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Sep 24, 2021

Rending One’s Garments While Renting a Car?

A tale of derring-don’t

By Ed Goldman
Like anyone who drives a vehicle old enough to be served a cocktail in most of the United States, whenever I need to drive somewhere more than three hours away, I rent a car.

It’s one thing to rent a car when you’re on vacation in a destination to which you’ve flown—and quite another to rent one and park it next to your own car for a few days. You almost expect sibling rivalry to occur, complete with elder abuse and ageism jokes:

Edgy Cartoon
Ronin On Empty
Sleek Rental Car: You do realize he’s planning on dumping you when he gets addicted to my rear-view video and keyless ignition, right?

Assisted Living-Qualified Family Car: He’s a little deeper than that. He’s had plenty of opportunities to dump me when my alternator went south and it cost more than a grand to replace me.

Sleek Rental Car: He’s not deep, just pragmatic. He calculated the difference between buying a new car for $60,000-plus or getting you palliative care for $1,000.

As you may be inferring, because I’m working overtime to imply it, I recently had to replace the alternator in my 2002 car. While I was at it, I also had the dealership fix the rear passenger window, which slid halfway down as soon as the car went more than 35 miles per hour, and replace the driver-side visor, which apparently thought I was always about to drive into sun glare and would flip itself down prophylactically. Even at night. This wasn’t the result of a computer sensor going rogue; it was because the hinge or spring that usually holds the thing in place decided to retire.

While waiting a week for the dealership to deign to welcome my car into its repair bay—and misguidedly assuming I had a more locked-and-loaded meeting schedule ahead of me than I did—I decided to rent a car.

It was a black 2021 Ford Fusion and made me feel like I was driving the getaway car from my favorite action movie, “Ronin,” which starred Robert DeNiro. Except that in the film, shot largely in my favorite city, Paris, the car was a black BMW, and it was used to battle, chase and escape from Irish and Arab terrorists, knocking over the requisite food carts and dislodging inconvenient canopy poles along the way.

Looking for a Great Gift?
I gunned my Fusion, on the other hand, to pick up Chinese food and my cleaning. And no matter how childlike my imagination remains, I just didn’t fantasize that I was being pursued by terrorists down suburban streets while driving a maximum 32 miles per hour.

The Fusion probably did get better great gas mileage than the BMW, however. I suppose if I’d opened it up a bit on the freeway, it would have proved even thriftier to operate—a consideration one doesn’t usually make when driving a getaway car.

To belabor this—one of this column’s specialties—in “The Godfather,” Virgil Sollozzo, the heroin trafficker, didn’t lean over and tell the driver who’d just executed that amazing U-turn on the Queensboro Bridge, “Nice energy efficiency, Lou.”

As always, there was some price negotiating when I returned the rental car and, as usual, I was terrible at it.

I’d had the car for two weeks: the first while waiting for the dealership to allow me to spend money to repair it, the second while the dealership completed its estimated four-day job in six-and-a-half days. I’d tried to return the car a day before I ended up doing so, on Monday, but couldn’t because they were closed on Sunday. I told the (patient) customer service guy at the rental place that I shouldn’t be charged for hanging onto the car an extra day because I couldn’t have returned it.

We went back and forth (pleasantly) for a couple of minutes, then he pulled out my contract and showed me that because I’d rented by the week, not by the day, the agency had already thrown in both Sundays for free. “I had planned on writing a stern memo,” I told the (very patient) customer service guy. He told me to cheer up, that something else was likely to aggravate me soon enough.

And man, did it! After the rental place drove me, at no extra charge, to the car dealership, I told the service manager that I’d needed to rent a car for two weeks, though I was concerned only about the one week when my car was being worked on.

He asked to see my car rental agreement, calculated what I’d spent and deducted it from my repair bill. And another stern memo bit the dust.

As I drove my 21-year-old car home, I asked it to join me for a cocktail. We both needed to calm down.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).