Impeding traffic: In defense of bashing rental cars (or how we got banned from Enterprise)

DISCLAIMER: I am not endorsing the abuse of rental cars, nor am I condoning breaking the terms of your rental agreement.  Information contained below is for anecdotal purposes only.

I’ve been ridiculed by more than a few of my SJW friends for my rental car exploits.  Whether or not you have a reputation for beating on your own cars (I do), few posses the restraint go treat a rental with any level of respect.  In fact, I do not know one man younger than my grandfather who actually care about they treat a rental.  Some, such as yours truly, skew toward blatant disregard for the next renter.

My logic is pretty simple: I pay a company a nominal fee for use of one of their vehicles.  For an extra $30 per day, I purchase a loss damage waiver covering any sort of issues that may arise while using said vehicle.  I ALWAYS recommend the waiver.  If anything were to happen without, you are stuck turning in a claim to your personal insurance policy.  Do you really want to be held liable when a 30-something in flyover country spills his Starbucks and ends up destroying your rental Impala?  I don’t.

The great thing about the loss damage waiver is it literally covers ANYTHING.  Obviously, some restrictions are in place.  Per Enterprise’s rental agreement, these restrictions include, but are not limited to:

  1. Intentional, willful, wanton, or reckless conduct
  2. Operation of the vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  3. Towing or pushing anything
  4. Operation of the vehicle on an unpaved road if the damage or loss is a direct result of the road or   driving conditions.
  5. Vehicle is used for commercial hire
  6. Vehicle is used in connection with conduct that could be properly charged as a felony
  7. Vehicle is involved in a speed test or contest or in driver training activity
  8. Vehicle is operated by a person other than an authorized driver
  9. Vehicle is operated outside of the United States.
  10. 10. Driver has provided fraudulent information to the rental company
  11. Driver has provided false information and the rental company would not have rented Vehicle if it had instead received true information

In the real world, most rental companies play pretty fast-and-loose with these restrictions.  How would one determine that my rental was deemed immobile due to reckless conduct?  Can they really prove I was using it as an Uber driver?  The internet is full of stories where people broke these rules and got away with it.  Over my short time on this earth,  I have (allegedly) broken many of these rules.  It eventually resulted in a friend being banned from Enterprise for life.  That’s ok; I am more of a Hertz man…

While most 4th generation Ford Taurus’ have now been converted into iron oxide or melted down into Duralast brake rotors, they were quite ubiquitous on the roads during the mid-00s.  You can thank Ford Motor Credit and their sweetheart Red Carpet Leases for that.  They were also quite the popular fleet/rental car.

Back in 2007 my father and my best friend’s dad (let’s call him Rick) decided they were going to coach our hockey team for the spring. What you have to understand is both of these men love hearing themselves talk.  Coming from corporate sales, they never seem to run out of anything to say.

After a particularly late practice, Rick threw us the keys to his rental Taurus to load up our gear.  45 minutes later, we were sitting in a nearly empty parking lot while our dads talked inside about inconsequential things.  My friend (known from here on out as “Dosh”) and I, being logical teenagers, decided that some rental car fun was in order.

We were fortunate in that the parking lot is at least 1/8 mile off of the road, and obscured by the behemoth that is our local ice rink. Better yet, the lot was completely empty sans our car.  The parking lot was nearly as large as one suitable for a local Walmart, but only half of it was paved.

For the next hour, we probably had the time of our lives.  Doughnuts were the first order of the night.  The pedal-actuated emergency brake was rendered useful by pulling back the release and using hockey tape to affix it in the “open” position. Despite the idiocy that ensued, we probably learned a lot about car control that night.

After getting bored playing rally car in a Ford Taurus, burnouts were the next order of the night.  Surprisingly enough, the Duratec-equipped 3.0 DOHC Taurus was rated @ 205hp.  This was more than enough to brake torque the car and light up the front tires. After a few-dozen drag launches, we decided the intelligent thing to do would be get up to ~15mph and slam the car into drive @ WOT (wide-open throttle).  Eventually, our fathers heard the commotion and decided to yell at us for being assholes.  Not long after that, the Taurus’ transmission gave up the ghost while Rick and Dosh were driving home. Luckily they purchased that damage waiver.  Enterprise brought them a new car and an agent waited with the disabled Taurus until a tow truck could be dispatched.

Fast forward 9 years. I traveled with Dosh and Rick to Beaver Creek, CO for a guy’s ski weekend.  While I won’t disclose the details of his demise, Rick ended up hurting his ankle and was unable to do much the whole weekend.  I was somehow entrusted with the rental car, a glorious Dodge Journey.  Featuring the 2.4 inline 4-cylinder “World Engine,” this particular Journey was capable of sending a staggering 173 HP to all 4 wheels via its optional AWD system.

