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  1. Default Losing my mind over car rental, PLEASE HELP ME!!! :(

    Hi guys,
    so myself and my partner have been planning a USA rt over the last few months. We have mapped out a 3 month trip that does a national parks loop in the West, then over to Colorado, down to Texas and across the south coast to Florida, then up the east coast into Canada (breifly, Montreal) then to Chicago, and across to NYC. We have no real idea whether this is way overly ambitious or not... ? (we are Australians)

    But my main HUGE stumbling block is the car rental. It is going to be unbelievably expensive, considering the length of time as well as an exorbitant one way fee charge, and all insurance coverage. We are VERY unsure of whether to go direct through a company or with a broker..... have heard bad things about both routes.

    Mostly, we want to see national parks, like Yosemite and Yellowstone, and Glacier National Park etc, but as far as I can tell, access to many parts of these parks is on UNSEALED roads, is that correct? Particularly for camping? As we are bringing a tent and intend to camp cheaply if possible for most of our trip. We are aware that driving unsealed roads VOIDS rental contracts and insurance, meaning you could be liable for huge damages if you have an accident on such a road. That is terrifying and I really DON'T want to break the rules of a contract, but I imagine that if you can't access many of the national park areas of the US without driving on unsealed roads, most people DO break the rules? Otherwise how to non-US citizens see the National Parks or camp etc.. ? Are there companies that DO allow you to drive unsealed roads?

    We went on a road trip around New Zealand and had a terrible experience, and we're both pretty jittery about this, to the point we feel like we want to call the whole thing off.

    Any advice would be so greatly appreciated!!!!!
    Thanks in advance for any help!
    - Tess and Dylan

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    13,063

    Default

    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    In regards to your car rental, have you considered doing a loop trip, starting and ending on the west coast? Considering where you want to go, and the looping, zigzagging plan you've laid out, it probably wouldn't change you milage much and will help you avoid the 1 way fee.

    In terms of National Parks, nearly every road you'll use will be paved. You might have a campground road that is gravel, but that's considered more of a driveway, and isn't likely to cause any issues. Each company has its own specific rules when it comes to these grey area and you really have to look at the specifics of the contract.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    4,546

    Default

    In our travels, we have seen many cars that are rentals within the boundaries of national parks. Campground roads are *maintained* roads, so I sincerely doubt that this would be at issue with most of the bigger rental companies. What they want you to avoid are non-maintained roads, and off-roading.

    Also, most of the big companies will instruct you about vehicle maintenance. You will probably have to bring it to a local office for exchange to another vehicle, or to a certain chain they are affiliated with, for oil changes and maintenance. Enterprise, Alamo and National all require this, so it wouldn't surprise me if it was required by Hertz, Budget, Dollar, and more.

    Before you rent a vehicle, you should know what your credit cards, roadside assistance, your current vehicle insurance company, and any other memberships might cover. Don't let the rental company sell you something you don't need. Bring a gps/satnav from home preloaded with US maps. That always costs. Do a loop trip, it's almost always cheaper to return a car from where you pick it up. When you turn it in, make sure you filled the tank to where it was when you took it. Don't prepay for fuel, just buy it before you turn it in. Throw your trash away yourself. I got 10% off a rental one time simply because I cleaned it out. That won't always happen, but it's a nice gesture. That includes the trunk/boot space.


    Donna

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
    Posts
    6,936

    Default Some possible solutions.

    Quote Originally Posted by tessp View Post
    We are VERY unsure of whether to go direct through a company or with a broker..... have heard bad things about both routes.
    On the other hand, we have heard good things about both routes. It is a matter of doing your research, and following up. I know that Keithg from Brisbane got a very good deal. You might like to check out his experience.

    We went on a road trip around New Zealand and had a terrible experience,
    Would you care to share what your terrible experience was?

    As for covering insurance have you checked with your travel insurance to see if they cover rental car insurance and/or excess via their policy. If you have not yet bought travel insurance look for a policy which covers these items.

    I have to agree that you should be looking at a loop trip, and will probably find that it will be a much more efficient way to cover all the places you wish to visit, as well as saving an extra air fair and the one way drop fee.

