I’ve never been a person who cares much about models when renting a car. Oh, this one’s the cheapest, has at least one functioning USB and a way to connect my phone to the speakers? Great, fine, I’ll take that one, thanks.
On a recent Lifehacker trip to Costa Rica — where Senior Video Producer Joel was the one doing the actual booking — I cared even less. But that changed pretty quickly once we got off the Enterprise lot and out onto the open road.
As Beth wrote earlier this week, we discovered in pretty short order that most of the roads we’d end up driving on throughout the week were unpaved, dusty, and in some cases riddled with large potholes and situated on steep hills. Oh, and there was at least one (small) river we’d have to traverse.
It was a pretty big ask for our little Toyota Corolla, which we’d booked in part because our local producers had assured us the roads were “flat” — in fairness, they never actually said “paved”.
Getting pulled over by Aussie cops is already nerve-wracking, but when it happens somewhere far from home it can be even scarier. Laws are different, customs vary, and you may have to pay a fine on the spot.
Both the Corolla and Beth (whom we insisted do the driving) performed heroically, and since we were visiting in the dry season, the river we crossed was really more of a large puddle. Still, had we known what we were getting into, we’d have pushed our company to spring for the SUV.
Point being: If you’re planning to rent a car anywhere with infrastructure or weather you aren’t familiar with, it’s worth spending a quick five minutes Googling things such as “driving in Costa Rica”, “local roads Iceland”, or “driving conditions Wisconsin November”, the better to figure out if you need something heavy duty (or with four-wheel drive), or if you can, in fact, get away with opting for the cheapest, smallest model possible.