I truly cannot speak enough about how horrible the 2.4 Journey is.  This article is nearing 1000 words, and I could easily use another 1000 to wax rhapsodic about our beloved journey.  However, it did carry the three of us in relative safety through Vail Pass in a snowstorm.  We were fortunate enough to have XM/Sirius radio, which provided a lovely amount of Hall & Oates to serenade Rick with during our trip.  The Journey has a manual shift mode actuated via Chrysler’s vaunted “Slapstick” shifter. Most importantly, Traction Control and the Electronic Stability Program could be disabled with the push of a button.

While Rick was stuck in our villa, Dosh and I decided to “check out” the town of Avon, CO.  This included plowing through snow banks, bombing over curbs, and (allegedly) attempting to race a Subaru WRX on the road to Beaver Creek.  In case you were wondering, a WRX is most likely a lot quicker than a Journey.  However, the car does GREAT 4-wheel launches with TC/ESP disabled, or so I’ve been told.  I was actually starting to warm up to the ol’ Journey, as it is not a completely horrible car in town.  10 consecutive launches later, we were greeted with a “Trans Over Temp” warning.  At that time, we decided it be best that we park the Journey and actually do some skiing.

A few days later, we began our trek back to Denver International Airport.  It was a 2 hour drive to Denver International from Avon, and today was particularly snowy (go figure).  Our flight left in 4 hours.  1 hour into the trip, we stopped at a rest area to re-hydrate.  Upon our exit, a semi-truck going the wrong way forced me to make a quick decision: crash the car, or take my chances with the snow bank.  Still thinking of myself as a Jeep guy from my days wheeling a 1998 Cherokee (more on that in the future), I chose the snow.

We got stuck.  I don’t mean “stuck,” but really stuck.  The Journey’s 173 HP drivetrain and AWD was not enough for the frigid snow of the Rockies.  I first tried the “brute strength” method.  TC/ESP disabled, and a lot of WOT.  Shift to drive, WOT. Shift into reverse, WOT. Repeat, ad nauseam.  Things got worse.  “Shit,” I exclaimed from the driver’s seat.  “Trans Over Temp.”

Right as we started to call both Delta and Enterprise, another motorist noticed our problem and provided a shovel and tire chains.  I rigged the chains to work and dug out the car.  A few minutes later, we finally made it out of the snowbank.  It happened again, “Trans Over Temp.”  “Fuck it,” I said. “We’ll make it, no worries.”  We had a mere 2.5 hours until takeoff, and at least an hour drive to the Airport.  Did I mention it’s at least a 30-minute shuttle ride from the Enterprise office to the terminal and that we were coming up on rush hour in Denver?

The Journey was totally anemic at elevation.  It didn’t help that I was actually trying to make it somewhere in a hurry. I ended up having to wind the hell out of the engine in 3rd gear, returning us gas mileage in the low teens.  We ended up needing gas by the time we got to Golden, CO.  My suggestion to tour the Coor’s brewery and stay an extra night was met with an unsurprising “No” from both Rick and Dosh.  They both lack any sense of adventure.

Coming into Denver, the transmission was shifting VERY hard.  What I never disclosed until now is that the “Trans Over Temp” warning reared its ugly head at least a half-dozen times.  Each time the light came on, I pushed harder.  We were going to make our flight, whether ‘Ma Mopar wanted us to or not.  We limped our Journey to the Enterprise office with an hour to spare.

For those who had any doubt, we made our flight.  The 3 of us dropped our bags and breezed through security.  The train system ferried us across the expansive terminal in minutes.  Dosh and I even had time to have a few last beers in Colorado and treat ourselves to a bagel dog from Einstein Bros.  We had (allegedly) blown up a second rental and gotten away with it.

Or so I thought. 2 days later, Rick was contacted by Enterprise.  It was disclosed to him that the transmission in the Journey failed on the renter after us, some 3 miles outside of the Enterprise Office.  Looking back upon his history, it was noticed that a similar thing happened with a Ford Taurus nearly a decade earlier.  They also had security footage showing an unauthorized driver dropping the car off at the office.  The manager decided that they’ll let our waiver cover the costs, as it could not be proven that we caused the damage.  That’s what being an “Enterprise Plus” member earns you: impunity. Unfortunately, he is now on their “Do Not Rent List.”  Per my suggestion, Rick is now enjoying his Hertz Gold Plus member status.  Maybe next year we can spring for a Cayenne or E63 AMG….

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