For a long time I had a great number of cars to drive. They were of all shapes, sizes and legal status. I’ve had everything from a fire breathing Corvette race car, to a Dodge ram that probably dwarfed the Titanic. This meant on any given day I could grab a set of keys and one of my four wheeled vehicles would whisk me away to accomplish some intended task. Recently, I’ve changed that way of life and trimmed down to just a motorcycle. Gone are the days of hauling anything more than myself and maybe a passenger. But living in sunny southern California changes a man, and CARB don’t help the matter.
That brings me to my next point, my wife does have a car. Teaching her to drive stick was the best and worst thing I could have done. She now owns a bright red coupe with all the bells and whistles to make her happy. We have driven that car all over the place and it has performed remarkably well. But there are limitations, like fitting anyone of average stature in the back seats is a lot like taking up origami. This type of self mutilation is done so infrequently we really don’t mind at all. I schedule time with the car when I need to transport any object that will not fit on a motorcycle (which is essentially everything) and we’ve yet to have a problem with those logistics. Until now.
I got the call as I was looking to purchase another motorcycle (which is another story). To be honest it was really more a text that said simply “Accident” followed by the address and “Please come.” I called her immediately and pieced together that she was T-boned by a lady making a left from a stop sign. Between the traffic and the officer in the background I couldn’t make out how bad it was. I excused myself, jumped back on my bike and lane split rush hour traffic. I was there in record time to see the damage. While it was only a minor accident my wife was still shaken up and we limped the car home. Neither one of us wanted to drive the car given a front wheel needed to be replaced. This was a problem since we were going out of town in just two days time. So what do you do when you have no car? Rent one.
For most of the population rental cars are normally relegated to vacation use upon which they are abused for your stay and returned with a full tank. I used to be of this mind as well, but recently I’ve been using them more frequently as a means of primary transportation. I have actually used rentals a few times in the past month when I needed a car and couldn’t use my wife’s. The beauty of rental cars is they can be VERY cheap, like $7 a day cheap. Yes, for a little more coin than a happy meal you could be rollin’ in a Nissan Versa with only 4300 miles on the clock. I know that seems unheard of, but often times rental companies just have cars sitting and they’d rather make some money than none.
Now at this point you are probably scratching your head saying “this guy has lost it.” But I assure you there is a time and place for econoboxes. For me, its the money I’m saving so I can have more toys to play with, like another motorcycle. It’s true that rental cars will never be as fun as the LS1 powered S14 I had a few years back. But that S14 also didn’t have bluetooth integration or really any sound system. Honestly, it was terrible for anything other than laying down a smokey burn out around town.
However, I sat in a Chrysler 300 for 5 hours as it whisked me across the Arizona desert without the slightest hiccup. Sure it wasn’t as fun as it could have been, but it was cheap and reliable, which is exactly what I needed.
So how do you go about getting a really sweet econobox? The best untold secret I’ve found thus far is a Costco membership. Don’t laugh too hard now, I’m very serious. Costco offers deals with rental car companies and will find you some very cheap rides. Plus you can get a $5 chicken, and a liter of cola for cheap. What’s not to love about Costco! This is how I paid Budget $7 to rent a Versa for a single day. I logged nearly 200 miles on that car and spent more to fill the tank than I did to rent it. Sure it wasn’t a great car, but it had a HUGE back seat which was perfect for stuffing all my gear, bike, and cooler into. Was it my vehicle of choice? No. But it did get me to and from that event without even a CEL or warning light, which is more than I can say for the rest of the attendees.
I used to hate renting a car for three reasons. The first being I hated rental cars, their lack of sportiness, and autotragic transmissions made me die a little inside. All of the cars I have owned have appealed to me on some level which is something a rental will never do. Rental cars are just to get you and your stuff from point A to point B. Once you realize your connection with this car will be very limited the utilitarian aspect becomes clear. Second, the cost. I’m sure you’ve looked and seen advertisements for cheaper rental cars, and when you look at the fine print, they didn’t add in their share of fees, taxes, insurance and maybe even the cost to wax the thing. This all means you end up paying twice the price of the advertised car! Third, what if you get into an accident? Remember all of that coverage and extras you declined at the counter to save a few extra dollars? Don’t worry about it! Seriously, don’t. Most accidents can and will be covered by a combination of your own insurance and your credit cards insurance. Sure, if you paid in cash you may be SOL, but if you paid with Visa, Amex, Discover, or Mastercard you’re in good hands. While the details can vary most Credit Cards will cover the damage to the cars. Your insurance would end up covering any injury to yourself or another party. Again, there is lots of fine print and I recommend you call your credit card and insurance company to see what they cover before you rent.
So what if you can’t rent for some reason, perhaps you are under 25. Well, do you have a smartphone? Well my friend you are in luck! There some dandy ride sharing apps called Lyft and Uber which I’m sure you have heard of. Both are like personal taxi services that actually show up when they promised and take you where you want to go. If you do live in a city with either of these apps I highly suggest you give them a try. For short jaunts around town they are a little pricey, but are actually much cheaper than cabs. The cars are also much cleaner, and since destination and payment are handled via your cell phone you never need to worry about if the driver understands English or takes a credit card. The best part about them is not having to deal with the way Cabbies drive, which is to treat everything like an On/Off switch.
I’ve even seen a site called Relayrides.com that allows people to rent their own cars. While I’ve never tried this service I have a reservation in for a pickup next month. I want a truck to haul me and my motorcycle to the track, where I’ll likely scare the bejesus out of myself. Instead of buying a cheap truck, for $50 I can rent one for two days that should work just fine.
So where does this leave us? It leaves my wife and I in an interesting situation. We are on a quest to find our next car, a very specific Golf Sportwagen. But first we are putting her prized coupe up for sale. Neither of us are the slightest bit concerned about it selling before we find the wagon of our dreams. Because of cheap rental cars, and our cell phone apps we’ll be able to use 4 wheeled transportation whenever we need. It’s funny for me to admit as a car guy, that I may be 100% car free in the next week or so. That being said, my next article will probably be about how to deal with people from Craigslist. Wish me luck!