    Picking up a rental on one side of the continent and dropping it on the other, is probably the most expensive way to do a trip.

    Lifey

  5. Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Midwest Michael View Post
    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    In regards to your car rental, have you considered doing a loop trip, starting and ending on the west coast? Considering where you want to go, and the looping, zigzagging plan you've laid out, it probably wouldn't change you milage much and will help you avoid the 1 way fee.

    In terms of National Parks, nearly every road you'll use will be paved. You might have a campground road that is gravel, but that's considered more of a driveway, and isn't likely to cause any issues. Each company has its own specific rules when it comes to these grey area and you really have to look at the specifics of the contract.
    Thanks for the advice Michael! :)
    I am trying to re-shuffle the route to do 2 loops and take a couple of Amtrak trains.. It's hard to tell whether I would actually spend or save more doing it this way... the car rental company is quoting me approximately $500 one way fee, and the extra fuel, accommodation, and trains to do loops is similar.... I like the idea of looping back a little better though!
    Thanks for the advice re: gravel also. :)

  6. Default

    Thanks for the advice Donna!
    I called the rental company and asked for clarification on what they classed as "sealed" roads, and they said campsites with gravel are not really sealed, but if the campsite operator lists them as being sealed, they usually take that advice; so a bit vague and non-commital...
    I think I've found a pretty good deal on insurance. I am not covered for anything being Australian, and pretty sure my credit card doesn't have what I'd require for cover either.
    Thanks for you help :)

  7. Default

    Thanks for the advice re: loops!

    Horrible new Zealand experience was as follows:

    We rented a car from a local company (if anyone is planning on going to NZ, and doesn't want to deal with the agony of renting with this company, pm me and I'll give you the name by the way!)

    picked up the car, which was NOT cheap, even compared to much bigger companies with newer cars like Hertz, Avis etc. We got the standard model which was ancient and very small. The guy at the office didn't have a pen in the whole office to sign our contract when we arrived. He then left before we could report initial scratches etc. Popping the bonnet, the engine was covered in a thick grime, with a layer of dead bugs. Break pads worn though, started smoking going downhill.
    We lost the keys (our fault, admittedly) on the Routeburn track up the top of a mountain in my boyfriends jacket. Arrived back at campground after no showers and hiking for 3 days (in the rain), and couldn't pop car which had all our clothes and food in it. Called rental company, who said it would be $500 lost key charge, and $165 to get the car popped. Said they may not have another set of keys at all, and we wouldn't get another vehicle if they didn't have a set AND we'd be charged tow fees of over $1000 to the nearest depot for their company. Called again and they said if you don't want to incur these costs, you could get a mechanic to take the barrel out of the car and get a new key cut at your own expense (?!?!?!?!?!)
    We ended up calling the national parks service in a desperate bid to find the keys up the mountain, and MIRACULOUSLY they were found, but only walked down to a hut around 6 hours walk up the mountain, and 2 hours drive from our campsite. So we rented a rent-a-dent BOMB, for $115 dollars for 24 hours, drove at 3AM to the trailhead, walked up the 5 hour section (with a few waterfall crossings) in the dark, to get to the ranger hut before 9AM so the ranger would still be there to hand over our keys.
    Thats only the beginning.... hahah! Feel free to stop reading this wall of text, but I think it's fairly amusing, so if you are hooked, enjoy the rest of our tragic tale:

