I decided to write this after working for 2 1/2 years at a car rental agency. I never realized how little the average person knows about renting a car. My oppinions and observations are based strictly on smaller rental car facilities, but do reflect the major players in the market. Also, I couldn't include everything I wanted to, but these are the most surprising situations for people.
* You can't "reserve" a car. Technically you are reserving a spot in line for a size of vehicle.
When your time comes the service representative will try to fulfill your reservation with the size you have requested. Often times the representative will make the decision only when you finally enter the store. Also, many times they don't have the size you requested (we'll get to that) so be prepared for anything. If you get something bigger than requested do not be surprised. Be aware though that car sizes such as compact and mid size vehicles are often interchangeable. It may be classified as a compact by our company, but if you have a mid size reservation and that's the only car left it magically will become a mid size.
* The most common and often ONLY used cleaning product is glass cleaner.
The cars are in and out of the store within minutes of return on busy days. A quick spray is usually what they get and may be that way for serveral rental periods. If you have alergies or phobias for germs I suggest you bring your own disinfectant wipes.
* The person at the counter has 3 customers waiting you don't see.
At most of the local stores the counter person is also the phone operator, car porter, accountant, and insurance contact/business contact. Usually, if you are being helped by them there is another customer waiting to be picked up and someone waiting for a call back. Respect the fact that you arn't the only one in a hurry. The nicer you are, and the more prepared you are, the better the process will be.
* Sold out may mean "sorry you arn't paying enough".
During the busy times of the year car renting gets cut throat. The goal is to make as much money as possible in a short amount of time to stay a float. If two people call and one person is willing to pay more than another person it doesn't matter who had the first reservation, the person paying more gets the car. If you call and only need the car for "maybe a few hours or just a day" expect to get the stiff arm.
* If you are dropping a car at a different location the car you get is one of three things.
a) a very expensive car. b) a very high mileage/smelly/dirty car/ they don't want at their store anymore. c) a car they just don't need.
Be careful about the second option. Check over the car carefully before you pull away.
* It's incredibly hard to hold a car for anyone.
Unfortunatly, people don't return at the time they say they will. They also don't return to the store they said they will. Sometimes, the car gets in an accident. Combine this with 50 other unpredicatble circumstances and the service rep has to go off gut instinct to figure out how to get through the day. If their computer says they will have three cars returning at 3 o'clock and they make a reservations for three people. I can almost gauruntee those three reservations won't get filled.
An insightful situation is as follows. A customer reserved a minivan through me for a busy holiday weekend. I made sure that a day ahead of time I had the van set and ready to go (took me around 17 phone calls to get one and 4 hours of driving time by two people in a three person store). That night minutes before closing a major account called us and needed a minivan. My job is to take care of that major account and give them what they need since they spend thousands of dollars with us. Needless to say the people I booked the van for came in the following morning and there was no van.
(Minivans sell out months ahead of time, they are only used a few days in the year and there is no car to substitute for them. Most rental agencies only have a few of them due to low useage and high cost. Everyone needs one on the same weekend. They are the bane of any rental car agent.)
Pro Tip: ALWAYS BOOK WITH 2 DIFFERENT COMPANIES A COUPLE HOURS APART.
* The people who work at the store get paid crap and take crap all day.
If you have ever worked in customer service you know that the best way to get what you want is to be nice and professional. Respect their time and don't be a dick. Otherwise your car might magically not be available when you come to pick it up.
* No we don't have some ridiculous luxery car you've always wanted.
Sorry, it's too expensive. People wreck them and often can't pay for the repairs.
* The insurance is a rip off UNLESS!
a) You don't have insurance. b) You are going a very long ways in a short time.
Pro-Tip: Let the rental agent know up front you are buying insurance. They will work with you to lower your rate. After all, most CSR's are graded based on their ability to sell it and they would rather give you the car for less, and not get fired, than shoo you out the door.
* Even if the body shop/insurance/uncle bob says they are paying for it, you might get charged at some point. You ALWAYS need a card to rent for deposits.
Insurance companies drag their feet authorizing days. Body shops don't send checks in time. Whoever's card is on file may be charged for the rental if things don't go as planned. Be mindful of your account and keep your receipts. I've seen people billed for thousands of dollars, because someone dropped the ball. Yes, they did get the money back (eventually) but missing a thousand dollars out of your account may ruin your day.
Hopefully, I've helped someone out who's thinking about renting a car.