Look before you leap or

Check before you drive. In the recent past, I have rented cars many times on business and other occasions. When you walk into the rental facility and with rewards membership, you go straight into the lot where your car is. The number of the lot is displayed prominently on the board alongst your name making checking-out a breeze. Especially for business travellers, this is a big deal as you avoid standing in line and spending 30 minutes to get the keys. This convenience (and any convenience for that matter) can draw you into unknown traps.

For example, a few months back I rented from the Hertz at Boston International Airport. My flight landed around 9:30 PM and by the time I caught the shuttle and got to the car, it was 10 PM. The car wasn’t in one of the slots close to the drop off point. I had to walk across the parking lot quite a bit. The car was parked with the back against the fence. The place was dark. All I saw was a reasonably shiny new car. I drove out of the facility. Next day, I drove to a Chipotle for lunch from work. I parked the car a few 100 feet away from the facility as it was crowded. The line was painfully long so I walked back to the car. There on the back fender, I saw this big dent – the bright day helped make this visible. My first thought was someone had backed up into the back fender and vanished. I called AMEX to file a claim (AMEX is the credit card I used to rent the car and with AMEX you get collision insurance at no additional cost). I called Hertz and I was asked to mention it to the facility while returning. Two days later when returning the car, I had to file a complaint. The process was fairly quick and I didn’t have to miss my flight, etc. I got notices from Hertz about the claim and I did some follow up with both Hertz and Amex. Finally Hertz said the damage wasn’t big enough of a bother and closed the case.

I mention all the above because you can avoid all the hassle and the tension and having to defend yourself from some hit-n-run case if you spend a few minutes just walking around the car and inspecting. You may be rushed in your eagerness to get to the hotel and prepare for the next day or hunt for dinner late at night. But a few minutes of checking before you take the car will save you a lot of trouble. Be mindful of your inspection especially in the dark or late at night or when you feel rushed. You can easily miss a dent on the bottom of the fender which won’t be visible if you are merely looking down.

Similarly, when I took out the loaner car (a shiny new one) during my last service visit, the car was just standing out for me to be driven. The service associate took some signatures and brought me the car and said I am all set. I happened to notice one of the tires was a bit low on air, but I didn’t pay much attention to it. I just drove away. When I got back home, I notice the low air pressure again but should have done something about it. The next  day when I was driving back after dropping my son to school, I heard this thud-thud-thud sound. The tire had gone flat. The lesson here again is the car might be all set and running and invite you to just drive away. But STOP. Switch off the engine and start again. In newer cars, when the engine is started, you will see malfunction indications and that might trigger off a better reaction from you.

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