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Avoiding unwanted 'upgrade' on automatic transmission car rental?

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Jan 8th, 2012, 06:26 AM
  #1
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Avoiding unwanted 'upgrade' on automatic transmission car rental?

I'm planning a trip to west & northwest Wales in February. I will need a rental car with an automatic transmission, and I want the *narrowest possible* car. I have had a problem in the past in the UK, with Europcar in Cardiff most recently, of being given a 'free upgrade' to a bigger car than I had reserved.

- Are there rental car firms that have better or worse reputations for giving you exactly the car size you've reserved?

- Anyone got any strategies to recommend? ('Learn to drive stick' comments would not be helpful.)
I would prefer to pick the car up in Wales and return to Manchester or Birmingham airports, so that I can get into Wales without spending an extra day in England waiting to get over my jetlag. I don't want to drive right after a 12 hour redeye flight.

Aberystwyth or the Conwy (Llandudno Junction/Llandudno) areas would be most convenient for me. I know that Aberystwyth has National, Europcar, & Hertz, at minimum. I know that Llandudno Junction has Avis and Enteprise, and that a broad range of firms have office in Llandudno.
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Jan 8th, 2012, 10:57 AM
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Right, modifying my own question: I think I've decided to fly into Manchester Airport, then take a train to Chester, stay one night there, & pick up the rental car in Chester the next morning.

So, with that restriction to pickup in Chester & dropoff at Manchester airport, I'm still looking for recommendations on rental car companies where I may avoid the 'upgrade' problem. Orbitz shows Hertz, Avis, and Budget as having Chester offices, and I've been told Enterprise is there too; there may be others.
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Jan 8th, 2012, 11:10 AM
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There is absolutely no way to guarantee getting the specific class of car you book. Even if a particular rental location has a good history or a 'bad' one re upgrades won't matter on the day. If the previous renter gets back late, or damages the car, they simply may not have an automatic in your class (or in a worst case - no automatic at all)

So just book what you want - and hope you get it. The larger the location the better your chances -- so its a good thing you changed your mind about collecting the car in Wales.
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Jan 8th, 2012, 11:20 AM
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tahl,

I've never picked up a car in any of these places, but IME, you get the widest range of cars at airports. indeed there is another recent thread where some poor unfortunates said that they turned up at the car hire office in Nice to collect their reserved car to be told they had no cars there at all!

personally i think that you will be safest collecting your car at Manchester airport, but I understand why you don't want to drive on the day you arrive. However, viamichelin.co.uk is showing Chester as only being a 40 minute drive from Manchester airport, so it's not necessarily undoable on your first day, if you take it slowly and avoid the early rush hour.
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Jan 8th, 2012, 11:24 AM
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Not only is there no way a car rental agency can guarantee you won't get any upgrade, there's no way they can guarantee you'll get an automatic, though that used to be much more of a problem than it is these days.

Picking up at an airport will be your best bet.
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Jan 8th, 2012, 11:26 AM
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You have the best chance of getting the car you want in the largest offices (at airports) and in those use most frequently by americans (who mostly want automatics). However, there is never any guarantee - and the smaller the car the fewer that are available with automatic - so you just need to take your chances.''However, we always rent a mid size of larger and have never had any problem driving or parking them - no matter how small the town. I suspect it is more a matter of being used to driving and parking in close quarters (as we do in Manhattan) than in the the exact size of the car.

Naturally if you have a gigantic oversize SUV you might have problems, but with any moderate sized car and reasonable skill and the right habits (do always fold in the mirror on the road side when you park) good habits are more important than the exact size of the car.
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Jan 8th, 2012, 11:30 AM
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I was actually going to suggest MAN as well but didn't because of the problem of driving the first day.

You could easily spend a nice day IN Manchester, then collect the car the next morning, stop in Chester and then on to North Wales.

But if you want to spend the first night in Chester, at least you'd have better odds there than in N Wales.
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Jan 8th, 2012, 11:34 AM
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One factor -- more mid-sized cars will be equipped w/ automatics than small/economy models. So any location will likely have some automatic larger cars after they have given out any compact/economy automatics. Another reason a large location might be best.
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Jan 8th, 2012, 11:50 AM
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Thanks for the replies. Yes, I agree Manchester is the safest bet. I just think Chester would be more pleasant for the few hours of walking around outside that I'll want to do that day to conquer the jetlag. At least I'll know that Manchester is a nearby option; presumably if I show up at Hertz in Chester and they have no automatics, or something really unsuitable, I might be able to get it from their Manchester location. Still thinking.

NYTraveler, my problem with wide cars isn't parking -- it's being confident that I know where the edges of my car are on very narrow, curving, sometimes steep, and often travelled-at-high-speed-by-locals roads in rural Wales. Of which there are many.

I remember being on a B-road, or unclassified road maybe, and suddenly getting into a 'traffic jam' (in rural Pembrokeshire). Eventually it became clear that up ahead of me two other cars had done what I always feared: they'd almost but not quite squeezed past each other at speed.
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Jan 8th, 2012, 12:07 PM
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Eventually it became clear that up ahead of me two other cars had done what I always feared: they'd almost but not quite squeezed past each other at speed.>>

the trick, tahl, is that at least one of you is NOT trying to squeeze past AT SPEED. if one of you is going slowly, such accidents are rare. I spend a lot of time driving on roads that are not dissimilar to the welsh ones, and locals generally have a sense of where to try to get past each other, which is NOT where the road is narrowest [some drivers somewhat surprisingly seem unaware of this and head hell for leather for the narrowest part - curious!]

