The team at AutoSlash gets questions about long-term rentals often and frequently advises renters to read insurance documents carefully -- most coverage for rental cars ends after 28, 30, or 42 days. Our team also has experienced almost everything imaginable in a rental car. Business rentals, vacations, one-way rentals, border crossings, award days, damage claims, and even rentals paid for by insurance companies are all familiar. Yet there's always the potential for something new. Major recent vehicle recalls have introduced another wrinkle; long-term rentals provided by automobile manufacturers when there's a major defect that the manufacturer lacks the parts or technical expertise to fix. I'm currently living that experience due to a recall that made my privately-owned vehicle unsafe to drive, with a rental vehicle in my driveway paid for by Nissan.
A Decade Ago, Few People Knew the Name Takata
Takata was simply a company in the background of auto parts suppliers until millions of cars were recalled. I began to believe that my car should have been after reading documentation as early as 2016. In May 2017, I began sending communications to Nissan North America that I believed my vehicle was considered the highest priority under the Takata recall -- I read about cars every day, am familiar with NHTSA's reports, and my vehicle was registered in a HAH (High Absolute Humidity) state for multiple years. Nissan denied the vehicle was subject to an active recall and the dealerships wouldn't replace the airbag without Nissan's authorization. In June 2017, Takata declared bankruptcy.
There's no further foreshadowing needed here -- I asked for help in May, the airbag inflator maker went bankrupt in June, and my vehicle was recalled in July 2017 for a faulty driver's side airbag. When the problem is a passenger seat airbag recall, many manufacturers have advised owners to "not have anyone sit in the passenger seat" (really). AutoSlash's Eric is among the many who have been told by a manufacturer to operate his privately-owned vehicle for multiple years without a passenger in the front passenger seat. We all think that's an inadequate "fix" but the guidance has met the approval of NHTSA for multiple years ... When the issue is the driver's side airbag, there's no option to "sit elsewhere". And as NHTSA notes in their reports, "the risk of ... tragic consequences is greatest for individuals sitting in the driver seat."
By not repairing my vehicle when I originally requested, Nissan couldn't secure an adequate supply of airbag inflators. So I went into the list of customers who were "pending resolution" at some unknown future date, despite knowing of the recall the day NHTSA was informed. More than a month before Nissan's notification letter will be sent in September 2017, I proactively asked Nissan North America what would be done and got the expected vacuous answer in reply. At my local dealership, I got a real answer -- Nissan would pay for a replacement vehicle until my vehicle was repaired at some point next year. Later that same day, Nissan signed a preliminary agreement to provide that same offer to other Nissan consumers.
On August 9, 2017, I signed documentation to park and store the vehicle I own until Nissan figures out how to fix the defective driver's side airbag.
- I cannot drive the Nissan I own until the day it gets repaired.
- I cannot sell the Nissan I own until the day it gets repaired.
In exchange, I received a new 2017 model with 15 miles on the odometer. The car I purchased was a 6-speed manual transmission (my strong preference) but was replaced with an automatic transmission. My choices were exterior color (white or black), a 4-door sedan or 5-door hatchback. With three exceptions, staff members repeatedly stressed that I should think of the replacement as "my car" until my car could be repaired. For instance, I don't need to get permission to drive out of the country and there's no limit on the number of miles I can drive.
Day 2, still has that new car odometer look.
The Question Any Driver Should Ask (that Nissan's Representatives Hadn't Considered).
I immediately asked the representatives about the insurance ramifications of what is technically a "rental" of more than 30 days. I got blank stares in return. The AutoSlash team reads all of our personal insurance documents, policies issued by our credit card issuers, and even various rental car contracts. For instance, many insurance policies get into minutiae where a temporary substitute auto has different protections and coverage than the long-term use of a non-owned auto. If a family member provided me an SUV for 35 days because I needed a larger vehicle, my insurance coverage wouldn't protect me after 30 days on the non-owned auto. However, the temporary substitute auto provision of my policy (YMMV) covers a vehicle that's given to me by a dealer/manufacturer because my personal car is completely inoperable. A few phone calls verified that a rental of unknown duration would be covered under my existing automobile coverage. Protections provided by my credit card company? Those are absolutely non-applicable; credit card coverage only covers rentals paid for with the credit card (and for a limited duration).
What are the Catches?
The first of the three exceptions to the "this is your car" mantra? A requirement that I had to carry both comprehensive and collision coverage. My insurer charges a negligible amount to keep comprehensive coverage on my car (22 years without a claim), so I met a threshold many customers with a fully-owned (no lien) vehicle may not. Otherwise, there are many similarities (as well as crucial differences) between what we would call a more traditional rental car (from the local Budget, Enterprise, or Hertz office) and a new car furnished by the auto manufacturer.
Major Similarities to Traditional Rentals
My "new" vehicle has many similarities to traditional rental car contracts:
- I had to acknowledge that the vehicle was given to me with a full tank of gas and would be returned with a full tank of gas. If not, I'll be charged $4.59 per gallon (which is far below what a traditional rental car company would charge).
- The manufacturer is responsible for all maintenance. Time for an oil change or new windshield wipers? I just drive to the local dealership.
- The second of the three exceptions to the "this is your car" mantra is No Smoking (not a problem for me).
- Drivers who are not covered under my insurance policy have to be added as "Authorized Operators".
- There are the standard "Unauthorized Use" prohibitions, so drag racing and off-roading are prohibited.
Primary Differences from Traditional Rentals
In addition to the requirement of possessing comprehensive and collision coverage, there aren't many other differences between this vehicle and what would ordinarily be considered a rental. I have to keep a rental contract with a blank end date in the car in case it's required during a traffic stop, at the U.S./Canadian border, or in an accident. The current estimate is that my substitute car will be in my possession for at least 8 months. While it would likely be cheaper for Nissan to simply exchange the car I own for a rental, the manufacturer issued written FAQs because the eventual repair is expected to return my vehicle to safe operating condition.
What Happens When My Car's Repairable
When my car's repairable, I will get a call from Nissan and the driver's airbag will be replaced. Then, my 2017 rental replacement will get returned. The vehicle will have approximately 20,000 miles on the odometer at that time and will have never been owned by any entity other than a Nissan dealership. The representatives have already told me that the vehicle will then be sold as a program car at a dealership, just like many "traditional" rental cars. A visitor to the Nashville area in mid-2018 might even see this vehicle in a newspaper advertisement as an aggressively discounted car that was never titled/registered by a private owner!
Ready to rent your next car? If you're eligible for a temporary replacement through a manufacturer or an insurance company after an accident, AutoSlash is not for you; make those groups provide the rental without payment from you. But if you're seeking the cheapest possible rate on a rental that comes out of your pocket, we're the best choice. Click below to request quotes and we'll send you links to the best possible discounted offers within minutes!