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Beating the hell out of a rental car is fun. Handbrake cornering, transmission neutral shocks, curb jumps, hygienic abuse, all the things you would never do to something you actually own. And with current airport drops, there’s no reason to speak to an agent. In other words, there is no reason to lie to anyone.
But that’s not the best thing about rental cars or trucks. Best of all, we have good reason to praise them.
While there are times when a car is rented just to do something mundane, like making plumbing supply sales calls in Ohio or attending the American Political Science Association’s annual meeting in Seattle. , it’s at least as likely that the rental is for something great. Or at least one pivotal moment in your life.
For me, one of those moments happened in September when my daughter Nina moved into her first apartment about 130 miles from our house. It meant renting a U-Haul truck.
And it was so U-Haul. The good ol ‘DC 4959 F is a 2013 E-450 chassis with U-Haul’s exclusive 17-foot box bolted to it and an Arizona registration. More than 103,000 miles were displayed on the odometer. There weren’t that many power windows and the seats were covered with vinyl that could withstand an artillery barrage. White and orange on the outside and gray tape on the inside.
How many times in her eight years of rental service has this truck helped a girl leave her parents’ house? How many times has he taken away the furniture belonging to a deceased loved one? Surely there must have been several times he wore wedding decorations to a reception. And surely, he was signed up to get someone out of a failed marriage, a painful business break-up, or a move across town to a bigger home after a baby arrived. Many, many moments that mattered.
And it’s just a dented truck with little interest in it, mechanically.
As an automotive writer, I borrow or rent a lot of cars. Think of them as a kind of rental. The Acura RDX I used to transport my family around Washington, DC; Virginia; Pennsylvania; and until New York in 2012 will be in my heart forever. A big moment. I even rented racing cars. Pintos mainly applauded for competing in the Pony Stock class at Santa Maria Speedway in the 90s. Still a great time.
The Nissan Versa that I rented in 2010 to visit my employers in Michigan remains memorable because it was, to quote myself, “a car with directional stability so lousy that it travels in two lanes. every time a baby farts “. The closest I’ve ever come to wrong was a rented Chevy Cavalier I used in 1991 to drive through southern Indiana to cover this year’s Street Machine Summer Nationals in South Bend for Car Crafts magazine. My travel companion and photographer for this event was arrested for murder a few years later, was convicted and is now rotting in jail. And every time I see a Cavalier, which is rarely the case now, I wonder why I couldn’t feel any of the darkness rolling past me in that rental car.
After unloading my daughter’s things at her new apartment in West Covina, I started driving the U-Haul back home to Santa Barbara. It was cheap to rent the truck, only $ 29.95 per day, but the mileage charge was 99 cents per mile. So to move that empty and damaged E-450 to the U-Haul lot near my home cost $ 128.70. The total bill was $ 327.64 for U-Haul and well over $ 400 after adding fuel to the equation. But I’ll (eventually) forget the expense, stop thinking about the foggy steering, the gooey acceleration of any engine, the rough gear changes, the crappy stereo. What I won’t forget is that he did his duty and brought my daughter to the next stage in her life. This is the next step in my life. And my wife’s life.
I don’t know how long the DC 4959 F will stay in the U-Haul fleet. But of all the people who will praise him over the years, I’m probably the only one aware of the moment he represents in our lives.
Crushing into that next neutral rental car dump? Or brake the sidewalls of its tires? Have fun. But also know that while this rented machine will be forgotten, it may have been there at a critical time in your life.
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