On almost every trip, I do NOT have rental car problems and I would bet the same is true for you and most travelers. Every once in a blue moon, however, I do encounter a car rental problem. Whether the rental car issue is mechanical, hygienic, or a personal preference, here are 8 rental car problems I have actually experienced and what I did to correct those issues.
All rental car problems listed below have actually happened to me but I am not listing the offending rental car company. Should you be interested in more details, send me an email request.
UPDATE (November 2022) In many places, especially around the USA, rental cars are drastically overpriced or completely unavailable. Many factors have created this condition and hopefully it is a bubble that will correct itself in a few months. Several friends and colleagues have stealthily countered this rental car paradigm by doing one or more of the following:
- making backup reservations with two or more companies
- making reservations on different days
- making reservations at different locations (such as fly into an airport, take a shuttle to the hotel, and rent a car from a downtown location the next day or after)
- prepaying for the car rental (although many people still have had their rentals cancelled)
- renting a small truck from U-Haul or other such service
- renting a small truck from Home Depot or similar place
- using Turo, a peer-to-peer car sharing service (pay attention to the mileage allowance)
- renting an RV
- renting a van from Airbnb (a friend in Maui rents her van)
- rent cars from dealers (some Subaru dealers rent by the day/week)
- contact your network. Reach out on Twitter. Post a message in your alumni Facebook group.
- so many other stealthy ways … Let me know if you have done any or heard of others doing so.
Or plan vacations (for now) that do not require rental cars. Use your own vehicle and do more road trips. Or fly to cities that have decent transportation options. Book a vacation that is a tour, where the company shuttles you around. Hire a private limo or tour service to shuttle you around.
Reserved Rental Car Not Available
Since almost all of my car rentals are through loyalty programs (reminder that they are FREE to join), I rarely need to visit the counters or speak with agents. I can recall two times since 2000 when I had to visit the counter (neither were my regular car rental firms) and my reserved car class or category was unavailable.
In one instance, my rental car category really was unavailable. I requested a complimentary upgrade and it was granted. The other time, I was offered an upgrade to a Jeep. I asked whether my car was available and was told it was—so the upgrade was a hard sell. I countered the upsell proposal with my own offer, which the agent accepted.
Not Preferred Vehicle
A few times I have not liked the vehicle assigned to me. This usually happens when I rent a car at a location without the loyalty fast pass program. I simply return to the counter and request another vehicle. The only time that did not result in a better car was in Shreveport, Louisiana; the only other available vehicles were even worse.
Another time I arrived in Boston during a snowstorm. My assigned car was a full size car but I requested and received a 4WD SUV. For a family vacation, I flew a day early to Key West. The assigned car was too small. The next day, before picking up my family at Miami airport, I traded for a bigger vehicle. The Miami location had a much better selection than the tiny Key West location.
Smelly, Dirty Rental Car
As above, I will request another vehicle, if my assigned car is smelly or not clean. With the fast pass programs, I do not even return to the counter. In the past, I would ask a lot attendant if I can pick another car. Most fast pass programs now offer the amenity of keeping your assigned vehicle or selecting another from the available pool of vehicles.
On the few occasions I have found trash in my vehicle after leaving the facility (stuff under the seat, for instance), I let them know when I return the vehicle. Probably half of the time the return agent will give me some discount. One time I found a stack of mail and trash in the trunk. I think I received a 50% discount on that rental after telling the company.
Now onto some serious rental car problems.
I have had two flat tire situations with rental cars. For the first, in Austin Texas, I watched the bat parade and returned to a flat tire. I called the company and they said it would take 2 hours for a service technician to arrive and I was liable for charges. What? I changed the tire (in the dark), went to a station the next morning and paid for repair, and told the agent upon return. The agent comped my bill a day. Yippee.
The other flat tire (tyre) was in Ireland, which is notorious (unfortunately) for overcharging for rental car problems. Again, I changed the tire (after my inn called a local mechanic because my car did not have the tire lock key) and had it repaired. I did not say anything upon return and hope the statute of limitations has passed.
In the summer of 1993, I scored a brand new Crown Vic for three weeks and drove a few thousand miles around the western US. Somewhere in Utah, after I left a lunch spot, I blasted the A/C because it was over 110 degrees. All of a sudden, I heard the windshield crack and watched the line expand to where glass meets metal. It was an amazing phenomenon.
I guess the temperature extremes between the hot sun and the cool a/c caused the glass to break. Perhaps there was already a minor defect? At my next stop, I called the toll free number (before I had a mobile phone) and asked whether I should trade for another vehicle. They said it was my choice. I did not want to alter my route or get a lesser vehicle so I kept it. When I returned the car back to Monterey, the agent apologized and gave me a discount off my already super low rate.
The latest of my rare rental car problems occurred last month in Kona. The first day or so the car operated fine. Then the car began having trouble starting. I would press the lock and unlock buttons on the keychain (up to a dozen times) before the car would start. It was a fairly new vehicle (15,000 miles) and I figured it was likely a dying battery in the keychain. Even though I picked up the car at a hotel location, I drove to the airport (more cars) and traded for another vehicle. I requested a convertible or Jeep but received the same model. Worth a try!
Locked Key in Car
One of my old school rental car problems occurred in the early 1990s at a parking lot along the Icefields Parkway, one of the most magnificent scenic drives in Canada. After a glacier hike, I realized that I did not have the car keys in my pocket. D’oh. Good news / bad news is that I locked them inside the car. After some time, I found someone with a metal clothes hanger. Between he and I, we were able to release the lock button. I believe it is next to impossible to lock keys inside current model cars with electronic door openers.
Towed Rental Car
One of my stranger rental car problems occurred in Evora, Portugal. We went to visit the Chapel of Bones and I parked in the only open space in the nearby city square. We returned after visiting the chilling Cappela dos Ossos and the car was gone. In fact, all of the cars were gone. We walked to the Policia station and the second officer to greet us spoke some English; we spoke extremely little Portuguese.
Fearing my rental car and all of our stuff was stolen, I described where I parked, how we visited the chapel, and returned to find no cars. He laughed and eventually said something like, “People see policia and move cars. Your car no move.” My car was impounded. Because of my ignorance (and awesomeness?), he waived various fees and only charged me for towing expense. Solution? Pay attention to signs.
For some rental car problems (like flat tire or locked keys), being a AAA member and calling their service hotline could be your best solution.
What rental car problems have you had?
Please also read these rental car tips articles: