The AutoSlash team spends a lot of time in rental cars. On any given day, one or more of us happens to be in a rental car! Chris spends so much time in rental cars he probably has to relearn the controls on his personal car when he gets back home. We also have our collective share of disappointment with rental car companies and the vehicles provided from time-to-time. So what happens when the car reserved or expected is not available at the rental car counter? In this edition of AutoSlash Tells, we talk about some of our disappointment in rental cars assigned, which range from absurd upgrades to downgrades to one of the few areas where rental car terminology is ambiguous in the United States. Similar to Goldilocks, we've had cars that were too big, too small, and just meh.

Let Me Upgrade You (Non-Beyonce edition)

Andrew meets a super-sized Toyota Prius.

Our colleague Andrew truly wanted to drive a hybrid car on a long-distance trip. He even went so far as to reserve a guaranteed car type hybrid (Prius) but arrived at the rental car counter to find that the lot was empty except for a single vehicle.

This vehicle is so fuel inefficient it should come with its own refinery.

Reserving a hybrid car with an estimated EPA fuel economy of 52 mpg, he received a vehicle with an estimated EPA fuel economy of 17 mpg, burning an estimated three-plus times the estimated amount of fuel. His Escalade wasn't even iced out like a rapper's or pro athlete's. Yet Andrew handled the rental adeptly; he negotiated a massive discount off the rental cost at the counter to make up for the greatly increased fuel cost. 

Honey, I Shrunk the Rental Car

AutoSlash Founder Jonathan felt dumb in a SMART car.

Jonathan decided an economy car would be sufficient for a trip to St. Thomas for himself and his future spouse. Sadly, he managed to pull a downgrade but chose to take the car as an experiment.

"When I got to the lot, I found that they assigned me a SMART Car which technically is not an economy car, but I figured what the heck as it was just me and my girlfriend, and I had never driven one before. Big mistake."

SMART -- for when an economy car is too large.

On vacation in St. Thomas, we attribute this decision to the Cruzan rum samples provided in the arrivals hall. What does a mini car ordinarily entail? Seating for two adults and almost no storage.

"There is barely any storage space in the thing, but thankfully we shoehorned our two rollerboards in and we were off. It was very barebones and not terribly comfortable, but it drove fine on the flats. The problem came in when we decided to do some sightseeing in the hillier parts of STT. If a car could have emphysema, this little guy must've smoked the equivalent of 3 packs a day since he rolled off the assembly line. At times I was tempted to ask my girlfriend to get out and walk alongside the side since I didn't think it could make it up some of the steeper hills, and she weighs about 100lbs after a big meal. Definitely not up to the task, but somehow we muddled through."

There's a bit more to this story that's withheld but we can say that this poor rental vehicle was definitely driven to the edge of its (very limited) capability. Which is impressive, as the maximum speed limit on St. Thomas is 35 mph.

Michael Drove a Car that was Insulted by a Stranger

I was flying in for a major event in Omaha that makes the cost of airfare and rental cars very expensive, so I searched for airfare within a "reasonable" driving distance of Omaha. Flying from my (then) home in Texas to/from Kirksville, Missouri (IRK) was barely $200 round-trip, as the St. Louis to Kirksville segments received a federal subsidy ... The airport has no rental car companies, so I contacted the local Enterprise station willing to leave a car at the airport for a renter if arrangements are made in advance for the late-arriving flights.

Upon landing, I see a green Fiat 500 and immediately began hoping that my car was any of the other five of six cars on the lot, as I hadn't reserved a mini car. On the Cape Air counter was my rental contract and keys ... for the Fiat 500 with Florida license plates.

Within the first hour on the road, I had already knocked two pieces of interior trim off the rental car -- the driver armrest while fastening my seatbelt and a piece of the door molding in the act of driving. I turned on the radio and set it at a volume to drown out (most of) the car's rattling but not quite high enough to make the speakers themselves rattle. A warning indicator message on the dash also told me that the brake lights may be intermittently malfunctioning. I got to and from Omaha and learned a lesson about always giving myself some ability to have input on my assigned car in the future. 

Remember those Florida plates? I stopped at a gas station in Macon, Missouri to fill-up before returning to the airport. Stepping out of the car, I hear:

"You're a long way from home with that beer can on wheels."

Yes, a complete stranger (deservedly) insulted my rental car. Thanks, Enterprise.

The largest member of the AutoSlash team once drove this vehicle almost 600 miles.

When Rental Car Codes go Wrong

I Don't Feel Premium 

Chris is the leader in the clubhouse in terms of rental days annually and his response was immediate; the base-level Chevrolet Impala vehicles assigned by Hertz as "Premium" cars. Eric had already commented on the same issue. In fact, every member of the AutoSlash team has driven these 4-cylinder land yachts. And the reason this car is considered "premium" is the gradual increase in the size of other vehicle types -- the larger, new Chevrolet Malibus meet the ACRISS requirements of a "full-size" car now.

There are over 400 possible ACRISS codes but few are used in North America. That means more cars in each vehicle category, and the rental car companies in the United States and Canada rarely use the "Elite" and "Special" designation. So a larger car with more cargo capacity than a full-size car (Malibu) is indeed a "Premium" car by default (seats 5 adults and holds 3 large suitcases and 3 rollaboards) and Hertz is forthcoming about such. When booking a premium car, one's often just booking a car with more cargo capability than a full-size car. If one is looking for a more refined car, the booking should be for a luxury car. Sadly, our free one-class upgrades due to Hertz status don't help us consistently get luxury cars.

Chris is President's Circle with Hertz, so he can effective drive anything on a Hertz lot he sees, with pretty good luck pulling Infiniti Q50s as "Premium" cars due to that leeway. One of the great benefits of the rental car loyalty programs and status -- namely Avis, Hertz, and National at major airports -- is the ability to choose from a selection of vehicles. While we don't always get the exact vehicle we desire unless we pay more for a guaranteed vehicle, we can find the best possible vehicle out of the rental car company's selections. And as we've mentioned previously, everyone loves credits toward free days and skipping the lines at rental car counters!

We've also intentionally made reservations with Sixt in the past because that company takes the European approach to ACRISS codes -- while Hertz defines the premium category as "Chevrolet Impala or similar", Sixt defines the category as "Mercedes-Benz CLA or similar". We can all agree that one of those descriptions seems slightly more exotic than the other!

Premium cars in the United States are simply behemoths, while European providers have a better idea of the concept!  

Living the Good Life

In every AutoSlash Tells story, there are one or more members of the team who've never encountered the problem being explored. Ludo is the charmed one in this story; he's always received great cars with fewer than 10,000 miles on the odometer. We know what you are thinking -- "Ludo apparently doesn't rent from (insert maligned company, or just 'Hertz')".

Ready to book your next cheap rental car and be like Ludo? Click below to request a quote now!

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