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Column: Traveling (almost) post-COVID some good, some eh

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One of the major problems for both vacation travelers and business travelers in this near-post COVID-19 era is the need for local transportation at your destination. Renting a car from one of the major agencies such as Hertz, Avis and others, could be a test of your patience.

As the pandemic hit and people wisely chose to cancel travel plans and stay home, the auto rental companies found themselves with parking lots jammed with unused cars. In what may have been a very short-sighted move, most of them began selling off inventory. That left them with a paucity of vehicles when people left their homes and began to take long-awaited vacations and business trips.

Add to that the dire shortage of micro chips used in modern vehicles and replenishing, the stock of cars became even more of problem.

All of this does not mean that you will be unable to rent a car, but chances are you won’t be able to get what you wanted or expected. Some who requested a sedan or an SUV were offered family-sized vans. Many people reported that these vehicles had very high mileage, were not in the greatest condition and were malodorous. Not what you wanted to pile your kids into.

Under ordinary circumstances the rental companies divested vehicles when the odometer reached between 25,000 miles to an extreme 50,000 miles. With the vehicle shortage today some are offering rolling stock that exceeds 90,000. Many of us don’t keep our private vehicles that long. Cars that are driven by countless renters are often pretty well worn out by that time.

The agencies also have problems filling jobs, as are many other industries. Reservation agents, mechanics and others needed to run a rental agency are either sitting at home enjoying unemployment check or have taken jobs elsewhere.

Previously you could rent a car for about $50 a day. That’s a wistful dream in todays market. Rental fees are often topping $150 per day.

Butt here is some hope on the horizon. Now that we are in the fall season and vacations have tapered off as the kiddies return to school, the law of supply and demand is taking over. The demand for the supply has diminished and may continue to do so. Prices have gone down accordingly. The crunch is expected to run its course in 2022.

OK, so what should you do? The companies want your business and if you have current travel plans, don’t put them off. Get on the phone or computer (phone is preferable so that you can actually speak with a live person) and call a number of rental agencies. Be polite, but a bit aggressive. Ask what they have available and what the price is. Don’t hesitate to bargain a bit. You might do better with a smaller, local agency than Hertz, Avis or Enterprise. Also, beware that some of the smaller rental agencies are owned by the giants. As an example, Hertz owns Dollar.

When you do get a rental, be sure to give it a very thorough one-over. Don’t kick the tires, but make sure they have tread and do not have any noticeable signs of damage on the walls. Look for body damage no matter how insignificant and make sure it is entered on the rental contract. Pay particular attention to the rear and front ends for signs of a previous accident. If you spot anything like that, walk away unless they offer a comparable vehicle in good condition.

Some years back we rented a car from a major agency in Miami. It looked good, but as we pulled out of the lot there was a noticeable lack of power. We should have turned around immediately but kept on going. The first hill on the highway became a challenge we almost lost. Just made it over the top and to the next exit. Back at the rental agency the representative tried to say we must have done something. He realized if he continued on that tact, his life might have been in danger and we were given a properly functioning vehicle.

So, the bottom line is, make your plans, but be overly cautious.

Tune in next week for what airlines are offering in the way of food for First and Business Class passengers, as opposed to those behind the curtain in the various iterations of coach.

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