Renting Cars

We’ve reached the finale part of the series talking about my past automotive related jobs. This is was my latest auto themed pay check. I was working for a big name rental company selling insurance policies to people trying to rent a Mitsubishi Mirage for under $20 bucks a day. The only reason why I am not still working there is because opportunity knocked on my door in the form of writing for a law firm. Which is my current job that also allows me to pursue my career in automotive journalism. “Good comes to those who wait”, and never stop working hard.

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Taste of Office Space

This was the first job where I was required to wear a button-up shirt and tie every day. After two weeks I started to understand the movie Office Space a lot more. Getting up early every day, putting on a tie, driving a small car through morning rush hour traffic to sit in a grey office for 8 hours and then sitting in rush hour traffic all the way home. This job opened my eyes and made me appreciate the value of time when it comes to life. It took a crappy job renting cars to give me my Ah-Ha moment. Go figure.

This job was also a greatest hits collection of all my other jobs rolled into one high stress working environment.

Hustling & Quoting

I cannot disclose the name of the company I worked for because of what I am about to reveal. The problem was that this was an hourly job with commission opportunities. If a sales rep rents a car to a customer with full coverage, they get a commission on that sale. The higher the cost of the rental, the more money. If you rent 5 cars in a day with added coverage on each one you’re looking a nice chubby pay check at the end of the month when they add on commissions.

However, what happens when you push sales people and give them little to no supervision? We turn into hustlers. We had the power to change prices and rates. If a customer called asking for a quote on a mid-size car, we would tell them the rate for a full-size car without them knowing. If they accepted the price then they would unknowingly pay the higher rate for a smaller car and we would get commission off it.

During the holiday season we would try doubling, or even tripling, the rate of cars because we knew the closer we got to December 24th, the more likely they would pay more to get wherever they needed to go. I never found out if our branch manager knew what was going on but he was so corporate that the only thing he saw was the bottom line. It created a pool hall environment where if you didn’t plan ahead by booking online there was chance you could lose your shirt when the bill was printed.

I’ll be honest. I tried to do the same thing, because I was broke at the time. But just like with selling used cars, the fear of karma was hanging over me and I decided to just play it straight. I hate selling anyway. My sales numbers were low but I didn’t get any bad reviews on Yelp either. I don’t know if all locations were doing this or if it was just the store I worked in. 

Also, rental companies categorize cars differently that we do. In their eyes, a mid-size car is a full-size. A compact is an intermediate, and tiny 2-door hatchbacks are compacts. They all move up a weight class to validate a higher rate.

Dealing with Humanity

Anyone who has worked in retail will probably tell you that customer service can destroy your faith in humanity on a daily bases. It can make you cynical if you are not careful. My short temper fuse was pushed to the boiling point nearly every day I walked into the office and the phone lines started lighting up.

“Aerodynamic Looking”

A customer called me to confirm her reservation. A regular customer that coworkers warned me was very demanding. When I picked up the phone she asked what car she was getting because she didn’t want, “nothing too aerodynamic looking.” I still don’t know what she meant by that but she defended her logic by ending with, “because I drive a BMW.” Unless she wanted a 1959 Ford Edsel I have no idea what kind of car she would consider to be not aerodynamic looking.

Warning Lights

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Once a customer called me sounding very upset because the car had multiple warning lights flashing on the dashboard. She was afraid it was going to break down on her. Being a novice grease monkey I asked her to describe the warning lights so I can better inform her whether or not the car was safe to drive. She told me that there was a little green light that read “ECO” and it would come on and off randomly.  I had to explain to her what that meant. The second light was a blue one in the shape of a thermometer. I also had to explain to her the concept of an engine warming up. I was not rude and tried my best not make her feel dumb, but it was difficult.

What Happens When a Stereotype Comes True?

The characters that would walk into the store never failed to impress me. One day two women came in. One of them had a reservation for a compact while her car was being repaired due to an accident. When we offered the insurance coverage, the woman’s partner interrupted me by saying, “Of course she’ll take it. Look at her, she’s an Asian woman.” She said it in a way that only a couple could get away with, but my coworker and I did not know whether to indulge her or lecture her on political correctness in public.

They bought the insurance and we set them on their way. An hour later we get a call from the same woman telling us that she had backup into a truck at the repair shop where her own car was being fixed! “I told you she was bad.” She exclaimed.

“It’s Too Small”

Car-guys were some of the worst customers surprisingly. This guy came in and he looked like a frat boy that had grown up to middle age but still wanted to dress like a frat boy by wearing sunglasses, cargo shorts, and flip flops in winter. He owned a body shop but he bragged about it as if he solved the cure for cancer while on a date with Kate Upton.

