Is your car rental company taking care of manufacturer recalls in a timely manner? Odds are, they’re not.

For many recalls, it’s not a huge deal. But every now and then, something horrible happens — such as a PT Cruiser which caught fire, leading its occupants to lose control and crash. After five years of litigation, Enterprise Rent-a-Car admitted liability, for not getting a hood fire recall taken care of.

Subsequently, the federal government has looked into rental car recall management:

In November, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it was looking at nearly 3 million recalled vehicles from General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group LLC that were sold to rental car companies to see how quickly they are repaired.
Rental car companies are not legally required to complete recalls before they rent the cars to customers.

Some safety advocates have raised alarms that some consumers are unknowingly driving vehicles that were recalled and not repaired.

Bob Barton, president of the American Car Rental Association noted, that hundreds of recalls and service bulletins affecting millions of vehicles in North America are issued annually.

“In most cases, members place a ‘hold’ on recalled vehicles so they are not rented until the recall work is completed,” he said.

Because rental cars move around so much it can take weeks or months for the company to find out a model has been recalled, thus taking much longer for repairs to be done, advocates said.

I’m sorry, but that’s pretty weak: If a “hold” is placed on a specific VIN, it can be plugged into the database and blocked from rental. Dealerships are located nationally, so a repair can be taken care of anywhere. This lax attitude shouldn’t be given a pass.

For what it’s worth, the rental car companies are still apparently better at handling recalls than most individuals, “who often fail to get recalled vehicles fixed.” (No specific stat given, alas.)

If you’re concerned about your rental, I suppose you could fire up the internet and check the car’s VIN against the manufacturer’s recall database online. But will you, really?

For your convenience, here are the recall links for Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, and Honda. GM, Hyundai, and Kia, each of which are frequently included in the rental car pool, add an unfortunate hurdle to their search and require you to register as an owner on their website, which you probably don’t want to do with a rental car. Alternatively, call the toll-free customer service for the manufacturer if you’re concerned.

…But will you really check?

Categorized in: car rental, rental cars

hotel ukraina moscow Upgrades and Downgrades: Moscow hotels, Tokyo flights, $5 rental cars, and hot cheese
Downgraded: Moscow
For the sixth year in a row, Moscow has the most expensive hotel rates in the world for business travelers. The average Moscow rate fell 12 percent to 13,250 rubles ($452). Fell.

Upgraded: Flights from NYC to Tokyo
American Airlines is launching flights from New York JFK to Tokyo Haneda Airport. Haneda, which is closer to downtown Tokyo, not Narita, the primary international airport.

Downgraded, then Upgraded: United grounds, then fixes, its 757s
United grounded all 96 of its Boeing 757s yesterday, to perform required emergency updates to all the planes’ air data computers. A day later, the airline reported that only 15 flights were nixed, and that all planes were back online.

Upgraded: One-way rentals out of Florida
If you’re in Florida and looking to leave the state between April and June, Hertz is serving up one-way out-of-Florida rentals for merely $5 a day. Rates are good for a limited range of destination states, and for a max of 14 days, but $5 is cheap. No one-way drop-off fees, either. Snowbirds bring the car in, you bring it out. This isn’t necessarily something for everyone, but if it meets your needs, go for it. (via)

Downgraded: Hot cheese
Beware of hot cheese when you travel. Seriously. The headline: “Disney in Hot Cheese Lawsuit.” It’s quite sad, actually, for the kid who got hurt. Poor child, but wow, what a sentence: “[Walt Disney Parks and Resorts] has just received the lawsuit from a Californian couple who say their four-year-old Isaiah Harris was injured at Cosmic Ray’s Starlite Café [at Orlando's Magic Kingdom] when he toppled into a scalding hot cup of cheese that had been prepared for pouring over nachos.”



bmw on demand rates excerpt Upgraded: Short term luxury car rentals
Hourly rentals are no longer just the domain of Zipcar and their ilk. BMW has launched hourly rentals in its home city of Munich, with the intent of expanding the service to other cities in Europe.

This is not quite the same as fellow German luxury carmaker Daimler-Benz’s service car2go. Car2go focuses on renting small (cheap) cars, such as the Smart fortwo. Rather, BMW is offering up its luxury car fleet, so you can rent that M6 coupe for a few hours, if that suits your fancy.

The new program, “BMW on Demand,” is only available at the BMW World center in Munich, and not, say, at neighborhood rental locations throughout the city.

Obviously the rate per hour will be higher than your typical carsharing. Rates range from 16 at 32 euros per hour. That’s a hefty premium, but I supposed you’re renting a BMW, after all, not a Kia.

But there are also some other differences in the contract:

In a key difference between BMW on Demand and many car sharing providers (Zipcar as well as smaller, regional organizations), however, BMW will have users pay for fuel on top of their rental fee. Whereas Zipcar users are charged for the full reservation period regardless of an early return, BMW on Demand says users will only be charged for the actual use period.

