A Kiwi couple's cruising adventures on America's Great Loop and around the coast of New Zealand

Sunday, 29 April 2012

The Great Rental Rort

Rorta New Zealand/Australian slang term for “a dishonest scheme” or “to take unfair advantage of something”.

About twenty years ago when I visited the US on business, I began to use rental cars to get myself about and have continued to do so since then, for business or pleasure. I like driving in the USA (even though they drive on the wrong side of the road) and there are some places you just need to have a vehicle to get where you want. In the early days, I didn’t take much notice of the insurance requirements for rental cars, as the Company was paying and it was just another expense. The terminology used by Rental Companies I found confusing and varied from company to company and I had also thought that it was covered by my travel insurance. This misconception was dispelled in the early 90’s when I discovered that not only did travel insurance NOT cover for damage to a rental vehicle (it only covers any excess or deductibles), the public liability cover was also specifically excluded with relation to rental cars, which is how it still is today. My recollection is that back then there were State requirements for minimum insurance cover for Rental Companies and they had to provide that. However, rental companies still tried to upsell the unsuspecting tourist on LDW, CDW, EP, LIS and a million other acronyms that meant unnecessary insurance. Having said that, I have been there often enough and have watched enough law dramas on TV over the years to know that it is folly to drive on US roads without adequate insurance.

When I booked the car in Chicago online for the boat buying visit last year, there was a mention during the procedure about “insurance cover” being discussed by the agent when I picked the car up. When I arrived at the counter I declined the cover offered, believing that I was covered by minimum State requirements. It was not until the agent said “so you are fully responsible for any damage to the car or anyone you hit” that I understood I was pretty much obliged to take the additional insurance which at $12.50/day for the Collision and $13.99/day for the Liability, finished up costing more than the car rental!

To avoid being caught like this again, and because we will need a rental car to provision when we return, I have spent the past several weeks thoroughly researching what the US Rental Car Insurance industry is all about. It is grey and murky and, I believe, quite deliberately confusing. It appears now that the onus for meeting State requirements for vehicle damage or public liability is on the driver of any vehicle, and the rental company’s only obligation is to make it available, which they do……for a price. From what I have read, it has become a major money earner for them and staff are encouraged to sell as much as they can, by any means. However, there seemed to be a number of ways to avoid being stung by this, so I looked into them all.

Number1: You may be covered by your own auto insurance. This is probably so for a US policy holder, and I am covered here in NZ also. Unfortunately, I am not covered in the USA. So there goes that idea.

Number 2: Your credit card company may cover you. I have both MasterCard and American Express and both were cited in the research as providing rental cover if you use them to purchase the service. I rang MasterCard. “Nope – not with a NZ card”. I went the Amex website and Lo and behold. Yes….you decline the Rental insurances as you are covered by your Gold Card. (you can also buy it for $25 per hire if you only have a Green one).  But hang on, what’s this little superscript 2 at the end? Aha....... 2 in the fine print = “only available to residents of the USA, US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico”. So there went no.2

Number 3: Get a Non owners Auto Insurance Policy. By paying an annual premium, you can get cover on any car you drive for about what you will pay for 10 days rental car insurance (allegedly). Supposedly, there are plenty of Insurance companies offer this and I emailed 3 without a response. Finally I rang an agent for State Farm Insurance picked at random from their website for Wisconsin. (Our telecom company is offering a rate to ring the USA that costs no more than $4.50 for up to 2 hours chat, so sometimes it’s worth ringing to sort these things out). After an interesting talk, he went away to check and here is his response:

I spoke with Underwriting to get a gauge on what we’ll need to get you insured during your trip.

Here’s the details. 
  1. You must have a US Driver’s License.  There is a Dept of Motor Vehicles in Kenosha.  It should be fairly easy for you to apply and get one. Here is there website http://www.dot.state.wi.us/drivers/vehicles/index.htm
  2. You must have a US address.  Setting up a PO Box for mail at the Kenosha Post Office is simple.  The Post Office is right down the road from the Marina.  Here is there website  http://www.yellowpages.com/kenosha-wi/united-states-postal-service
  3. Once you have those, I can work with Underwriting to quote the Non-Owned Car Insurance policy.
 I wish it were simpler than that for you given all the other items you have to deal with before your trip.  If you have any other questions or needs I can help you with, feel free to give me a shout, I’ll be glad to help!

Since he also told me he thought it would be around $100 a month, I decided that it was all too hard, so there went the third and last option.

Which brought me back to the Rental Car Companies “insurance”. I began the exercise of comparing the various companies available at each location and dug out each company’s charges for collision and liability cover, and believe me some are well buried! In many cases the cover exceeded the rental charge before taxes and other charges and the totals varied dramatically. For example, a one day hire in Los Angeles varied between $56 and $108, but in several cases the insurance cover did not show on the on-line quote and was to be “arranged at pick-up”.(when you’re tired and stressed and just want to get out of there – so you’ll sign for anything!). However one rental company stood out from the rest as under “options” the “insurance” cover was pre-ticked and at the end of the quote the word “included” was alongside each of the optional items along with the statement that “this rate is guaranteed”. In the case of the rental for Kenosha their rate for 3 weeks and 3 days was $260 less than its nearest rival and $600 less than the dearest.

That Company is Hertz and accordingly I have made the bookings with them. Being the cynic I am, I have examined and re-examined the quotes to see where they are trying to rort me, but I cannot find anything. I have the quotes in writing and I am certainly prepared to argue profusely at the counter if there is any attempt to add further charges (or lessen cover). I am hoping that this is not the case as I am advising all of my fellow travellers to avail themselves of Hertz’s services as they appear to be the most “honest” of the rental car companies I have found to date – I hope I am not disappointed.

I guess time will tell and I will let you know.


