Initial idea was to rent a 5 series (all in all, I've driven one for over a decade, they all drive alike, and I could pay more attention to what would be happening outside than to getting to know the car and its quirks).
First look at a parking place shook this intent.
In US, 5 series, even the current one, not to mention other venerable lines, looks like a sparrow among turkeys.
In Europe, 5 series looks like a turkey among sparrows.
I said to myself - "No, 3 series will suffice".
The next day I said to myself - "No, 1 series will suffice".
Seriously. Those 4 inches may make a difference between being able to get into the car when someone parks next to you, or not.
Now that it was clear what to get, the task was easy - to get it. Or so I thought.
The only agency that would rent out BMW was Sixt. But that wasn't the problem. "or similar" in a very, very small print was the problem. It would look like this:
Sorry, Sixt, but Golf, V40, or even more so "other sedan" are *not* valid substitutes for the car you are trying to make me believe I'm ordering.
The only way to get through this is to order the car in person - only then you have a choice either to take what they have *right now*, or walk away and get the cheapest car, 'cause what you want is not available anyway - that's what we decided to do.
Ironically, we've been witnesses to an infuriated customer who, in disbelief, was almost shouting at the Sixt rep - "But I ordered a BMW, and I GOT A CONFIRMATION!!!" - to which the nonchalant rep was patiently responding, time after time, "Sorry, but we can't guarantee the availability of a specific car. See right there, it says "or similar"".
But even being personally present may not help. I didn't want to get the car that exact day, being quite jet lagged, and made an arrangement to reserve the car (1 series, manual, with GPS) until 1PM the next day.
Next day, I'm coming to Sixt garage and what am I finding? Correct, 1 series, with GPS, *automatic*. I'm telling the Sixt rep "Excuse me, but this is not the car I was told was reserved for me", to which he responded, you guessed correctly, "Sorry, but we can't guarantee the availability of a specific car". I knew better than to fight this battle, and said "What else can you give me?" Long story short, I ended up with diesel F30 318d, which I took as a higher deity's suggestion that I won't like 1 series anyway (I already don't; having driven a few, I'm finding them wanting, or, should I say, wannabe). No inconvenience discount, either.
It is worth noting that the car was equipped very well - US agencies normally give you the cheapest P.O.S. in the line. This one was equipped with navigation, climate control, back up camera and parking sensors, along with Efficient Dynamics upgrade. For those curious, look at the guts or type 'J622969' into the VIN decoder to get the list of packages installed.
About the diesel... It was serendipitous to get one. I expected to spend over $800 on fuel, but spent less than $200. And, it is certainly a *different* driving experience, NA doesn't get much of it (whereas it's the other way around in Europe).
Another factor - unfortunately, I was misinformed before the trip - someone told me that it will be cheaper to rent a car at the airport. In fact, it's the exact opposite. It's called a Premium Location Fee, and it is a whopping 21.5%. It is hidden deeply into Sixt's rental information page. It was too late for me to do anything about it, so I had to take it as a costly lesson - maybe you can learn from it.
Another cost related factor - "additional services". Terms are different in US and Europe, watch out - what is called "collision damage waiver" may already be provided by your credit card, if you have a decent one. Same for "theft protection" (a.k.a. "loss protection"). Same for "personal accident protection" - your health insurance, if it is a decent one, may have coverage. Don't assume they do, though, do check.
One more thing worth noticing is that European rental agencies are *very* particular when it gets to damage on the car. Where US agencies's won't even look twice, European will note the damage and make you pay through the nose for it. Combined with the fact that European roads and parking places are *much* narrower than US, I'd say - go for a smaller car than you think you'd want.
And another note - finally, I asked the rep - "What is one obvious thing that customers routinely overlook?" He said, "Take a good look at the car".
Heed the warning.
The car I rented was given to me right after it's been washed, in a dark underground garage. Even though I did my best to examine it thoroughly, I failed to find damages that have become painfully obvious in a few hours when the car dried up in a hot sun. I immediately made pictures of all the things I found (some of which were way more serious than a small scratch already on the record) and emailed them Sixt with a statement that I won't be held responsible for them. It worked, no extra damage was claimed on the way out.
- If you want a specific car, you'll have to make the reservation in person (and be prepared to pay extra for it);
- If you can live with a category, find out the SIPP (a.k.a. ACRISS) code for it is (complete list here);
- Get a diesel, if you can - it'll save you *a lot*;
- Avoid "premium locations" (getting to a cheaper place on a train *will* save you money, at cost of extra hassle - it's your call);
- Make sure you don't take insurance you may already have;
- Take a very good look at the car *before* you get out of the garage;
- Be extra careful with it;
- If there was a problem (even a small one), take pictures right away and communicate the problem to your rental agency and police - without a police report, *you* may be held responsible.
^[European Chronicles 2013]