Driving away from rental lots a little greener

Q: We're consistently foiled by the difficulty of renting a small car for a short time. How can you rent.


Q: We’re consistently foiled by the difficulty of renting a small car for a short time. How can you rent an eco-conscious car in this town?

A: Summer may be careening toward that invisible finish line, but me, I’m grasping every moment like a guy in a Corvette clings to those last strands of hair.

That means making frantic lists of things I need to do before that ominous chill sets in: you know, picnicking at Cherry Beach, biking around Centre Island, doing cartwheels in the park (though I guess I should learn how to do a cartwheel first). But if your feet or public transit won’t do the trick and you need four wheels to take you there, how do you beg, borrow or rent the greenest car?

The answer sounds easy enough: rent a hybrid, compact or sub-compact car and hit the road. But it ain’t all that straightforward. On summer weekends, pretty much every rental agency has an official or not so official policy against renting out economy cars for just a day. Some won’t even rent you one for two days. It’s annoying as hell if you’re just trying to make an overnight visit to your mom or hoping to do a bunch of bulky errands across town.

Why do they torture you so? Well, some insiders I spoke to said they started barring one-dayers when people failed to bring the cars back on time. Others said they’d rather just make more cash off renting to people for the whole weekend. (The second answer sounds more plausible to me.) Oh, but renting a more expensive gas-guzzler like an SUV for a day? No problemo.

One of the downtown Enterprise shops I spoke with said – surprise! – they will let you take a compact car out for one day on weekends. But hold the applause: they’re closed Sundays, so that would mean renting it Friday. And you’d have to bring it back by noon Saturday, since that’s when they close. Not so accommodating after all, especially if you work late Fridays.

The other major tactic that leaves conscious auto renters clenching their teeth is the old switcheroo. You know, you reserve a Ford Focus but they stick you with a Crown Victoria and have the gall to call it a “free upgrade.” I’ve even heard tales of people who’ve booked a compact model and had a pickup truck pawned off on them instead. Trust me, nothing turns a greeny bright red quicker than driving around town in a hulk of a planet-crusher.

Fortunately, I have a couple of good-news parcels to deliver. The noose around one-day small-car rentals should end in a couple of weeks. (Budget says theirs wraps up this weekend.) Second, rental companies are finally ordering fewer SUVs. And, yes, you can still rent hybrids, despite reader worries that they had vanished.

Budget did stop renting hybrids this year (gee, at $120 a day, I wonder why they couldn’t rent their Priuses), but Discount does stock Camry hybrids. No, they won’t sell you insurance on the thing since it gets stolen so often, but if your credit card will cover you, you’re good to go (for about $60 a day). And Enterprise has Priuses, but they’re considered premium-class ($74.99 a day) and they won’t guarantee you’ll get one. It’s first come, first served, baby.

Hungry for something a little more flexible and made for the occasional driver with heart? Auto-sharing sounds like a good match for you, especially if you want a vehicle for short periods of time (at roughly $10 an hour, all taxes, gas – yes, gas – and 150 free kilometres included).

These outfits do require money upfront. Both AutoShare and Zipcar have a one-time application fee of $25 to $30. AutoShare will charge you a $100 membership fee (that drops to $30 in subsequent years), and unless you pay as you go you’ll have to fork out a $250 deposit. Zipcar’s fees are lower (no deposit necessary, and occasional drivers will pay a $55 or so annual fee), but their per-hour rates are higher (up to $4 an hour more). Zip is also a U.S. corporation versus local upstart AutoShare, whose members can get discounts on longer-term rentals through mainstream rental agencies.

But if you’re really looking for a bargain and don’t mind whoring yourself out for it, look into cityflitz.com. For $1 a day, you can drive anywhere you want (sort of) as long as you’re willing to be a moving billboard. (Your Mini Cooper or Smart Car will be wrapped in Yahoo or Ryan’s Pet Supply ads).

Oh yeah, and since the goal is to pump advertising, you have to promise to drive it at least 30 kilometres a day and not leave the GTA. (A trip to Ikea would do.) Flitz uses GPS to make sure you follow through, and there’s a $350 refundable deposit to keep you from ripping them off (as well as a $30 application fee).

So far there are only 10 or so cars parked at a few locations (compared to AutoShare’s 125-plus locations), but if it works for you and you don’t mind showing up at your grandma’s house pushing pet food, who am I to judge you for pimpin’ your ride.

Got a question?

Send your green queries to ecoholic@nowtoronto.com

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