Last week I went with some buddies to attend a friend’s wedding. We were flying in and out of LAX, the wedding was in Santa Ana, and there was a party downtown. We needed to rent a car.
Early in my undergrad, I’d joined a group of students on a trip to LA to see Bob Barker on The Price is Right before he retired. We rented cars and after witnessing the chaos and havoc of the LA freeway, I swore I never wanted to drive there.
But…for this trip last week, I’d volunteered to drive anyway. No one else actually enjoyed the act of driving as I do, so I seemed like the only real candidate.
This experience left me with a few thoughts:
Just stick to the slow lanes
It seemed to me that the high-occupancy vehicle (HOV/carpool) lanes ground to the same kind of halts as every other lane. Plus, I’m pretty sure those double yellow lines mean it’s illegal to enter/exit whenever you please. I found that just sticking to the second lane from the right will keep you away from merging/exiting cars on on-/off-ramps and save you the hassle of switching lanes when your exit is approaching.
“Daily” parking does not mean “one day”
Rather than pay up $38 for valet parking at our swanky downtown hotel, we parked the car overnight in a garage right next door. The garage advertised a $25 daily maximum, but our bill the next morning came out to $35. I guess “daily” doesn’t mean some arbitrary 24-hour period.
In general, when visiting urban areas expect to pay for parking, whether it be in garages, lots, or meters. Many garages offer some period of free parking and others allow you to get your ticket stamped by a nearby business to validate your parking for a lower parking fee.
Traffic lights on the freeway?
Here in Florida, we don’t have crazy dense urban populations. Certainly, our highways can be clogged parking lots like anywhere else. When I’ve visited NYC and LA, I saw that there are lights on on-ramps that stagger the influx of additional motorists. They’re not turned on all the time, but it’s something an out-of-towner should be aware of so that they’re not hammering on the accelerator to get up to highway speed only to hit a wall.
Sign up for the free membership program
Thanks to email filters and labels, I don’t mind signing up for bacn from clubs & mailing lists for the rare occasion I might need a deal. For example, most of the negative reviews for car rental places deals with standing in line forever and dealing with a clerk. I remember standing in line with my Price is Right group for well over an hour when we were picking up our cars.
How do you bypass that? With a membership to that rental outlet’s premiere/gold/plus/etc club. There are often multiple levels of service, but even the free one should allow you to bypass the regular line and be out to your car in minutes.
Malibu, I am disappoint
Normally I prefer small, agile compact cars, but since we were going to be spending most of our road time on the highway, I decided to go for a standard size sedan with a more powerful engine. The rental outlet offered me the choice of a Nissan Altima (not interested), Dodge Charger (too bulky), Buick Regal (old person brand), or a Chevy Malibu. I’d been reading good things about the new Malibus, so I went with that. As soon as I walked out to the lot, I saw the Buick and realized that I’d forgotten how the marque’s been reshaping their image away from selling numb, lumbering land yachts. I almost went back inside to swap cars but decided I didn’t even give the Malibu a fair shake.
What follows is my whining, which will fail to represent the many positives of the car.
1. Throttle lag. When you choose a car for highway duty, you want it to have power at the ready for any passing or merging you need to perform. The Malibu took about a full second after pressing the accellerator to muster up any additional go. It was an automatic, but this is felt consistently more anemic than any other car I’ve driven. It did have tiptronic-style “manual” shifting with a strange thumb-on-shifter-knob rocker I’d never seen before. Because of the stop-and-go traffic (and my new cruise-in-the-slow-lane strategy), I didn’t care to experiment. I also found the accelerator pedal to have an incredibly short throw. I guess the car was made for people who think the pedal only works all-or-nothing.
2. Trunk entry. The trunk was appropriately cavernously deep, but the limited vertical entry space meant the larger luggage had to enter by sliding in at a very shallow angle. This also meant that digging out small things that had been pushed into the back required a little bit of crawling down into the trunk itself.
3. Windshield raking. As a person who values visibility, the A pillar (the part of the car holding the roof up, between the windshield and your front door) is my least favorite part of a car. The addition of airbags to the A pillar have made it fatter. The Malibu has a very reclined windshield, so the fat pillar then occupied a significant portion of my horizontal field of vision.
4. Rear visibility. I think tiny rear visibility is something you face in all cars of this class thanks to the large trunks and taller back seats. Doesn’t mean I can’t still complain.