Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Nissan Versa

We rented a Nissan Versa for our trip to central Nevada.  The major motivation is a simple one: we drove more than a thousand miles, and that would have cost at least $500 in not just gas, but also depreciation, wear and tear on tires, brakes, and other odds and ends.  Instead, even paying the exorbitant loss damage waiver that Budget charges (and which only takes one accident to justify), it was still only about $250, including gas.  We had some Budget Rent-A-Car gift certificates left over from a teaching job my wife had some years ago, so actual out of pocket cost was closer to $100.  When in doubt, put mileage on someone else's car.

Another attraction of renting a car for a trip is that if something goes wrong, you can call up the car rental agency and demand a replacement.  If you end up with serious car trouble in your own car a long ways from home, you may have to wait a day or two for repairs.  You are also at the mercy of local mechanics, who you may not be sure that you can trust.  If you discover a month later that they fouled up the car repair, what are you going to do?  Drive 400 miles to demand that they fix it?

One of the attractions of renting a small car for a trip, of course, is gas mileage.  But less than it first appears.  We averaged 34 mpg on the first leg of the trip, which was all highway miles, and much of it at 70 and above, because most of the journey was in Idaho and Nevada.  (If there is anything sillier than a 55 speed limit on many of eastern Oregon's roads, I haven't seen it.)  The second fillup was about 28 mpg, because we were doing a lot more around town driving in the Silver Springs area.  This is decent gas mileage, but not dramatically better than the Corvette (which would have returned about 30 and 20, respectively) or the Jaguar (which would have been about 28 and 18, respectively).  Only compared to the TrailBlazer is gas mileage the strong case for renting the Versa.

It isn't a bad little car.  The wheelbase is shorter than the Jaguar, so to create a decent ride required relatively soft springs, giving it a bit more rocking motion on bad roads than I like.  Handling for a front wheel drive car was reasonably good.  My first reaction to the motor was, "No guts."  But then I discovered the overdrive switch on the automatic transmission was on.  If you want more guts around town, turn the overdrive off.  When passing, even with overdrive on, it did okay.  It's not the Corvette, or even the Jaguar in this respect, but I think of some of the cars that I have driven over the years that made the Versa seem like a pocket rocket!

Seats were comfortable, and the trunk was really quite spacious.  Some of the controls were in relatively obscure places.  On the return trip, I finally figured out where the remote controls for the side view mirrors were located.  I'm not sure which model we had, but for a car with an MSRP starting below $11,000, it really wasn't bad.  If I were fresh out of college with a good job, I can think of worse choices.

UPDATE: One of the comments below pointed to a couple of very disturbing articles that indicate that taking the CDW may actually be a very good idea.  Visa does better than MasterCard, but there is some real risk that you are going to get stuck with a hefty bill if you have a serious accident with a rental car, even after your credit card covers you.


  1. Yeah my Mother-in-law has one, and with all the people running gas-electric hybrids, and even dumber people running those Crappy "Smart" cars, I wanted to give it a try.

    Small economy cars have come a long way in a short time.

  2. I rented one of these on Maui and liked it a lot. It swallowed a large windsurf board, three sails, two masts, and a boom, without requiring roof racks.

    The obstruction of view would have been ticket-worthy in California or if I had driven it there for much more than the 2.2 miles needed to get from the rental shop to the beach.

    What I did not like was the fact that the morons at Avis cabled together the massive bulk of two sets of keys and remote lock transmitters, when I needed a single key that could be put into a water-safe neck pouch.

  3. The loss damage waiver is usually covered by credit card companies if you read the fine print on your agreement. For example, all standard Visa cards cover it. In fact, if you get the lousy insurance the rental agencies have, the better policy Visa gives you is cancelled, so it's actually a BAD thing to get in that caase.

  4. Before you rent another car, check your insurance--there's a good chance you're already covered and don't need to waste money on the rental LDW.

  5. I haven't checked the details on this in a while, and I had to make a decision at the time. I know that MasterCard USED to cover everything beyond your deductible, but I wasn't sure.

  6. It turns out that many MasterCard plans include this coverage, but not all. And yes, you have to refuse the CDW/LDW coverage to get the coverage through your MasterCard. Next time, I'll know, and save about half the car rental bill. I did this when I rented a car in Britain in 1999, but I wasn't quite sure if the situation had changed.

  7. Your credit card's "coverage" doesn't actually protect you -- at least not against everything you can be hit with. It only protects you IF the rental company provides specific evidence of loss-of-use to the card company, which they will not do.

    You're still on the hook, because your rental agreement obliges you to be personally responsible for any loss/damage as determined by the rental company, AND creates no reciprocal obligation on their part to share their loss data (which they consider to be proprietary information) with your or your insurance or your card issuer. You signed, you pay.

    Which means you end up stuck between two uncooperative parties one of which (your card carrier) is telling you not to pay anything until the other supplies the needed information (all the while fully aware that it is never going to happen). Meanwhile the other (the rental company)is demanding payment, knowing full well that you can't afford not to pay them because: a) you're already contractually obligated to pay them whatever they say the damages are and you're not getting out of the contract they have with you just because you have some other arrangement with a third-party card issuer, and b) they're perfectly happy to send the bill to a collection agency and screw up your credit if you don't pay up.

    You might be able to stare down the rental company over the fact that they are acting in bad faith, but then again you might not. And, to my knowledge, no one has ever successfully forced the rental companies to hand over their proprietary info.

    Going to court doesn't seem to be much of a remedy, either. The nature of your contract usually means the judge rules against you and the relatively low cost of most damage claims make it not worth a court fight anyway.

    A couple articles on the subject: