Sunday, April 5, 2009

Rental Car Reviews: Chevrolet Cobalt

I'm done with Hertz... another week, another dirty, smelly, raggedy Cobalt. I complained about it at the counter and the agent didn't offer me any alternative. The car, when I found it, was gross. It had what appeared to be bird droppings on the dashboard. I went back inside to the counter to complain more specifically, and all the agents pretended to be busy and determinedly avoided me. They apparently recognized why I had come back. When I turn the car in, I know they won't ask me whether I was satisfied with the rental - they never do, unlike most of the other rental companies. In the future I'll rent from Enterprise, or National. No more Hertz.

Bottom line up front: The absolute bottom of the automotive food chain.

Usually I rent from Enterprise - generally good service, fairly new, clean cars, good prices, and you can print out your receipt online, which is a big plus.

The Prius the other day came from Enterprise. They called it an "upgrade", but since I had asked for a compact car, I didn't really think so, but it was a novelty.

Routinely Enterprise gives me a 2- or 3-class upgrade. Not long ago I was in Salt Lake City with skis - I had reserved a compact (as always), and they saw the skis and gave me a totally duded-up Explorer for no extra charge. If you're renting a car, I recommend Enterprise.

It regularly surprises me how simple stuff in business sometimes eludes seemingly large, smart companies. Enterprise is an example of a good business - giving me a nicer car when they have them sitting around costs them essentially nothing, and now I'm giving them free advertising that will live forever in Google's cache.

On the other hand...

When I fly United (about whom I don't have much good to say either, but they own the only flights in some of the routes I fly), I usually rent from Hertz because I get double miles for the rental. I don't know if Hertz has gone to crap everywhere, but it looks that way to me.

I don't remember the last time I got a car from Hertz that had less than 25000 miles on it, was clean, and didn't smell funky. Even thought they usually have a lot of really fancy cars sitting around, they seem to always give me the crappiest car they have available. Not sure what the point of that might be. And they seem to charge more for it. The rentals are almost always on the expense account or I wouldn't be renting from Hertz. If it was coming out of my pocket I'd do something else.

I usually get a crappier car than I realized was even out there. This time was no exception. Hertz gave me a Chevy Cobalt with about 29000 miles. It was dirty, the carpets were badly stained, and it smelled really strange. It had power nothing - well maybe power steering, but I'm not even sure about that. It was loud, it had weird vibrations, and it used a surprisingly large amount of gas for such a small car.

While I realize this car may not completely represent General Motors' product line, it really seemed to symbolize their situation - a cheap economy car that wasn't very economical and offered a hell of a lot less for the money than most of their competitors. As I was driving it, I kept thinking "this is what the Federal government is throwing away my future to preserve". I kept picturing those $75-per-hour UAW workers assembling this rolling piece of FOD and thinking about moving to Australia, where I could purchase the 60th-anniversary Land Rover Defender 110 brand new for about 45K.

(Defender 110s in the United States is a discussion for another time... I want one, but I'm not willing to pay 7-8 times the global average to have one here in the States.)

The Chevy Cobalt seemed to have essentially nothing to recommend it. The one I drove looks (from brief Googling) to be about $15K new. I can scarcely imagine a worse value. You can have a Toyota Corolla or a Honda Civic for the same money, and the difference in terms of value and quality is more than 100% - it's so dramatic you can't even characterize it. I can think of no more obvious example of what's wrong with GM than the fact that the Chevy Cobalt costs the same as a Civic or a Corolla. Had you told me that was true before I started writing this post I wouldn't have believed it.

If they are the same money, why is Hertz renting Chevy Cobalts? Especially raggedy, stripped-down, bad-smelling Cobalts? There's something going on there that isn't consistent with my understanding of the free market.

I used to think Hertz was associated with Ford. Ford's various small cars are far superior to the GM equivalents - and Ford didn't take any bailout money. While I used to be an actual GM fan and didn't like Fords, the situation has completely reversed in the last 20 years or so. I've driven several small Ford rental cars, and had no significant complaints, although they weren't Corollas or Civics either.

But in recent history I've gotten a steady stream of dirty Chevys, Kias, and Hyundais from Hertz, vs. Fords, Chryslers (who I'm kind of contrarian and positive about), and various quality Japanese models from Enterprise. (Also I don't want to dis Hyundai - some of their latest cars are very good, but the ones I've gotten from Herts were crap.)

We need to let the free market work: crappy products at crappy prices should be allowed to fail in the marketplace. The fact that we're artificially preventing this from happening makes me want to go live in a cave.


Nathan said...

Oh crap. I'm flying to Florida tomorrow and booked the package (car, flight, hotel) all through orbitz and the car is coming from Hertz.

Can't wait to see what I get.

Jerry Critter said...

I generally try to avoid Enterprise because they always push very hard for the extra insurance and try to get you to upgrade. Admittedly, my last experience with Enterprise was very good with none of my usual complaints.

I usually rent from Hertz because I still have their Gold Club membership from a previous employer. I walk off the plane, go to their location, look at the board to see where my car is, get in the car, and drive off. Nothing to sign, no one to talk to. Couldn't be easier. Usually my car is upgraded as well.

CW said...

I used to have the National 'Emerald Club' membership. I have nothing but good things to say about National, Emerald Club or not... The Emerald Club allowed me to pick out the car I wanted and drive away with no further hassle. I never had a rental from National that wasn't excellent. I'm not using them as much lately because they aren't as available in some of the places I go - not because I don't think they're great.

Hertz has the same thing with the "Gold Club", but it apparently costs a lot. (National gave me Emerald Club membership for free because I rented from them all the time.) I've rented from Hertz probably 20 times in the last year and the most recent rental was among the worst. They've never given me anything in return for my business. Perhaps that is random chance - if there's a better way I'm interested to hear it. National gave me free Emerald Club membership after the 7th or 8th rental. Hertz has never given me anything but crappy service.

Jim Wright said...

We need to let the free market work: crappy products at crappy prices should be allowed to fail in the marketplace.

Truer words have never been spoken,CW. Funny though, how Americans are all about capitalism until they suddenly find out that it means building a better product for less money and taking pride in their work - nothing could be more the antithesis of the union work 'ethic' than that.

I've always had good service from Enterprise, and excellent service from National. Hertz can kiss my ass, I've never had a decent rental from Hertz - especially at BWI, it's like their corporate mission statement is to make your rental experience as shitty as possible - but that might just be BWI itself overall.

Dave E. said...

When I traveled a lot I liked National too. I didn't have the Emerald Club membership either, but I never had a bad experience and usually got an upgrade.

I don't think I've ever heard a car called FOD before. That cracked me up.

Nathan said...


I got the Cobalt!

Oh, wait. that's bad.

JoanaBroka said...

I generally try to avoid Enterprise because they always push very hard for the extra insurance and try to get you to upgrade.So far Enterprise does a good job with the Cobalt, but I agree on that point. Pushy. Hertz was never one of my top choices, I can share that with you.

Dan Alban said...

Having an almost identical experience right now in ATL. Was initially given a horrible-smelling hybrid that was badly stained and appeared to have been used for a weeklong chain-smoking binge. Complained and was given a stripped down Cobalt, also stained but less bad smelling, with about 29,000 miles. There was no trunk latch. No power windows or locks, of course. The only way to open the rear doors, as best I could tell, was to reach back from the front and lift the lock. Just became a Hertz #1 Club Gold Member and this was my first experience with them. Extremely dissatisfied and unlikely to ever go back.

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