Leaving New York, Never Easy... Car hire?
June 3, 2008 9:59 PM   Subscribe

I'm currently in Astoria, NY, and planning to drive to DC tomorrow in a hired car.

The question is - where should I hire a car to get a good rate? Is it worth it to travel to New Jersey as was suggested to me, or should I just go to La Guardia airport? Anything I should know about car hire? I'm from Australia, so the main thing is to remember to drive on the right side of the road.
posted by tomble to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
A quick look at the enterprise (a solid cheep option) shows that you can get a better deal from midtown Manhattan than LGA or NJ, plus you probably get there on the subway. USD70/day from LGA vs. 50 from midtown. I would poke around the enterprise and budget sites using the zip code of 10001 as the search location.

As we say down under: good luck.
posted by shothotbot at 10:24 PM on June 3, 2008

Airport car rental locations generally have extra taxes/fees associated with them.
posted by dcjd at 10:32 PM on June 3, 2008

If you ask for a "hired car" in America you're going to get a lot of funny looks and possibly be directed to the taxi stand. I had to do a doubletake on this one, because that's what I thought you wanted to do. We "rent" cars here. Minor semantic difference, to be sure, but enough to make people not understand you.

(for the record, I had a hell of a time finding a "bathroom" in England until I realized that it was a "toilet")
posted by Electrius at 10:51 PM on June 3, 2008

Yes, you want "car rental" not "car hire" places.

A few pointers about the route:
Gas stations in New Jersey are all full-serve (unlike stations in other states, which usually have both full-serve and self-serve options), and tends to be cheaper than gas in other states on your route. Much cheaper than NY state. map of gas prices Rest stops on the highway in NJ tend to be pretty nice; those in other states for example Maryland are crummier.

You'll be crossing bridges to exit NYC; most of the bridges have toll costs. You'll be driving at least part of the way on highways that have tolls. Bring plenty of cash for the tolls.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:09 PM on June 3, 2008

Also: in DC you will be an hour from Baltimore, a down-at-heels but interesting smaller US city. This week only there is a fantastic exhibit of maps at the Walters Art museum there. If you are remotely interested in maps, mapping methods, historical maps, literary maps (eg Tolkien's), etc, it's well worth it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:21 PM on June 3, 2008

You'll be crossing bridges to exit NYC; most of the bridges have toll costs.

All bridges and tunnels leaving Manhattan into Jersey are free. There are tolls coming into the city, but none going out.
posted by one_bean at 11:22 PM on June 3, 2008

A quick look at the enterprise (a solid cheep option) shows that you can get a better deal from midtown Manhattan than LGA or NJ, plus you probably get there on the subway.

But then you also need to factor in the stress of driving through Manhattan. I have never seen such insane driving in my life.
posted by essexjan at 3:37 AM on June 4, 2008

Using Cheaptickets.com, I just found results of $50 daily rentals (at Dollar and Thrifty) at LaGuardia, which was cheaper than the same results from Midtown. If you can get that rate, it'd be the cheapest overall in terms of your time. FYI, the cheapest rental I've found in the area in general was $36 a day in Stamford, CT, but that's not the right direction for your travel, so $50 seems like a decent deal. It's also worth it to Google the name of the car rental company +coupon to see if there are special deals like 10% off.

Tips: you must be 25 years old to rent a car. You have to put it on a credit card and show a driver's license. Check into your credit card terms beforehand -- some, like American Express, may include some types of automatic insurance coverage, enabling you to refuse the optional insurances that the rental company will offer you.

They'll offer you an option of either returning the car full of gas (which means you have to stop and fill it at a gas station as close as possible to the rental car area -- it's smart to Mapquest this ahead of time), or to return it at whatever level the gas is at and they'll fill it at a particular rate. One trip I took, the gas rate offered was actually a lot cheaper than the prices at the pump, so then my challenge was to try to return the car as empty as possible. I was doing lots of mental math (gas tank capacity and mileage per gallon) to figure out how much fuel to put in so that I'd just barely make it back to the airport.

Allow for extra time to get through any tolls, since you'll be driving in the cash lanes. If time is at all an issue, I'd also Google to find which radio stations give traffic information along your route. In NYC, the reliable one is AM 1010, which gives traffic at the minutes past the hour ending in 1 (:11, :21, :31, etc.). AM 880 also reports traffic on the minutes ending in 8 (:08, :18) but they seem to mention fewer incidents than 1010 does. I usually listen to both and then scoff at 880 once I hear 1010's report.
posted by xo at 4:39 AM on June 4, 2008

I believe some rental companies have cars with EZ Pass. Having one will make part of your drive that much easier, as the NJ Turnpike is a toll road, and there are other tolls on the way to DC.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:22 AM on June 4, 2008

You don't actually have to be 25 years old to rent a car, but if you are under 25 there are extra fees.

I would drive from NJ, because driving in New York is crazy enough even if you're used to which side of the road you're on.
posted by goingonit at 5:44 AM on June 4, 2008

If you are going to DC, it makes sense to rent from Jersey. Saves you time and hassle, since it is easier to take a train to Jersey. I would be shocked that if a car would not be cheaper there as well, but I am certainly not a rental expert.
posted by dame at 6:07 AM on June 4, 2008

As mentioned above, do not underestimate the difficulty of driving through NY City. If you do it, avoid high traffic times and areas.
posted by GPF at 6:48 AM on June 4, 2008

Why not just take the train from NY to Union Station in DC and then use the Metro system to get around?
posted by nougat at 7:13 AM on June 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Call the rental places before you go pick up a car to see if they'll accept non-US driver's licenses/documentation. The ones in midtown manhattan might not but I do know that the ones at LGA will.
posted by Stynxno at 8:29 AM on June 4, 2008

Best answer: New Jersey: Starting from New Jersey (just outside New York City), the trip takes about 4 or 4 1/2 hours. But driving from LaGuardia to New Jersey could take up to 1 or 1 1/2 hours (or more -- who knows, a construction crane could fall down in front of you) So, yes, rent from Jersey if you can.