His daily driver had been in a wreck so his insurance was setting him up with a rental. The only car we had that matched what the insurance company was willing to pay was a Toyota Prius. He immediately got upset because he exclaimed that he was too big to fit in this car. He wasn’t obese, but he was stocky and about 5’ 9’’. However, I’ve seen bigger people squeeze into smaller cars, so his real problem was that his ego didn’t fit in the car. He ended up leaving because we didn’t have another option and a bigger car would require him to pay the difference which he was not too excited about. Here’s the kicker. His daily driver? A 1998 Corvette! He has no issue squeezing his Ed Hardy ass into a 2-seater sports car but a Prius is the eye of needle.  What a D-bag.

Soulless Cars

Rental cars are soulless. They aren’t cars so much as they are a means of transportation. All the stereotypes I’ve heard over the years about rental cars were proven true in my time working there. Once during a vehicle inspection with a customer I noticed that the front fender was loose on one of the corners. I James Bond karate chopped it back into place before the customer came around the car and noticed it.

I sat in cars the smelled like weed that customers tried to cover up by soaking the seats in Febreze, which doesn’t work by the way. Cars coming back with broken windshields and 2,000 miles of gas station food wrappers on the floorboards. We clean our own cars too, so I did my fair share of vacuuming stranger’s trash while wearing a tie. it is not fun to sweat in a tie.

The cars themselves live a hard existence. Sometimes we would fudge the mileage on the contracts so that we didn’t have to take the car to get an oil change. That way we could rent the car out because we were short on inventory. If we were really short on cars we didn’t wash them, just a quick wipe down with damp wash cloth and out the door.

One night we had sent a customer in a crossover only for him to be our first customer the next morning to tells us that the SUV was smoking from the engine bay. We had just picked up the car from the shop the day before so we were concerned. Turned out that when it went in for an oil change, the technician forgot to screw the oil cap back on and it was splashing oil onto the engine block. Lucky it didn’t happen during summer or it probably would have caught fire.

Car Accidents on the Clock

I once sold full coverage because a car was pulling out of the strip mall we were located at and was T-boned while I was giving my full coverage sales pitch to a couple. The car accident happened 20 yards away from us. I turned to the customers and said, “That’s why we offer full coverage.” Ka-ching!

I was actually involved in a fender bender while driving a rental. I was dropping off a customer at the body shop where her car was ready to be picked up. We were saying our farewells when I noticed the white reversing lights from a Dodge Ram in front of us that belonged to the shop owner. We were a few feet away so I figured he saw me, but nope. The truck’s rear tire made a bee line for the front grille of the rental and bam! This happened after store hours. As I got out of the car, I was dreading the thought of police reports and insurance forms. We inspected the damage and the grille was cracked, but it was black so you couldn’t tell unless someone pointed it out to you. The shop owner and I gave each other the look of, “Nothing happened…” and I took off to leave the rental at very back of the parking lot.

My last week working there I noticed that someone had written “F***” followed by the name of the company on the wall behind our store. If that wasn’t a sign I don’t know what is.

Not All Bad

One of the few positives about this job was that I would be sent out on errands. Take cars to go get washed, picking up customers from body shops, or switching cars with a different location. It gave me a break from the constant phone ringing and waves of customers. It also allowed me to go car spotting.

The airport location always reminded me of the scene from Planes, Trains & Automobiles, when Steve Martin’s character is left stranded with keys to a car that isn’t there. That huge parking lot with planes taking off in the background. Going to that location to pick up cars was always an Easter egg hunt of trying to find specific cars that didn’t have any recalls or too many miles. Once you found a car that worked you had to haggle with the that location’s crew to see if they didn’t call bids on it already. All the stores in the city share the pool of cars and it would sometimes boil down to a Spy vs. Spy cartoon of lying or stealing cars for your own inventory.

What I learned

Being in a small grey office for 8 hours, 5-6 days a week, can crush one’s spirit. Although this was the worse job I’ve had to date, it was also the one where I learned the most about life. The most important thing I learned was not to waste your time. I only worked there for 3 months and it felt like 3 years. If you don’t like your job, get to work on finding a new one. Show the universe, or whomever you pray to, that you want change and opportunity will find you. Just be ready to take it because who knows when it will try again.

Also, I learned to always book your rental car online in advance in order to avoid being hustled, and yes the insurance is worth it in the long run. Car accidents are outrageously expensive and the average liability insurance may not cover the full damage amount. You could be left with a sore neck and a debt to pay off. Better to pay $100 for peace of mind than thousands for “I told you so.”

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