Actually I'm not sure that it is the locals who cause the problems - we're too busy stopping in the middle of the road to talk to our friends!
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Jan 14th, 2012, 09:17 AM
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In light of suggestions here, a possible plan:
- Arrive Manchester airport 10:10am; train into Manchester (Piccadilly Station)
- Stay at Mint Hotel, 2-3 minute walk from front of station (good reviews on TripAdvisor)
- In afternoon, walk around to shake off jetlag
- Next morning (9am-ish), train back to Manchester airport. Pick up rental car & head west on M56 into Wales. (Haven't decided yet if I'm staying in Dolgellau or Porthmadog.)

Questions:
- Would the Mint (across from Piccadilly Station) put me in a decent location for a couple hours of walking around Manchester to shake off jetlag? I won't be going to museums, etc., and I anticipate making an early night of it. The only must-do is buying a new Vodafone SIM card. If I'm there, though, I'd like to feel like I'd 'seen' some of Manchester, and I'd rather just be able to wander in & out of the hotel door.
- If not, other suggestions for where to stay in Manchester (area or hotel (100gbp or under preferred))?
- How is the M56 heading west in midmorning on a weekday for getting my 'sea legs' back under me after not driving in the UK for a couple of years?
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Jan 14th, 2012, 09:38 AM
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M56 heading west mid morning should be calmish and you would be going away from a low hanging sun rather than into it.

Like the others I think you are going to struggle to get a small automatic

Mint is not the best but perfectly acceptable (a bit more to the West is nicer), you could stroll along the canal then up to China town and even visit the manchester art gallery which is pretty good.
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Jan 14th, 2012, 09:50 AM
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Why not phone the rental agency with whom you reserve the day you land? If they have a suitable car it will remind them to hold it for you until the next day and not send it out with someone else.

If the automatic cars they have in stock are not suitable you'll have time to get on the phone and find one with someone else. You might try discussing this with AutoEurope.com

If you need somewhere to check on car sizes
http:// www.parkers.co.uk has multiple photos of pretty well all cars available in the UK.
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Feb 26th, 2012, 08:44 AM
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I'm the OP. I've returned from this trip now, and thought I'd report on my experience.

I reserved a Compact automatic-transmission car at Hertz at Manchester Airport.

On the day of arrival, I stopped by the Hertz office as ParisAmsterdam suggested and noted that I really, really wanted to avoid an upgrade to a larger car class when I picked up the car the next day. On the morning of pickup, I phoned them to say I was running late, to make sure they didn't give my car away when I didn't show up as scheduled. I'm still not sure whether those 'check ins' helped, but they didn't hurt.

When I arrived, one person behind the desk was casually about to give me a 'oh-it's-not-a-big-upgrade' to a Standard (J) class car -- which I really didn't want. The other person helpfully pointed out that they could instead give me a smaller automatic hybrid if I liked.

So, I wound up with a Toyota Auris Hybrid TSpirit 5-door, which would count as a Compact class if it weren't hybrid.

I was very, very happy with the car. It was easy to navigate along the narrow back roads in Snowdonia, and it had electric folding wing mirrors which helped on an exceptionally skinny wall-bordered lane in Dolgellau.

According to specs on the web, the Auris was basically the same width as the diesel Mercedes A-Class that I had and disliked in Wales in 2009, so I think there was something about how I and the design of the car fit together that made me so much more comfortable that I knew where the edges of the Toyota were at all times.
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Feb 26th, 2012, 08:51 AM
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glad the plan worked, tahl.
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Feb 26th, 2012, 09:23 AM
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Sounds as if you had a great time! I'm glad it worked so well
for you.. sounds like a cool little car.
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Feb 26th, 2012, 09:27 AM
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I looked it up and see the car is rated at 70 mpg (that's Imperial... would be over 80 US mpg!)... do you think in the real world it got close to that for you?
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Feb 26th, 2012, 09:38 AM
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I looked it up and see the car is rated at 70 mpg (that's Imperial... would be over 80 US mpg!)... do you think in the real world it got close to that for you?

Other way, right Paris? The Imperial gallon is bigger than the US gallon so there are fewer miles per US gallon. It's about 20% bigger so it would be like 58 US mpg (still very good).

The tests, etc. are also different making direct comparison a challenge (as I have found).
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Feb 26th, 2012, 09:58 AM
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Hard to know what mileage I really got, but I don't think it was 50+ mpg. The dial showed not average mileage, but mileage at a given moment . . . which was sometimes unimpressive, and sometimes great.

I will say that I drove from Manchester, over the top of Wales & down to Dolgellau, up to Caernarvon, down to Aberystwyth, back up to Caernarfon (don't ask), and back to Manchester, with assorted extra bits of driving thrown in, on under 1.25 tanks of gas. I recall the manual saying the tank was smallish, something like 11 gallons (Imperial, I assume). All told . . . I'm guessing I got somewhere in the mid-30s for US mpg.

It was a pleasant car to drive, I will say. As peppy as I needed, even on substantial upgrades. You'd have had to put down the rear seat if you wanted to carry more than my 22" suitcase plus daypack plus (small) shopping bag, though.
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Feb 26th, 2012, 11:41 AM
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Indy, you're quite right... what an I say... my math skills are shaky at best and pretty well non existent on a Sunday! LOL

Tahl, thanks for the extra info.
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