The rental car race to the bottom

Is it just me or is renting a car (at least from an airport) just an all-around terrible experience?  I’d like to present two of my experiences of late:

1. Newark Airport.

I flew in without a car rental reservation. I booked my flight there last minute, as I was waiting on word from one of our business partners whether it would be the best time for me to come or not.  I checked the prices online once I confirmed I would go, and saw that the quoted price matched up with what I was expecting so I decided to book when I got there.  I was in transit doing other work and figured it would just be easier to do it when I got there.

When I arrived at Hertz, I was shepherded to a booth where I picked up the phone to speak to an agent.  He then proceeded to quote me DOUBLE what I found online.  I told him that. He responded that I could hang up if I wanted and book, but I wouldn’t be able to get the car until tomorrow because of a delay.  He couldn’t really tell me what that delay was.

I took my chances and hung up, stepped aside, checked online – still the same price as before – and booked.  I then stepped back in line, and called another agent and got my car.

2. Montreal airport.

I arrive at 7AM – early flight – and head over to Dollar.  This time I have a reservation.  The man at the counter tries to sell me on the following:

  • Winter tires.  Okay, so there was a snow storm in Montreal the night before – of course I want winter tires!  (and good thing I got them too)  I agreed to the extra $30 for winter tires, thinking to myself: ‘what the hell are they doing renting cars without winter tires?’  I later looked it up, and discovered that all rental cars in Quebec are required to have winter tires.  Not sure what’s going on here.
  • A $76 tank of gas for a medium-sized vehicle that I’m driving a total of about 250 km.  He tells me that there are no gas stations around the airport, and that this is the best way to save time and money.  He repeated that twice. I took my chances and figured I would find a gas station within 10 km of the airport.  And sure enough, I did and filled the car when I returned it for $35.  And noted that when I left with the car it said that the mileage available based on the amount of gas in the car was 670 km.  When I filled it, it was 790 km.

He then insisted that I sign a document saying that there was no damage to the vehicle before I saw it.  “There is no damage that I can see”, he says to me.  Now, I know it’s 7AM on a Tuesday, and I don’t what kind of laser eyes he had, but there were no cars in sight.  I debated him on this, and he finally told me that I would sign the paper, carbon copying 3 other sheets, I would take 2, and then give it to the person outside who would take a copy that would note any damage.

I found someone outside who didn’t really want to check the car, reluctantly put a mark next to a scratch I found, and gave me both pieces of paper.  I asked, “don’t you have to keep one?”  No, he tells me.  Ugh, get me out of here.

I understand rental cars are in the ‘race to the bottom‘.  I also understand the people working there have little influence over what is happening day-to-day.  The question I’m left with is, are the rental-car representatives being incentivized for bad behaviour?  To push all kinds of things that I don’t need or want, or try to charge me double than I what I should be paying?

There’s got to be a breaking point for this somewhere.  As a business development professional, it’s these types of interactions that give sales / business a bad name.  As a business development professional, I want to become a business partner with my clients and prospects.  Not to rip you off to benefit myself.

Here’s to better business.  And treating people like you know you should.