That Time I Left My Car Rental Stranded On The Side Of The Road To Catch My Flight

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common car rental mistake

A Common Car Rental Mistake I Always Make

I think I can say with confidence that most people dislike rental cars. Unlike excellent flight experiences and hotel stays, there’s rarely a moment where you’re impressed or receive over the top service. Renting a car is more of an unfortunate necessity. I’ve had a good number of car rental experiences and am generally really low-key, even with some of the frustrating aspect. But I just made a huge error during a recent trip. This could be a common car rental mistake I’ve always made, yet oddly never had it be an issue. Until now.

Searching and Booking As Usual

During a trip to Oahu in November 2022, I knew we’d need a car for a couple days. Renting a car for the entire time was going to be expensive, plus we’d end up incurring ghastly expensive parking charges at our Waikiki hotel. But there’s no way to see the island without renting a car.

I checked into Hui Car Share, which looks like a convenient option if you only need a car for a couple hours at a time. For all-day excursions, it get prohibitively expensive.

So I searched and booked a car like I often do when I run out of direct options: through Expedia. Hertz, Enterprise, and other large car rental companies were all asking over $500 for a four-day rental. This meant I opted for the $175 option through Economy Rent-a-Car.

I keyed in a pickup time of 8:30 AM on a Saturday with an 8:30 AM return time on Wednesday. I’ve nearly always opted for rentals in full 24-hour increments.

But this would become an issue.

common car rental mistake

A Common Car Rental Mistake I Hadn’t Considered

The rental itself went well. I made sure I was covered against collision damage by using a credit card that offers primary collision protection.

Our departing flight was scheduled at 8:20 AM out of HNL, which meant I’d be returning the car at around 6:30 AM. This would give us enough time to make it through the airport (and even turned out to be closer than is comfortable at HNL…man that Southwest bag queue was long).

But there was a problem. Economy Rent-a-Car Honolulu does not open until 8:00 AM. And there is no after-hours drop off. This potential issue had occurred to me the night before, as a random thought. But by that time, there really wasn’t anything I could do about it. Why a location would be open just 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM in Honolulu is beyond me. They must have a key box.

To be fair, this is the first I’ve considered this particular problem. Not being able to drop off a car due to a closed location is a common rental car mistake I’d never envisioned. Of course, there must be someone at the car rental location for you to pick up a car. But I’d never had an issue dropping off after hours. There has always been a key drop box. Even our tiny local Hertz and Enterprise locations with limited hours have key boxes!

My Unique Rental Car Return

I arrived to find the situation as feared: there was no key box, and the lot gates were closed and locked. There were two clear options: wait until they opened, return the car, and miss the flight. Or leave the car outside the gate, key in the glovebox, and call Economy as soon as they open.

Now, many will think that the second option is no option at all. You’d dare leave an unlocked car siting therefor 90 minutes, for which you’re responsible?

That is what I chose to do. The situation was certainly my mistake. But it’s low risk, and the car is still my responsibility until it’s checked in. I made sure it was fueled up and as clean as we could possibly make it (this was something Economy stressed when handing me the key).

My phone call to Economy Rent-a-Car at 8:00 AM was an interesting one. “Wait. You did what?” Yes, I left your car. It’s just outside the south gate, key in the glove box. I’m sure it’s there. He gave me an earful, which I accepted. But the car was there, they checked it in fine, and didn’t try to hit me with any extras fees. No harm, no foul.

Learning from My Car Rental Mistake

Would I plan to do this on purpose? Certainly not. I added some stress to our morning, but all’s well that ends well. I will keep this in mind for the future and don’t want to end up in this situation again. I’d never realized that keying in the wrong drop off time is a common car rental mistake I’ve always made.

Ian Snyder
Ian Snyder
After igniting his passion for award travel while planning his honeymoon, Ian now enjoys using points and miles to see the world with his wife and three internationally adopted kiddos. He loves dissecting loyalty programs to find maximum value. His goal is to demonstrate that extraordinary travel is possible for the ordinary family.

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5 COMMENTS

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5 COMMENTS

  1. That reminds me of my rental car nightmare which also took place in Hawaii on the Big Island. We flew into Hilo, drove over to the Hilton village, checked in one of the villas. It was just starting to get dark as we parked the car. When I opened the door and when the car light went on there was hundreds (no kidding) all sizes and colors of roaches crawling all over the car to include all over my wife in her hair, one even fell on her face, she jumped out screaming. They were crawling on my body, I opened the trunk, and they were all over the bags it was a disaster. After carefully opening the bags some of the super small baby roaches were able to get inside our bags. There was no way my wife was getting back in the car, nor would she let me in fear I would bring them back to the room.

    It was a national car rental which happened to also have a small office located within the village. The next morning, the car stayed parked, I took the Hilton shuttle to the National office within the Hilton compound (less then 1 mile). Then all of the drama started as National told me I must drive the car back to the office or pay for towing as they would not do it. All they had to do is simply drive with me back to where the car was parked and return with the roach mobile. It ended up in a huge ordeal which took over half a day, with calls & emails up to corporate office explaining the situation and showing a video I took from outside the car showing hundreds of roaches. Eventually the office gave in and retrieved their roach infested car and corporate gave me 5 free nights for a future rental, but my wife’s trauma is fear is not worth the free rental and the drama we went through. They basically told me there is a huge roach problem and they keep fumigating the cars, but since the tourist leave the windows open and they get back inside and multiple quickly.

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