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My Cheech & Chong Ride & Other Car Rental Risks

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Two Ferrari cars that could be rented parked next to each other.

Well, I opened the door of my new Alamo rental before driving off its Albuquerque airport lot and was hit by an overwhelming smell.

It was if the vehicle had become a humongous mechanical cannabis bong. It was if Cheech & Chong (who allegedly consume simply massive amounts of marijuana) had just turned it in after a 3-month--no make that a 12-month--lease. 

Alamo's lot was nearly empty. It offered large vans as an alternative, but spending two weeks slogging through the mountains of northern New Mexico and Colorado with one of those did not appeal. Alamo's rate was really low--very likely far better than last-minute rates at another company. I could have tried Priceline car rental bidding, but you must bid at least two hours in advance.

Deep paranoia set in. What would happen to me if stopped by police for a traffic violation? How long would I have to wait for blood, breath, or urine tests results? Would these be accurate? 

All this brought the need for careful documentation of a vehicle's condition prior to leaving a rental car lot up to an entirely new level. So, I 1) had Alamo document the smell emphasizing “very strong,” 2) kept a copy, and 3) hoped for the best. All turned out well.

Document every rental

Shows my rental car in relation to Avis San Diego Airport lot at time of pickup.

If you are not meticulously inspecting the condition of your new car rental before driving off the lot you are putting yourself at considerable financial risk

You must have an attendant document any damage and give you a copy. Otherwise, you are liable for any damage found when you return the vehicle.

So simple, but many ignore based on horror stories in travel media and in consumer protection forums such as elliot.org.

Take photos

Besides the attendant’s report, I document the condition of a vehicle with photos before driving off the lot.

Making sure the date and time functions of my iPhone have been set properly, I take a photo that shows the rental in relation to the rental car lot with its license plate clearly visible, as in the Avis lot above.

Photo of Avis rental car showing damage near rear license plate.

Then I take photos of the car that show all existing damage inside or out.

A front window

I became more conscious about meticulous documenting after an incident with Budget in downtown Vancouver.

Budget found a tiny pockmark in the front window glass when I returned the car. Shocking was the price quoted to repair this, which involved replacing the entire window (the usual procedure). Rental car company repair quotes include an estimate of the revenue lost while its vehicles are out of service.

I am not saying that this was unfair or that Budget did anything wrong. Just that you are depending on rental car companies for price quotes. I should have inspected far more carefully and had the damage, if any, documented. That will not happen again.

Luckily, I wasn’t returning to the airport by rapid transit until later and could protest at length and did. Eventually, Budget removed the charge.
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Note: Most rental car contracts prohibit driving on dirt and gravel roads, which I had not done. Some companies have installed GPS trackers on vehicles that can work to your advantage if accused of doing so.
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Please do not be so much in a hurry that you do not spend a few minutes protecting yourself by documenting your vehicle’s condition.

Priceline car rental bidding tips – Quick & easy

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