Insurance is included, but if you have to invoke it, you’re on the hook for a 750 euro deductible. (And if the car is considered a luxury vehicle, your credit card may not cover you, either. Read the fine print or call your card issuer.)

Click on the image to see a larger screenshot of cars available and rates.

Categorized in: car rental

hertz rent2buy Hertz expands aspirational car rentalsIt’s an oversimplification, sure. But there are basically two ways of looking at car rentals. You can either rent a car as to meet your transportation needs, or you can see your rental as an opportunity to try out a car that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to. It’s functional vs. aspirational renting.

There’s nothing necessarily better or worse about one perspective or the other. Personally, I tend toward the practical, but that’s a matter of taste.

Now Hertz is expanding a program that lets you rent cars that might otherwise be out of reach, under the auspices of their Rent2Buy program.

You can rent a car for $49 or $99 per day — $99 if the list price of the car exceeds $25,000. If you choose to buy the car, you don’t pay the rental fee. If you don’t buy, well, you rented a car.

These are used cars, admittedly, but perhaps you were considering, say, a Corvette or an Audi A6, and the quick test drive in the four-mile radius around the dealership didn’t quite cut it. In such an instance, the rental fee might be a worthwhile investment (I’m frankly assuming you don’t actually buy the car from Hertz).

Hertz has now expanded the program to 22 states, so it’s easier to play the rent-to-own game.

What I don’t get is why they would bother with rentals like Hyundai Accents as part of this program. That’s a standard rental car already, but if you’re paying $49 a day, you’re paying WAY too much.

Categorized in: car rental, Hertz

When I’m unimpressed by the regular retail car rental rates, and can’t get Priceline or Hotwire to make me a deal I can brag about, I check the Euro-centric rental car consolidators — even for rentals in the U.S. (See here for an earlier post on this trick.) I’ve been a fan of sites like AutoEurope, even for non-European rentals, for fallback situations.

So I was interested, at first, when I learned that AutoEurope would start offering vacation packages, in addition to car rentals.

I had never really thought about this before, but car rental companies don’t really sell vacation packages. Airlines and hotels do, of course, and agencies have long offered them, of course, but since rental cars have always been an afterthought — after the flight and hotel, at least — the rental agencies haven’t really pushed the vacation package angle from their own sites.

And to be fair, even with this announcement by AutoEurope (a consolidator), the car rental firms — the ones handing over the keys — are still not in the package game.

But my interest in combining a discounted car rental with a discounted hotel room was quickly quashed when I saw how the site actually works. For starters, you can’t search for packages up front. You search for a car, and then they offer a hotel as an upsell. Lame.

But even worse, since offering packages, some rental rates aren’t even bookable anymore. For example, I searched for an upcoming trip to Atlanta, to test-drive the feature. A car rate (and not even a great rate…) popped up, with caveats:

autoeurope rate Downgraded: AutoEurope requires purchase of vacation packages to book some rates

Of the two search results, both featured the caveat. Car-only wasn’t even an option.

I thought it was a fluke. Then I ran other searches — different dates, different cities, “any class” car … it happened every time, for every car. Lame, lame, lame.

Why not let the consumer choose to just rent a car?

Sorry, AutoEurope, but what could have been an upgrade is a serious downgrade instead.

Categorized in: car rental

All the attention has been on the Continental-United merger, but that’s not the only M&A action in the travel space. To wit:

  • Hertz made an offer to buy Dollar/Thrifty for $41/share. Avis subsequently signaled interest in making a higher bid. Bottom line: The car rental market is about to shrink.
  • Google is reportedly in talks to buy ITA Software, which provides much of the functionality for sites like Orbitz, Kayak, TripAdvisor Flights, and others. You can’t just google a ticket today, but you may do so soon.

The battle for Dollar/Thrifty between Hertz and Avis is largely about consolidation and elimination of the competition (much like the “Continited” merger). At the same time, buying Dollar/Thrifty would give Hertz or Avis a larger presence in the comparatively “downmarket” leisure travel segment.

The speculated deal for ITA Software is perhaps more interesting. What will Google do if it gains the technology and software engineering human resources to run better fare searches? Will they offer a search-of-searches, pushing traffic to airlines and online travel agencies, but putting Kayak and their metasearch ilk out of business? Will Google challenge Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, et al. themselves and build a Google travel agency? Will Google continue to sell the powerful ITA engine (which ITA lets anyone test drive on their beta site — login as guest) or will they let contracts expire and keep the technology for itself? Plenty of theories, but no answers.

So in the past week, the competitive landscapes for flying, driving, and booking travel have all potentially changed, with minimal visible benefits to the consumer. After all, less competition breeds higher prices.

All we’re missing is a hotel deal and a cruise line merger, and we’ll be all set. (The week is young.)