I have recently come to the conclusion that renting a car in today’s world is the closest we come to dealing with real-life pop-up ads.
Essentially, this is what happens: you arrive, you are presented with dozens of extras that you don’t really want, and after a while you begin to wonder whether you really need to rent a car at all.
To help you understand what I mean, allow me to take you through a recent car rental experience I had at Miami International Airport in Miami, Florida, which is about 380 miles south of the United States.
As I recall, I had booked some type of midsize SUV. So I walked up to the counter, and the guy there – his name was Raul, or possibly Dave – started off by saying that he could get me into a full-size SUV for a low, low price. Now, at this point, I should’ve clicked the real-life equivalent of the “X” in the corner of the screen and politely declined his offer. But like a grandmother with her first computer who’s thinking that maybe she should click that blinking box to see what special deal she’s been selected for, I went along with it.
So Raul-Dave hemmed, and he hawed, and he checked his computer, and he made it seem like this big production that he was going out of the way to do just for me, when in reality he was probably getting a Hardee’s gift certificate for every full-size SUV he rented that day. Eventually, he came to a conclusion: I could have a full-size SUV. And it would only be $50 per day more than I was paying now.
And this became the first of rental car offer I would reject that day.
Next was the question of insurance. Do you want the car to be covered when you drive it? he asked me, in a tone that was laced with guilt, like a Jewish mother might use to ask her daughter when she’s going to find a husband. Do you want to make sure that if, God forbid, you have an accident, you won’t have to worry about the car AT ALL? AT ALL? SO YOU CAN FOCUS ON WORRYING ABOUT THE GIANT HOLE IN YOUR SPLEEN?
No, thank you, I said. I already have insurance.
YES! he said. BUT IF YOU GET IN AN ACCIDENT, YOU’LL HAVE TO PAY YOUR DEDUCTIBLE! YOUR DEDUCTIBLE! DON’T YOU WANT TO AVOID PAYING YOUR DEDUCTIBLE?
At this point, I started wondering if there was a deductible on my personal insurance policy in case I decided to punch this guy in the face.
No, I told him. I’m fine paying my deductible. I haven’t been in an accident in years, and I don’t expect to change that anytime soon.
BUT THE DRIVERS HERE ARE CRAZY! THEY’RE CRAZY! I GET IN ACCIDENTS EVERY DAY! JUST YESTERDAY I GOT IN AN ACCIDENT! AND I HAD A HUGE HOLE IN MY SPLEEN! BUT I DIDN’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT THE CAR! NOT ONE BIT! BECAUSE I HAD INSURANCE!
OK, he didn’t say that. But you could see he was thinking it. He was clearly in the running for the monthly insurance policy contest, and it seemed like he was about two policies behind, three days before the month was going to end, and he was so close to winning the free weatherproof extension cords. Fortunately, at this point, he let it go.
But then we had to discuss the issue of fuel. “Sir,” said Raul-Dave. I sighed. I knew where this was going. The next words were going to be “Do you want.” What I wanted was to get the hell out of there in the car I rented at the price I paid without any further interruptions. But it wasn’t going to happen.
Suddenly I started to realize why rental car lines are always so long: the rental car employees refuse to just hand people their keys and take their credit cards. They stand there, asking question after question, real-life pop-up ad after real-life pop-up ad. And some of these customers don’t instinctively say no. Some people actually sit there and say: “Well, honey, I don’t know. Should we take the fuel?” And then they go on their smartphone, right there at the counter, and look up what Clark Howard has to say about it.
Before he could finish his sentence, I insisted I would fill it up myself.
BUT SIR, he began, launching into a tirade about how their fuel is cheap, REALLY cheap, as cheap as a box of raisins, or a matchbook, or one of those free USB sticks you get from people trying to sign you up for things in airports.
No, I said firmly. I’ll fill it myself.
And I did fill it myself. I didn’t get in an accident, either. And I was perfectly content driving the midsize SUV I had booked and paid for. Hopefully, Raul-Dave found someone else to put him over the threshold for those waterproof extension cords.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He divides his time between writing about cars and sitting around his house watching Gilmore Girls without any pants on. Also, he wrote this bio himself in the third person.