Wong Sans Wheels Chronicles #8: How did my $6.99 Rent-a-car become $49?

December 23rd, 2008 → Leave a comment

I’m in SF now, and want to tell you about my experiences with $6.99 rent-a-car. Or as I call it… “No free lunch rent-a-car.”

Last Sunday, being the social butterfly that I am, I found myself with invites to five events all over town on one day, and all but a bus pass to get me from Culver City to Santa Monica to Glendale, etc. Seemed like I had full license to treat myself to a car rental!

Only problem was, to take out the Zipcar (my carshare service) for the day would be $72. Yikes! Yes, it would include all gas, insurance, and 180 miles. And the car would be very new and very safe. But that’s a lot of money for 24 hours of wheels! Perhaps this was a situation to try out a less expensive rental.

I heard about 699 rent-a-car from an actor who also lives without a car. The thing is it works for her because she lives in Hollywood where their lot is located. And they actually do pick-ups within a three mile radius. She told me that sometimes their cars are missing radios or aren’t the prettiest. I’ve found three reviews for the place online. One is appreciative of the cheap rental cars. Two are condemning and report things like cars that break down, overheat, are missing registration stickers, and bad service.

I figured it was worth the “lets see what I’ll get for $6.99″ adventure. I had to leave the house half an hour earlier to take the 704 to Hollywood and then walk up past a bunch of homeless trannies on La Brea to get there.

When I get there, the office was not so bad. It’s like a graphic designer’s office. There’s one guy working there. Kind of your typical, aspiring Hollywood actor at his day job thing. The wait was a little annoying. Especially since I had already been on the bus forever to get there, and when I pick up my Zipcar, there is no wait nor paperwork… I just wave my card and jump in. Most other car rental places you don’t have to wait because there are so many people on staff. I ask another guy waiting for his car if he’s tried it before and he hasn’t and is nervous and excited to see what repo’d car delight he will get for $6.99. According to the site, $6.99 will get you something like a “Kio Rio Grande or similar.”

“Or similar” is the operative term.

When it’s my turn, I have my choice of two cars to rent: One with a broken horn or one with no wipers. I didn’t think it would rain, so I choose the one with no wipers. After all, it doesn’t rain in LA.

The car is a teal green two door, Mitsubishi Galant. The damage is noticeable. There is a three foot crack in the windshield, dents all over the front and back bumper, happy meal stickers all over the back walls, and a big bird shit on the top of the car. Also, it smells like someone ate several fast food meals in there with the windows closed and farted a lot.

Oh yeah, and it’s not quite $6.99 either. It’s $6.99 plus .19 cents per mile OR $16.99 which includes 100 miles. And then I have to pay $13 for the liability insurance. Luckily, my credit card covers collision on all rentals (this is important to know if you ever rent-a-car). So already, $6.99 rent-a-car has turned into $30 rent-a-car.

The people waiting for their cars have stories of other cheap car rentals they’ve done. This one woman tells me that at Rent-a-Wreck, her wheels were shredding on the way back to the lot. I wonder if it’s worth the risk to rent so cheap.

As I leave the lot, I say to the people in the waiting room: “Ok, I hope I live to return this car.”

The car drives ok. I am getting a lot of flashbacks of Harold breaking down as I drive this car which send moments of panic. The locks are flimsy and I’d never leave valuables in this car if I owned it. The gas pedal is sticky and doesn’t press down easily and takes a couple of firm presses to get it down. Also, the dome light in the car doesn’t work nor does the whole dash panel light up at night which makes it really hard to read directions.

It’s definitely a beater. But it works. And in 24 hours I hit all these parties I’ve been invited to, and run a crapload of errands including buying Oliver a big bag of Science Hill Diet cat food. Even though he has half a bag left of this holistic food, I have been having anxiety that I wouldn’t be able to replenish his supply by the time he runs out and that I’d be forced to buy him some subpar cat food which he would refuse to eat, thus causing him to starve to death.

This anxiety/transportation anticipation is something I’ve been dealing with a lot since my car caught on fire in August. I keep freaking out about not being able to do all these “theoretical” moments that will transpire in the future.

As I drove that crap rental, with it’s cracked windshield and weird smells, I missed owning a car for this convenience. I feel like I’ve been more housebound since the car left. I forgot how much faster the car is. How much more ground in much less time can be covered in a car.

The next morning it rained. And guess what? I picked the rental with the busted wipers. Luckily, they worked enough to move the rain out of the way and it stopped raining by the time I got on the freeway.

When I returned the car, turns out I went over 100 miles! I drove 138 miles and at .45 cent per mile over the 100 miles, my bill came to $49. With the gas I put in, my rental was about $57.

I was so peeved. I screamed “Merry Christmas!!!” at the guy working there in a tone that mixed angst and merriment.

The crazy thing is if I had lived near the lot, that was easily 15 miles that I would have not have driven for the pick up and return. Just the driving to the lot is what made the bill so much.

I had to take the bus all the way back to West LA from the rental place. By my math, I saved $15 from not using Zipcar. But I might as well have rented the Zipcar because the Zipcars are closer, would not have taken as much time to pick up and return, and the are safer. Also, if I took the Zipcar for a carwash in that 24 hours, and mailed them my receipt, I would have been credited back an hour of driving.

Argh. And now I know.

I’ve been doing research and I could have rented a car from the Enterprise in my neighborhood and it would have come out to the same amount of less since their cars allow for unlimited driving.

Returning any rental car is always a little stressful. Zipcars can be stressful to return because there is absolutely no grace period and if you are late it starts charging you $50/hour automatically. There may be someone waiting in the lot to use the car next, so you MUST return it on time. In traffic this can be really stressful to do this to the minute.

I’m still trying to figure out this carless living stuff. I insist in making this work until next August (making it a solid year of carlessness/ martrydom) It is nice to be able to leave town and have 10,000 pounds less I don’t have to worry about in LA. And when people talk about their car accidents and their breaks blowing out and needing replacement… I definitely don’t miss owning a car.

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Though, for the first time in my adult life last week, I’ve feeling a little bit ashamed that I don’t own a car. And at that, that I don’t own a fancy showoff car like I once did in Harold. It hit me when for some godawful reason I was watching TMZ (the gossip show on TV). The TMZ Paparazzi followed MadTV’s Bobby Lee as he was waiting for the valet to return his car. The paparazzi were all shocked that even though Bobby Lee was on TV for seven years, that he drives an old Toyota covered with bumper stickers. The paparazzi said of his car, “Must be the hard economic times.”

That or a slow day in the news.

If the paparazzi ever bothered to follow performance artists, they’d be horrified to see me at the bus stop laden down with my newspapers and multiple totebags, but still… looking cute as all hell.

Category: The Wong Sans Wheels Chronicles

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