If you read our blog, you know we're fans of the programs where we can reserve a car that meets minimum characteristics (such as mid-size or full-size) and then select any car available among a selection made available for members. Our team members rent a lot from Hertz and National due to these factors (Avis' selection tends to be underwhelming or non-existent) but we had never encountered an example where a vehicle in the allotted area was off-limits, theoretically due to a law. We have encountered a situation where a National Executive Aisle car wasn't available because National "gave" part of the Emerald Aisle to Enterprise for "convenience", but never have been presented with the idea that there's some form of legal restriction. I had selected my desired car from the Executive Aisle -- the 305 HP 2018 Chevrolet Impala V6 Premier, the almost-official car of the AutoSlash team -- and got to the security gate. And the representative made me turn around to pick up a different car.
National made it hard to leave Las Vegas.
We frequently stockpile National award days and redeem those for one-way rentals. And on this day, I had booked a one-way rental. Special collections (like the Maseratis) can't be taken on one-way rentals but they aren't on the Emerald/Executive Aisles anyway! We frequently take cars that are fairly new -- some with temporary tags -- on one-way rentals. But in this case, the answer was "no" for a car with permanent plates. The reason?
"You can't take a vehicle on a one-way Nevada to California rental unless the vehicle has more than 7,000 miles or California plates."
I questioned what sounded like a completely arbitrary provision given by the staff at the security gate. And yes, it's apparently legal to drive a car with California plates with fewer than 7,000 miles on the odometer to Nevada but illegal to drive a car with Nevada plates and fewer than 7,000 miles on the odometer to California. The skeptic in me translated the story as "we only want to send old vehicles or cars registered in California to California". And as quickly verified on my phone (after making a U-turn at the exit), this provision was not listed anywhere in the rental terms and conditions. So I picked a much lesser car out of the selection and headed on my way. This one had 19,400 miles on the odometer and California plates, so I was allowed to proceed.
Once I got back to the hotel, I hit National up on social media. When business offices reopened, I got a call from a representative, who admitted that this rule was not part of my reservation. He explained that his organization recently got tripped up by this regulation and had to send a flatbed from Las Vegas to pick up a vehicle in California. However, the representative was to research the exact regulation and then get back to me. I knew there was nothing in California Civil Code 1939 as it pertains to rental cars, as I read that document frequently! After escalating a level, we got to the final answer:
- It was an arbitrary requirement
- National affirmed that no renter should have been turned around -- ever -- due to that "requirement"
- National affirmed no renter in the future will ever be subjected to that "requirement"
So why was the "7,000 miles or California plates" rule ever promulgated in the first place? Well, that's an interesting story. Ostensibly, the company was worried about requirements from the California Air Resources Board. By National's logic, cars registered in California were fine but cars registered in Nevada might have chemicals that would be expected to burn off in the first 7,000 miles of use. And while that really makes us wonder just what might go into car prep in Nevada, we've been assured that I was the last person subjected to the contrived rule. I even decided to not follow-up on the "flat-bed to return a car from California" comment.
What separates a company like National from companies that receive low-star ratings from AutoSlash (and independent observers)? Every rental car company makes mistakes -- great rental car companies own and solve the problem while less-reputable companies (looking your way, Payless) blow off customers. My finder's fee for challenging an unstated rule? Let's just say my next rental car in Las Vegas will have a promised upgrade past the Executive Aisle to a vehicle built within an hour of my home! And that will definitely create stories for another blog post (at minimum).