For those compelled to partake of it, car hire is like a sting in the tail of air travel. By the time you reach your destination airport, your poor middle-class brains have already had to cope with packing, travelling to and parking at the airport, the check-in queue from hell, seat choosing, cramped legs, child-wrangling, coping with every noise made by every other person on the plane the whole way… and then, suddenly, you have to proceed to a desk staffed by two people with a questionable grip on what they’re actually meant to be doing, but queued at by thousands.
Firstly there is the need to muster the intense mental alertness required to avoid ticking about five different ‘extras’ boxes on the insurance cover, and then the strength of character and phrase book needed to deal with the unexpected issues. Inevitably, for example, you will have been quite excited at the prospect of that rather glamorous German model advertised on the website, and so disappointed when they just say you’re getting “a five-door” car, and distraught when it turns out to be a Kia.
What they show What you get
Audi A3 Hyundai i30
Peugeot 508 Toyota Avensis
Opel Corsa Proton Satria-Neo
Citroen c4 Picasso Mazda 5
Mercedes G Class Suzuki Grand Vitara
Then, while feeling disappointed and vulnerable, you will be required to pay a strangely enormous deposit, with only vague indications of when you’ll see it again. If finding out how much their own-rate petrol costs doesn’t pull your weary head out of the sand, nothing will. And what was that about the tank? Should it be full or empty when you return?
And even when you leave, key in hand, there are stresses to deal with. The fraught tension between getting in the car to get the hell out, and the desire to check every suspect scratch/dent on that funny car ‘damage map’ they give you, so as to avoid losing that deposit over a stone chip. The desire to then thrash it however short the journey, versus the need to make sure the fragile build quality isn’t threatened. And lastly, right at the end of your trip, the need to ensure you use every single drop of petrol.
The middle-class traveller might be tempted to do the classy thing and fill the tank up on their return to the airport. This is probably the most sensible thing to do. But who would give up the thrill of driving on nothing but petrol fumes, when the dial is on 0 before you even start the car? The middle-class traveller, that’s who.
Flickr: London City Airport