I recently rented, via the on line site, a compact car for a few days in San Diego. I chose DOLLAR for two reasons, both of which seemed entirely reasonable to me as decision ‘breakers’ given the absolute plethora of rental car companies available at any major US airport. Firstly, I had had very reliable experience with DOLLAR over a period of a dozen years on annual trips to Hawaii. The cars were, for the most part, clean and ready to go when I got there to pick them up. Secondly, their prices were WAY better than the other major vendors; i.e., Hertz, Alamo, Avis, Enterprise etc. The price differential was still obvious on line and I presumed the quality would be up to snuff as well. Turns out that the assumption, based on my own experience, that the quality was and would continue to be reliable and dependable, was not earned. My family and I learned this the hard way, and with it, an important lesson about rental cars in general and, perhaps even a good reason to NEVER buy one of them used – no matter how good they may LOOK.
Our motel was about 25 miles north of the airport. After a brief stop for lunch on the beach, we got back into our shiny, one-year-old Chrysler compact car (15,000 miles on it) and went on our way. However, once we hit the freeway, we discovered that the car was not up-shifting and that at 45MPH the tachometer was running at over 5,000 RPM – enough to blow most engines after a bit. So, we drove slowly, emergency lights flashing, for the rest of the way. We called DOLLAR via cell phone while on the road and they agreed to send a tow truck to our motel and to deliver another car to us as soon as possible. The short version of a rather anguished and tense situation is that we were delivered another (and significantly upgraded, gratis), car within a couple of hours – the faulty one was towed away and we had no further problems.
The lessons are many. Firstly, as with most other things in life (including the performance of Mutual Finds or of specific equities!) past performance is no guarantee of future performance. When a Prospectus is published, those words are always included: On a rental car contract, they NEVER are. Secondly, it reminded us that many drivers often do not drive these rented vehicles as thought hey were their own – and the damage they may and actually do cause may remain invisible to the company which simply washes them and changes the oil every so often – rarely, as I was to discover, checking them out mechanically themselves beyond a quick drive around the block of the storage lot.
Their plan appears to be, generally, to sell them used within 12-18 months while they still look good and have relatively low mileage and before any developing problems become obvious. The problem is, of course, no one has really taken a good look under the hood or performed a meaningful diagnostic evaluation. Ergo, I would not buy one from ANY rental company. That is, admittedly, a tad off point, but important to mention as a logical inference none-the-less.
The good news is that DOLLAR made a bad situation right. The bad news is that it can happen to anyone, anytime and – I suspect – with ANY rental company. It’s a crap shoot. I figure going for the lowest price makes sense since the higher priced rentals are not maintained any differently (as I discovered by corresponding with several of them.) So DOLLAR is, I believe no better nor any worse than the others, but it IS cheaper! Pay your money and take your chance – then hope that if something goes awry, the company you have rented from will make it right – quickly.
DOLLAR did, and on that basis, I continue to recommend them.