2 December 2014

Winning the rental car jackpot in Atlanta

For most people, renting a car is as simple as exchanging a driver’s license and credit card, accepting or declining the pricey – and no doubt extremely profitable – insurance coverage, and then locating a generally unspectacular mode of transportation for the week. The standard offerings in most U.S. rental fleets can make even the most hardcore gearheads opine that autonomous cars can’t come quickly enough. Show of hands to see who has lost their silver Altima or Camry in a big-box retail parking lot and had to resort to the panic button to find it? Yeah, we thought so.

For car guys, being stuck with a rental Prius adds to the insult of having to be away from our favorite car for days. Brown M. Maloney has a system that just paid off big time when he won the equivalent of the $400 million Powerball jackpot in the rental car lottery. He rented a 2014 Dodge Challenger Hemi with an honest-to-goodness manual transmission – in the United States – and for the price of a Taurus no less. And we’re stoked when we score a rental with working satellite radio. Maloney, a car guy from Washington State, was picking up a car at Budget in Atlanta to drive to the Hilton Head Concours d’Elegance, where he would serve as a judge.

“I have a system when I rent a car. I take what they give me at the counter and then peruse the lot to see what I like better,” Maloney said. “I had just flown to Atlanta from Seattle, and while walking to my Taurus I saw a bright orange Challenger out of the corner of my eye. I didn’t pay it that much mind, thinking initially that it was just another base-model Challenger that you typically see in rental fleets like Thrifty and Budget. But for some reason, I took another look and spotted the Hemi badge on the hood. My assumption then was that it had to be an employee car. Nevertheless, I walked over and was gob smacked (as my English wife would say) to see a rental fleet barcode sticker on the windshield and a six-speed shifter in the console.”

While manual transmission automobiles are the norm in Europe – most European countries actually charge more to rent an automatic – the stick gets the shaft in the United States. So to find a manual transmission rental car of any kind in the U.S. is virtually unheard of since the days of the Hertz Shelby Mustangs.

Although Budget’s website states, “We have many manual transmission cars (in) the fleet,” that sentence apparently doesn’t apply to its U.S. locations. According to John Barrows of Budget’s corporate communications team, Maloney’s experience is extremely uncommon.

“This is an anomaly,” Barrows wrote in an email. “Budget in Atlanta is an independently owned and operated franchisee of Budget. As such, they purchase their own cars, so this vehicle is not part of our corporate fleet. Budget Car Rental in the U.S. is not renting manual transmissions.”

Thrifty doesn’t, either. Nor do National or Hertz. Why? For the majority of American drivers, the clutch is foreign.

“Renting a manual transmission vehicle in the U.S. is like finding a needle in a haystack,” said Hagerty Classic Car Insurance (Private Client Services) underwriter Lewis Duink, who worked previously in the rental car industry. “A high percentage of people would refuse to rent a car with manual transmission, and that would cause huge issues for fleet management.”

With the manual-transmission take rate at 7 percent among American new-car buyers, and manual transmissions only a small fraction of the U.S. rental fleet, Maloney may have had a better shot at winning the actual lottery.

15 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Kurt United States December 3, 2014 at 16:02
    And what did he do after he saw the car??
  • 2
    Joe Brooks Seattle December 3, 2014 at 16:25
    Is that the whole story? You found a Manual tranny in a rental car? So what!... Did you end up renting the car? IS there a limit to the number of characters you can write here? Wheres the rest of the story?
  • 3
    scramboleer San Francisco, CA December 3, 2014 at 17:42
    Time to head to Atlanta. That's the Holy Grail. I wonder how cars with manuals Budget has.
  • 4
    Dennis Hamilton Wixom, MI December 3, 2014 at 17:53
    So, where is the rest of the story of Mr. Maloney's 'system'? He rented the Taurus, spotted the Challenger, and...?
  • 5
    lou United States December 3, 2014 at 17:59
    well.......what is his "system" that got him the wheels?
  • 6
    jim Atlanta December 3, 2014 at 18:09
    Budget Atlanta also has the Fiesta ST, just as fast and WAY more fun than the regular Challenger RT. The RT is actually sort of slow, compared to the Mustang and Camaro.
  • 7
    Rick Reinstein Vermont December 3, 2014 at 18:38
    I had a similar experience a few years ago in San Diego. When the wife and I arrived at the Avis counter to pick up our mid size, they were out. The agent apologetically asked me if I wanted a Camaro!! I was in heaven! We cruised in our base Camaro with the sun roof open in Februrary down the coast highway. Avis is awesome!!
  • 8
    Lisa Morphew asheville, NC December 3, 2014 at 18:45
    Grew up in detroit driving a camaro..this car is great!
  • 9
    Bret Hampton Valencia, ca December 3, 2014 at 21:34
    A few years ago I rented a Hertz Shelby GT in Tampa. Originally they wanted $250/day but no one was biting, so I got it for $50. Although not quite as cool as the old GT350H, I got lots of stares and questions wherever I went.
  • 10
    p johnson rochester hills mi December 4, 2014 at 13:45
    Yes, its true, I received a Hemi Challanger in Albany NY at the Avis counter, the girl said we up-graded You, I said oh yeah, what is it a Kia SUV? she hit the remote and the lights lit up on a dark Gray beauty, no stick, but the paddles worked just fine...
  • 11
    ferd the cloud December 4, 2014 at 18:13
    I think these rental car companies are missing a big opportunity. Especially today when there are so many look-alike boring cars. Back in the early 1980s I worked part-time at a Budget Rent-a-Car. We purchased our own cars - the franchise was owned by an Oldsmobile dealer. It also sold Honda so there were a few Hondas in the rental fleet, but it also sold Triumph without placing any of those in the fleet. We had eight early TR7s that hadn't sold, and the current TR7s were nicer and the same price so it was doubtful that the early ones would sell. Yet we often had people inquire about renting one of them. Our owner refused... I pointed out that he could require those renters to purchase Budget's highest insurance coverage, but still no dice. Our owner's "brilliant" business skills managed to get him sued, lose the Budget franchise and the new car dealership a few years later. Don't know what happened to those TRWs... they got towed away somewhere when the new owner took over the dealership (he didn't want to deal with them since by that time Triumph was no longer in business).
  • 12
    Don Slahern Atlanta December 4, 2014 at 07:22
    Which budget was this? Would love to rent this car for a weekend!!!!!
  • 13
    Pete Lake Wylie, SC December 4, 2014 at 09:16
    Did he have to pay extra - if so how much?
  • 14
    zakaron PA December 5, 2014 at 12:21
    I assume he got the car based on the pictures taken. No way to get those shots without having the key in hand. Good for him though, I'd take that as a rental any day!
  • 15
    Kevin Riverhead NY December 10, 2014 at 16:46
    Im heading to Atlanta so i can write the second half of this story! YeeHaa!

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