common driving patterns -- be honest, if you like to drive with just one hand on the armrest for example, you won't change your driving patterns on this one trip, and it will drive you insane if the drivers' seat doesn't lend itself to this. (This was my problem with the Chevy Cruze -- I couldn't find anything to rest my arm on.)

Before I leave the lot, I would check how to turn on the windshield wipers, cruise control, headlights and -- it sounds stupid -- where the lever is to open the gas pump or if it's one of those click-to-open gas pumps. More than once I have resorted to googling "how to pump gas on [X] model of car" to figure out where it was.
posted by andrewesque at 1:57 PM on May 15, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks, everybody! A lot of useful opinions to put in a heap and think about. Have to admit the idea of driving my living room is attractive, especially if we can get half-way decent gas mileage. (We currently drive a beloved Saturn SL which gets terrific gas mileage and never causes us any trouble, but it's 21 years old and has 310,000 miles on it, so it's a bit .... worn. Big comfy seats with power windows (!) and air conditioning (!) and GPS: mmmmmm
posted by kestralwing at 7:21 PM on May 15, 2013

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