  8. Default

    We were SO RELIEVED to have the keys back, and we were exhausted, so we celebrated with our first restaurant dinner of the whole trip. The next day, we set of towards the center of the South Island of NZ to see Mt Cook. We were driving along a 50 km p/h road, in bright daylight, no rain, etc, when a dog ran in front of our car a little way ahead. We slowed down, but didn't stop dead, and a woman who was clearly on her phone, or not paying any attention, and breaking the speed limit RAMMED into the back of our car at 70 km p/h or so. If we'd been stopped, we probably would have been injured quite badly; back of the car was totally smashed in, boot popped, all out stuff falling out onto the road, the exhaust pipe was smashed back behind the plastic of the boot area. The woman, a kiwi local, gets out of the car and tells us "you don't stop for animals" and then gets in her car and drives off, after we had to plead with her for insurance info, and take down rego etc. She tries to make us sign a piece of paper saying "we stopped for a cat." (it was a dog). We call the police and the car company and our insurance company (phone's going flat, we are in the middle of nowhere, don't know if the car is roadworthy). Insurance says "you must file a police report today, and collect information off other driver, etc, otherwise can't help you until back in Aus." The car rental company IMMEDIATELY upon us telling them we've been involved in an accident, deduct the $2000 excess from our debit card without informing us until after the fact. Then two different call centre staff give us two completely different answers on what will happen if the car is not driveable. The first says "oh, well you will need to be towed, but that's covered under the insurance you have with us." then we call to make sure and they say "oh no, you will be liable for the full towing costs if the car is not roadworthy, on top of the FULL EXCESS we have already paid, on the side of the road. So we tie off the boot, and have no choice but to drive to the next town (the exhaust was recycling through the car, we had to have the windows down). We were also informed that if we had another accident, we would be charged a new $2000 excess, as its per incident.
    We drive to police station, mechanic, etc... Manage to get to branch 5 hours away the next day to return the car early. They have on their website that once you drop off your vehicle, there's a free shuttle to airport or your accommodation if its nearby. We have a 12kg pack each, and our accommodation is along a highway without much of a footpath, about 20 minutes walk (same distance as airport, 5 minute drive)
    The manager says "oh no, we don't drop people at their accommodation, only the airport, sorry."
    LUCKILY, there was a very nice staff member working that day, who probably saw two disheveled messes, and offered to personally drive us 5 minutes down the road.

    Needless to say! We are absolutely terrified of car rentals. :P

  9. #9
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    13,063

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by tessp View Post
    I am trying to re-shuffle the route to do 2 loops and take a couple of Amtrak trains.. It's hard to tell whether I would actually spend or save more doing it this way... the car rental company is quoting me approximately $500 one way fee.
    I don't even think you would need to do 2 different trips, based on what you laid out.

    You said "a loop of western parks," then over to Texas, across to Florida, up to Montreal, back west to Chicago, and then east again to NYC.

    Now the details are a bit sketchy, since you didn't say exactly which western parks you want to see, but noting you want to do Yellowstone and Glacier, clearly, you're looking to head pretty far north.

    So, in that case, one big loop would look something like: California, Colorado, Texas, Florida, New York, Montreal, Chicago, Yellowstone/Glacier, and back to California.

    Again, you can tweek the specifics based on what parks you want to see, but I doubt that would actually change your overall miles compared to doing a one way trip, or even two separate loops.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
    Posts
    6,936

    Default Plan a loop trip.

    Quote Originally Posted by tessp View Post
    Needless to say! We are absolutely terrified of car rentals. :P
    Tess, allay your fears. Regard it as a lesson learned. Although some of your problems were not the fault of the rental company, I cannot imagine anything like you have described happening to you in the US. I think you will find the major companies, especially in the US, much more professional. Besides there is too much competition - they don't want their name tarnished.

    Back in 2004 I rented a sedan in Seattle, for four weeks, and had a minor accident (not my fault) within the first 50 miles. It took a couple of hours, but the rental company (Budget), delivered another car to me and took the damaged car away. I was not charged for any of it.

    Don't get overly worried about rental cars on national parks roads. I am not aware of any company which would not allow it. Only the roads in monument Valley would be out of bounds, but there are tours available if you wanted to go there.

    Like Michael, I feel that a loop trip will suit your purposes ideally, save you some money, and will no doubt see you going past many more tourist attractions and natural beauty.

    If this trip is for 2017, I urge you to get hold of a large map of the US, - I prefer the National Geographics map for all the information it gives. Then start marking - with pins or post-it notes - all the places you want to see. Draw a line between all these places. You will then start to see a (loop) route developing. Then with maps of the individual States, look closely at the lines and the many routes from which you could choose, and what places of interest there are along each route.

    If State maps are not available locally, I suggest you purchase a Rand McNally road atlas from the RTA store via the link at the bottom of this page. If you order it now, you will have it in a couple of weeks. You will find that those tools will make your trip planning much easier. You can always use the web to research places and distances (but ignore their unrealistic times).

    Lifey

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