PS. You can also rent a GPS from rental car companies for around $12 -13/day. For 10 days worth of rental, you can buy one at Walmart.

Friday, 13 April 2012

The shakedown.

While I fully appreciate that it is important to not have a schedule or timetable for the Loop, I felt the need to plan a little more detail of the pre-loop shakedown, particularly since we have guests scheduled to arrive at specific times. The idea was always to cruise around Lake Michigan for a couple of months on our return to the USA and be in Chicago for starting the Loop around early August. As Charlie and Pauline will be arriving 3 weeks after us and will be with us for the following 3 weeks. I felt obliged to provide some kind of itinerary for their stay (always subject to change, of course, for factors outside of our control), so they would know what to expect while they are with us. Again, it was always the intention to head North up the Wisconsin side of the lake, as we would probably be coming down the eastern (Michigan) side when we do the Loop proper. I am lead to believe the Door Peninsular and Green Bay are very pretty cruising grounds and it seemed logical to use this opportunity to go and have a look.

So the plan now is:

Arrive in Milwaukee and take the boat straight to Kenosha, where we have a slip (marina berth) arranged for a month and where we will spend the first 3 weeks provisioning and modifying the boat to our requirements. We will need a rental car for this, so when Charlie and Pauline arrive at Chicago, we can pick them up and take them back to Kenosha and spend the next 5 days or so sightseeing around Milwaukee and Chicago areas. We will then leave Kenosha and “harbour hop” up the western lakeshore to Sturgeon Bay and the Door Peninsular, then Green Bay before finally dropping off Charlie and Pauline at Green Bay City to catch a bus back to Chicago and fly out. After that, since it is only around 50 nautical miles from Sturgeon Bay across the lake to the Michigan side, we will cross and then “harbour hop” down that side to be at the Calumet Harbour by early - mid August. Not only does this fit in well with our original plan, we will have actually begun the Loop when we reach landfall on the Michigan side of the lake. Also this timing gives us around 40 days to get to either Kentucky or Pickwick Lake for our next lot of guests, Dennis and Kathy, to catch up with us.

60 DTG (days to go)

Monday, 9 April 2012

Anniversaries and Milestones

It was a year ago last Saturday that we joined the AGLCA and planning for our Great Loop adventure got underway. At the time it seemed such a long time before we would begin, but it is now only 64 days and still so much to do.

This year is also the 150th Anniversary of the “Albertlanders” arrival in New Zealand and celebrations were held over the Easter break. "Albertlanders" was the name was given to a group of colonists who settled at Port Albert, on the Kaipara Harbour, north of Auckland during 1862/1863. At the time the provincial government in Auckland was offering Special Settlement Schemes to encourage development in the north. This particular proposed settlement was named "Albertland" in honour of Queen Victoria's consort who had died the previous year. You can find out more if you are interested on  www.albertland.co.nz My lot came aboard the first ship, the “Matilda Wattenbach” in 1862, and began farming at Wharehine (whare = house, hine = woman…..figure it out for yourself!) where we have been ever since. This is also where my sister, Woody’s aunty Lyn, lives and where she will look after him while we are looping. Remember Woody? He’s our Swedish Vallhund and hasn’t had a mention for some time, so here's a pic:

On Sunday there was a regatta at Port Albert and while we were there we were approached by a lady who asked how old our “Val” was. It is unusual for people to immediately recognize a Val as they are usually mistaken for Corgis cross-bred with “all-sorts-of-guesses”. But, of course, it turned out she owned one. She was local to the area and promised to bring her “Sal” (the Val !!??!!) to visit Woody at the farm while we are away. We got to see a pic of Sal on her cellphone – she is just a shorter version of Woody, as most of them are. Then we then went to the Port Albert Domain for the country fair, and Lo and behold a bloke came up and asked if our dog was a Val!. Turned out he had one too, although his was black and white, which is not considered a “true” colour for Vals and, even though he is pure blooded, he would not be permitted to breed or show. (they’re kind of fussy about that!) Still, it’s unusual to come across a Val owner at any time, but 2 within an hour… at Port Albert!!!!! Unprecidented!

My Grandfather was an amateur photographer as well as a farmer at the beginning of the last century and the majority of the photos you will find of the area during the early pioneer days were taken by him. Here is one of his photos (scanned off a calendar) that shows the farmhouse, which he built over 100 years ago, on Christmas day 1919. This house is still standing and is where Aunty Lyn now lives and where Woody is going to stay while we are away. My Mum, who died at the age of 95 nearly 4 years ago, and who was born in this house, will be one of the little tykes somewhere in the pic - she would have just turned 7 at the time.

On 31st march I closed down my import/distribution Company and in doing so, became unemployed for the first time in 45 years. There is still some tidying up to do but the phone just gets answered, “Hello, this is Phil” now. Carolyn’s Kindy is on the market and last week she took her staff out to celebrate the 19th anniversary of its opening on the 5th April 1993, with the same staff she had employed back then. On top that she ran the kindy from our house in Massey for the 14 years before then, so she will be retiring after 33 years in that business – which freaks her out a little. 

I have prepared as best I can for our arrival in the USA, but there are still a lot of unknowns that we will encounter on arrival. We still have no idea what is actually on the boat and what we will have to buy when we get there, but we can sort that out in the shakedown/provisioning phase before the Loop. The baggage allowance of 23kg (50lb) each on the airplanes is somewhat of a limiting factor, so we need to be careful what we bring with us. In the meantime we have things to sell, store, give away or dump as anyone who has prepared for this adventure will understand, and the list of things to do seems to get more additions to it than things crossed off as they are done.

Still, the countdown is on and on the 13th June it will be like the catch-cry in the old children's game of hide and seek….”coming, ready or not”.