QOTD: What Was Your Most Memorable Rental Car Experience?

Between the news that Hertz is buying 100,000 Teslas—sending its market valuation above one trillion dollars—and today’s 1993 Cutlass Ciera post, a car I rented way too many times, I pondered briefly what the most memorable rental car I’ve ever had. I’ll tell you after the jump, but it wasn’t really all that exciting. More like sad.

But I’m sure you’ve got a good (or bad) story about a rental car experience.

In December of 2008, right in the depths of the financial market meltdown we took advantage of dirt cheap airfares and absurdly low hotel rates to finally treat ourselves to a couple of weeks in Hawaii. In typical Niedermeyer fashion, no, we did not book a resort or time share; we decided to keep moving and see things.

The first ten days we spent circumnavigation the Big Island, in a really crappy 2008 Dodge Charger. Mediocre 2.7 L V6, and black Rubbermaid interior. It certainly didn’t spoil our fun, but it didn’t enhance it either. It was a splendid week, and we saw and experienced so much.

The second (short) week was to be a bit more relaxed, renting a house on Kaui, which is one of the smaller islands. The airport is pretty small too, because the big guys had crazy high rates, I ended up renting from a little local outfit, that had only used cars, like Rent A Wreck. I was given the keys to a very well used 1993 Camry V6, with 174k miles on it. It was technically a beater, especially the interior; not nasty, just well used.

But the quality of this old Camry still shone brightly. The V6 pulled as hard as ever, significantly more so than the Charger. The shifts of the automatic were both crisp and soft. The shocks were a bit soft too, but it still handled just fine. Ironically, this 15 year old beater quickly endeared itself as a vastly better car than the almost new Charger. My appreciation for these Camrys rose that much more.

On the way to the airport, we were in constant stop-and-go traffic on the main road (there are no highways per se on Kaui). I was behind a big, tall Ford pickup. At one point, Stephanie said: “Look at that gorgeous beach!” As if we hadn’t seen any constantly for two weeks. But I turned my head to look, and a second or two later noticed the Ford’s brake lights in my peripheral vision. It was too late: Kapow! I ran the nose of the Camry right into his big bumper and hitch.

The young driver was apologetic, as he admitted that there was actually no reason for him to stop so abruptly. There was zero damage to the Ford’s bumper, but the Camry’s hood was badly smashed, and steam erupted from the broken radiator.  And our flight was leaving in less than an hour. I asked the driver if he could take us to the airport, and he obliged. We tossed our bags in the bed and hopped in. And I called the rental place and told them where they could find the Camry. And apologized.

I felt really bad about that, putting down a fine old steed like that which still had a few more years of life in it. FWIW, it’s the only time in my life I’ve totaled a car, and I’ve never had a crash of any sort since. And it had been a long time before that, too.

Distracted driving, the primary cause of all crashes.