Even for a local, driving a familiar vehicle, the hustle and bustle of New York City streets can be difficult to navigate. It is easy to understand why so many people would flood the city. With the Broadway shows, incomparable museums, historic structures, and celebrated night life, New York City commands a volume of tourism rivaled by few other cities. Add to this the fact that New York City is also a global hub for business and diplomacy, and the endless flow of commuters begins to make sense.
That being said, what do you do if you’re a local whose own car has fallen on hard times, or if you’re a tourist who is brave or foolish enough to try to compete with seasoned New York City drivers?
Trying to successfully navigate renting a car is almost as difficult as and potentially more stressful than driving on the busy city streets. Choosing the right car rental agency is the key to getting on the road as quickly, as cheaply, and as safely as possible.
Due to name recognition, many drivers choose large chains such as Avis, Hertz, or Dollar because commonly people mistake familiarity with credibility or reliability. But don’t be fooled. Giving the little guy a chance can greatly improve your renting experience.
The fine print of the car rental industry is one major reason to deal with smaller independent rental agencies. Many people rent from larger agencies because they think it will be easier to straighten something out should a problem occur. However, the opposite is almost always true. Take this example of Kathy who wrote into Meghann Marco’s column on Consumerist.com following a bad experience with Hertz in Mexico in January 2007. She writes:
“For a pre-paid one month economy car rental for $632.03, on January 16th Hertz rented me a 2007 Blue Chevrolet, Lic#5981AVB in good condition at the Los Cabos airport. I declined to purchase insurance. Late on the night of January 20th, during a rainstorm, a tire blew out on the vehicle; so, after exchanging the tire with the spare the following morning, on January 21st, I returned the vehicle to the agency at their suggestion and wrote a full report. The agency assured me there would be no problem of any charges.
Upon returning to the airport three weeks later, the manager, Eleazar G. Leyva informed me that Hertz was demanding payment of $60.00US for damage to the tire. Anxiously on my way to a plane, I agreed to the charges, more for the sake of expediency rather than out of any sense of obligation. Subsequently, my credit card was charged $499.48 for that problem. I’ve been assured by Traci Atkerson of Hertz Customer Relations in Oklahoma City that that is fully in keeping with standard practices of the car rental industry in most countries.”
If Kathy was dealing with a small agency she would be able to correspond with either the owner or a high ranking staff member. She’d also know exactly who to sue if things went that far. More likely however, the matter would be resolved quickly and to Kathy’s satisfaction because smaller independent agencies need repeat business and word of mouth advertising more than the large chains and probably wouldn’t be willing to sour their reputation over one flat tire. As it stands Kathy is now caught in Hertz’s byzantine corporate system, dealing with someone who has no firsthand knowledge of the situation, no real power over the matter, and who will never even meet the offending clerk. She would also likely never be able to compete with Hertz’s legal team should she decide to take this case into litigation.
Independent agencies’ need for repeat business and word of mouth advertising leads into another point in favor of independent chains which is that they will often take more time to personalize your service by explaining your surroundings, commonly taken routes, peculiar traffic laws, and/or popular tourist attractions. They will also generally take more time to explain the finer points of your car rental agreement.
Finally, independent agencies often have better rates than their big name competitors. Consumer Reports’ Greg Daugherty recommends avoiding car rental chains in favor of independent agencies in his list of Tips for Finding a Deal on Rental Car.
While finding and booking with a big name agency may seem more convenient, there are many ways to find an independent agency. The hotel you are staying at will more than like know of several agencies in the area (Consumer Reports advises against renting at the airport, as the rates tend to be higher.) On the Internet there are two websites carrentals.com and carrentalexpress.com that can help you compare independent agencies operating in your destination area. These websites will also provide you with rate and service information on each agency, as well as feedback from previous customers.
PRESTIGECARRENTAL.COM receives many of its positive testimonials from users in New York City. Aamcar, which has the most positive testimonials on the site, can be found at prestigecarrental.com and has received specific praise for the staff in its office on 96th Street.
No matter which agency you go with, always remember to get all terms in writing and to force staff to explain all terms to your satisfaction. Feeling foolish is free and temporary, but failure to understand the terms of a rental agreement can become expensive very quickly.