The humble hire car

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There is something strangely satisfying about driving someone else’s car, especially if you don’t know them or it’s owned by a faceless company. In case you’re wondering I’m not talking about stealing someone’s car, nor am I talking about taking your Mum’s Hyundai i30 and doing burnouts in it (although I have done that…ah to be young). I’m talking about the humble old hire car.

Much has been written and filmed and etched into stone in ancient cave paintings, about the joys of driving a hire car and I’m probably not going to say anything revolutionary or incredible on the subject, but bear with me if you will. On a recent holiday, I had the pleasure of hiring a Toyota Estima (Tarago for those in Australia). No I didn’t hire a van because I’m overly fertile and have 11 children. I hired a van because five friends and I were going to using it to cart us (and our snowboards/assorted gear) up-and-down mountains in New Zealand’s ski resorts. Now a 2.4L four cylinder automatic front wheel drive van looks like the perfect solution right? Well yes and no. Here’s why.

On picking the van up, we were greeted with a beige/gold lunch box on wheels with – let’s call it minor – panel damage pretty much everywhere. No problem, we weren’t hiring it to enter the Pebble Beach Concourse D’Elegance; we were using it as a simple form of transport. Well that’s probably what my poor mates were thinking. I was looking at this Estima as my ticket to fulfil a boyhood dream of reverse donuts and J-turns on scenic New Zealand roads (I didn’t get out much, give me a break). After being told by the overly friendly lady from the hire company to “not worry, we had insurance” about the existing panel damage and any other query we may have had, we hit the road.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with roads in New Zealand (especially in the Queenstown area) check out this video.  Now I don’t claim to have had the Estima belching anywhere near the amount of flames that the quad rotor powered RX7 in said video was expelling, but I still felt like I was driving about as fast as it. The twisting roads were somewhere between a WRC tarmac stage and dirt a driveway (odd mix, but true) and the Estima was about as responsive as a deaf house cat. This didn’t stop it from being fun though; as the saying goes ‘it’s more fun to drive a slow car fast, than drive a fast car slow’. Feel like clipping that apex a bit tight and dropping a wheel or two on the dirt? Well it’s not your car, why not!? That’s the beauty of racing driving someone else’s car on tight mountain roads. One thing that did keep the hire car enjoyment to a special occasion was New Zealand’s fuel price of $2.28 a litre for 91 octane!

Now don’t get me wrong here, we never exceeded the speed limit on these roads (mostly 70-80km/h) because they were so tight, twisty, icy and gritty that you would actually need a WRC car to do the speed limit around the corners. The Estima, with six people on board (and their gear) was struggling to keep up with normal traffic most of the time. I think the only thing we overtook was a campervan and it was travelling in the other direction. What about the reverse donuts and J-turns? Well yes, as you can see from the picture these were done….in a rather scenic look-out. Nature’s a beautiful thing. So are hire cars.

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