When I saw the news that there would be a meetup in Detroit, I immediately thought I wanted to drive. It’s not that I have any kind of fear of flying, but if possible I try to not patronize businesses/industries that provide what I find to be a generally very sub-par experience and I like the quiet time to think about and ponder various subjects. I drove to the last meetup I attended (Auburn) and it went well, so why not do it again?
Jason Shafer and I had been talking about car-pooling since he’d be near the route I was planning to take and then it made perfect sense to invite JP Cavanaugh as well. Jim Grey could have been an easy fourth if he had been able to attend although that may have been way too many Jims all in one car. In any case this precluded the 911 from being our chariot, and driving a Toyota to Detroit just seemed like not the thing to do, so the Mercedes was called to action this time around. Hey, at least it’s built in the U.S. and sports a V8 to boot, so why not. And there was lively conversation and many moments of absolute hilarity that you probably had to be there for…
The first day’s driving saw me complete just over 800 miles from Colorado to Missouri; bright and early the next morning I collected Mr. Shafer and we set off to cover the remaining 600-odd miles. About halfway we hit Indianapolis and found JPC’s house at which we saw someone mowing the lawn and providing a deafening soundtrack. Then the lawnmower was turned off and the deafening noise continued unabated; it turned out it was the doings of a seven-year cycle of a Cicada colony in his neighborhood. It has to be heard to be believed.
JPC opened his garage door and we saw his red 1997 Miata wedged inside. Of course we gravitated to it and within minutes Jason and I were driving it around the neighborhood. It provided a fine, fun ride and we agreed he scored a good buy from commenter Sevair whom we all met at the Auburn meetup a few years ago. Upon our return we all hopped in the Mercedes, got more gas and continued on to Detroit.
After timing things just right to check in at the hotel and pick up Paul Niedermeyer at the airport, the festivities finally began as you have already read about in the trip reports of several other attendees.
Fast forwarding to Sunday afternoon, we dropped Paul back off at the airport and headed home. All of us were bone-tired and thankfully JPC offered to spell me at the wheel for the second half of the trip to his house. And no, we did not perform a Niedermeyer-esque “Rolling Driver Change”. We arrived in Indy Sunday evening and once we dropped him off, Jason immediately took a turn for the worse from a health perspective and stretched out in the back seat for the next six hours until we pulled into his driveway around midnight. After a short night’s sleep I continued west for another 800 miles until I arrived home Monday evening.
I will point out that despite warnings to the contrary from our commenters in Michigan, I didn’t perceive Michigan’s roads to really be in any worse shape overall than the other states that I/we traversed, at least the ones we were on. At various points I/we were in Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan. In virtually every state we hit more than one absolutely jarring pothole at one point or another along with other less than optimal surfaces. Michigan, you are not alone! And I was very glad not to have taken the Porsche, several of those hits would have very possibly done actual damage.
Overall the GL450 did great. Including all of the driving around the Detroit area it covered a total of 3072 miles in six days. I kept carefully detailed logs (OK, numbers scrawled on the receipts) and hand calculated that we averaged 18.42 miles per gallon overall which I suppose isn’t terrible for a 5350lb SUV with a 335hp V8 that we weren’t shy about using. Speeds were generally in the 75-80mph range with some forays above that and I think we were all comfortable.
However, it does use Premium Unleaded which, even though gasoline prices are more than reasonable these days, often comes with a hefty surcharge, especially at remote locations along the highways in the middle of nowhere without competition. I saw a differential of up to 80 cents at several stops which is quite a large percentage differential as compared to the general asking price in the low $2 range for Regular.
So, with nothing but time on my hands while driving I started to wonder. Yes, flying would have been cheaper, but not in the right spirit and as I mentioned, not preferable. However, I have no doubt that I could have rented a car and saved money overall which I did consider as a possibility before deciding to take my own vehicle. Even though JPC and Jason very generously chipped in for gas (Gas, grass, or ass, nobody rides for free, right?) which they certainly didn’t have to and I was not expecting (Thank you, gentlemen!), for the sake of argument I’ll count their outlays here as well.
So, in total those 167 gallons of gas cost $462.72. 3072 miles of wear and tear on my vehicle extremely conservatively could be estimated at ten cents per mile for another $307.20 (and very likely much more). If I was able to rent a car that used Regular gasoline (most) and returned at least 30mpg on the highway (not difficult these days) the fuel cost could be cut to about $235.00 even. That would leave $534.92 for a 6day rental which would cover even my favored rental outfit, that being SilverCar.com with a guaranteed new Audi A4 (in silver, natch!) as my/our chariot.
So really, the rental car budget is not a problem. However, if you don’t rent from SilverCar and are looking to actually be as frugal as possible, then you wind up playing the “Rental Car Lottery”, that strange bizarro-world where a Corolla is a Mid-size, a Chevy Impala can somehow be considered a Premium Car and the words “or equivalent” are a very serious matter.
No matter what one reserves, what one gets can be quite different. I looked at the cars that the other attendees drove, two had rentals that I could see – Joseph Dennis was sporting a nice little Chevy Cruze that he can probably make look like a million bucks if he snaps a photo of it and Bill Hall from Texas (Frequent Reader, hopefully First-Time Commenter soon), scored a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Both seemed to do fine in their respective lotteries. My biggest fear was probably having to pilot a Hyundai Sonata or Nissan Altima into Detroit, America’s Motor City.
So the question is: What do you consider the WORST rental car that you could possibly get that you’d end up having to drive 3072 miles to Detroit with two other people? Of course, total low-end stuff like the Chevy Spark is easily avoided by just reserving at least the second class from the bottom at virtually no price penalty, but pretty much everything else could potentially be fair game. And the only rule is major rental outfits only. (Hertz, Avis, Dollar, National, etc, not Rent-A-Wreck or Bob’z Rentalz etc.). What could I be stuck with for the next meetup?