The greatest rental car comment ever uttered has to have come from Jeremy Clarkson on BBC's Top Gear. As he and James May set off on some excellent adventure Clarkson shows up in a light blue Toyota something or other. He points to the car and says
'This is the fastest car in the world'.
James asks how in the world could a boring sedan be the fastest car in the world? Mr. Clarkson exclaims 'It's a rental!'. From that point forward the little car never had a chance. So it is true with all rentals, they seemingly live the life of a London cabby horse in the late 1800’s.
As we conclude our series on rental cars I am here to share the plight of these vehicles. I am not talking about just Mustang GT's and Camaro SS's but even the little Toyota Yaris or the huge Chrysler Town and Country mini-van that have been treated in ways as people say 'I wouldn't treat my worst enemy like that.' I imagine as cars come off the manufacturing line and think with joy about their future owners some Taurus or Impala reminds them 'You could become a rental'. It is then the nightmares begin.
How do people treat rental cars? A few, like me, call us One Percenters, actually treat them well. My love of cars doesn't allow me to trash, beat on, dirty or do anything else that plagues how these poor
beasts are treated. Maybe one standard deviation from me are those who just get in the cars and drive them neither caring that they are rental cars, or cars at all. A ding? No worries. Food on the floor? So what, the Avis people will clean it up. They generally don't misuse the vehicles but definitely have no issue leaving a rental in a tough neighborhood - unlocked.
There is a larger group who believe that a rental car is synonymous with 'garbage truck'. This group is generally comprised of families but a single salesperson living the jet set life of fast food, 84 ounce sodas from Shell stations can also fall into this category. These poor cars return after a week at the beach with enough sand to fix slippery roads for the city of Atlanta during an ice storm, enough dirt to plant potatoes and other root vegetables and
enough garbage to keep Wall-E happily employed for a thousand years. How this is done in a single week I don't know but these renters seem to accomplish this without breaking a sweat. I am positive I once saw a bucket loader at the back of a mini-van helping to unload more trash than early Native Americans would make in a lifetime.
The remaining 85% of the people get in their beast of burden and suddenly think they are Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson. Behind the wheel they are at the Coca Cola 600 in Talladega and dang it, they are going to win. This type of driving behavior is regardless of location, weather or, scarily, driving skills. They drive like this in town or on the open road believing the right hand pedal must be to the floor while simultaneously slamming the brakes till they become molten pieces of metal dripping beneath the car at each and every traffic light. The phrase 'Drive it like you stole it' is their mantra.
What's funny about the 85 Percenters is they do this no matter what kind of car they have. A mini-van - well it has one of those auto-manual shifters so they must want me to jam it in and out of gear. A Nissan Versa - the engine is so small I have to run it to 9,000 rpms just to get to the top of the hill (by the way, the car red-lines, which means that is the SAFE maximum engine revolutions, at 6500). We all know a Taurus can easily drive over the largest speed bump at 40 MPH and the little Chevy Cruze – ‘Pot hole?
What pot hole?’ as they careen the vehicle through Neil Armstrong’s lunar crater the same way Grave Digger drives over other trucks. Do I need to mention what happens to Mustangs, Challengers, and Camaros? Let's not go there, I just had breakfast.
Why we treat rental cars like this I don’t know. Is it to help us get out our road rage? Do we have a bad home life so instead kicking the dog we kick our rentals? Maybe it is because a car in our past left us stranded so we put a horse head into the lot with a message
‘This could be you’.
Why though? Why only rental cars? People don’t annihilate tools they rent from Home Depot or from a neighbor (I do have a story about weed whacker that came back after a day’s use in let’s say less than pristine condition). This doesn’t seem to happen to vacation rentals. Even people who rent apartments and houses tend not to destroy them simply because they can. In fact, in other rental situations it is One Percenters who treat other rental objects roughly while the other 99% are respectful.
I read the following quote from a frequent car renter:
'I normally don't abuse any car but have to admit that I did try to help a couple of pieces of junk end their misery.'
That about sums up the fate of the rental car.
So how do you treat your rental cars? Never mind, I don't think I could handle the answer. As one who loves cars and thinks of them as having a soul, it is difficult to sit back and watch the hopeless life of the rental car. I am thinking of starting my own non-profit – PETRC – People for the Ethical Treatment of Rental Cars.
That’s thing about rental cars – just as people never say ‘I want to grow up to be a jerk’, no car comes out of the factory wishing it will one day join a rental fleet.