Tolls: EZ Pass is a small radio receiver that mounts onto the dashboard or license plate and automatically deducts tolls from a pre-paid account as you drive under sensors at toll plazas. Cars with EZ Pass are entitled to travel to special traffic lanes as they approach a toll plaza. B/c EZ Pass eliminates the need to hand over money to a tollbooth operator, EZ Pass traffic lanes have much shorter (or no) traffic backups compared to the other lanes. If the rental car doesn't have EZ Pass, keep $10 or $15 in your wallet to pay the NJ Turnpike and two or three other tolls on the interstate highway that runs between NYC and DC.

The Train: Amtrak between NYC and DC is surprisingly expensive -- more than $100 one way. Have you looked into the many inexpensive buses lines that run this route (the Chinatown buses and recent competitors such as Bolt Bus)?
posted by hhc5 at 8:48 AM on June 4, 2008

Also, you are going to pass through several major cities, including Philadelphia and Baltimore. Try to time your trip to avoid rush hours in those places.
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:58 AM on June 4, 2008

Two words:

Chinatown. Bus.

Sure, you might be putting your life on the line for $35 bucks (round trip!), but it's never failed to take me to DC or Boston in record time. And they run fairly frequently.

Do a quick Google search for Chinatown buses in NY and DC and you're bound to get a good number of hits. You can order and print out your tickets in a matter of five minutes.

It doesn't seem like one company is any better (or worse) than the other, so just take a shot in the dark.

But if the Chinatown bus isn't the route you want to take, best of luck with the renting.
posted by chan.caro at 12:51 PM on June 4, 2008

Best answer: I think you do have to be at least 21 to rent a car, and under 25 you pay extra, so first off call an agency or two and ask, if you're that young (Avis or Enterprise or Hertz are fine).

I have used the "bid" option (at the bottom of the page) on Priceline.com to rent cars at extremely cheap rates (I'm talking $10/day for the compacts.. they will are taxes/fees on top of that.. so it'd be maybe $25/day). I assume you have a valid driver's license and a credit/debit card to pay with.. if you initial offer gets rejected just back completely out of the website and start over, they can't tell. The drawback there is once your offer's accepted you can't cancel it. But again, I have used it, specifically naming an airport as my location to get the car, because all the rental agencies are in the same place at the airport. If you just put New York City who knows where they'll send you. YMMV, I've done this in Washington DC successfully.

Do keep in mind the price they quote per day is NOT going to include about $20 extra per day in taxes and fees that will be charged on top of it, and definitely get the smallest vehicle that is practical for you, because the smaller the car the cheaper the rate, and gas is expensive, who needs to waste it.

Far as I know (again someone advise if I'm wrong - especially for an non US citizen) they'll try to get you to pay all sorts of extra fees per day for this and that extra insurance. It's a waste of money, turn them down. Again if anyone else can advise, that'd be good, I did hesitate a little when you joked about being sure to drive on the right side of the road. :)

It is a heck of a long drive, try to avoid rush hours if you can, which is also a bit tricky as it's going to take 6-7 hours depending on how fast you drive & the traffic. DC rush hour is bad, though most traffic is going in the other direction out of the city, if you can avoid hitting the DC Beltway from 5-7:30 PM that is wise. Not the end of the world but who wants to sit in traffic.

Not sure from memory how many toll booths you hit, but you'd be taking the NJ Turnpike and you'll have to go through a number of them, they don't cost much (75 cents maybe?) but make sure you have change, that way you can just toss it in the bin at the toll booth and be on your way. So bring about two dollars' worth of quarters and some nickels and dimes. I-95 through Delaware has tolls as well, I think, as does the Harbor tunnel through Baltimore, those cost a couple dollars each, bring dollar bills to make this go faster. Be careful of other cars when these giant toll lanes come up, exiting them and going back to the highway is a bit of a free-for-all. Some lanes are marked for E-Z-Pass drivers only and if your car doesn't have that, don't take that lane! :) If they don't hit you up for toll money on the trip south they'll get you on the return trip. Oh, and check your map, stay on the NJ Turnpike all the way through New Jersey, at a certain point I-95 and I-295 will go off to Philadelphia and no need to go that way.
posted by citron at 7:27 PM on June 5, 2008

Yow, did I just write all that the day after? Hahaha. Well, maybe someone else can use it. :)
posted by citron at 7:28 PM on June 5, 2008

Response by poster: A followup on this - we rented a car from LaGuardia, with the EZpass option (which was invaluable - we went through a LOT of tollbooths).

Used a GPS to get us around Manhattan, over the Verrazano Narrows bridge (very impressive) and all the way to DC with only a single wrong turn. If we had not had our own GPS we would have rented one with the car, or else we would have probably gone insane. GPS = Must Have.

We also rented a car when leaving DC, and found a `free upgrade' coupon which gave us a luxury Caddy for a week rather than the standard sedan we were looking at.
posted by tomble at 2:10 PM on June 25, 2008

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