Flee the City Fast

For HamptonsHigh-Rollers
Action Car Rental
Price: $44.95 to $449.99 per day.
Fleet: About 200 cars, including Hummers, Porsches, Mercedes, and BMWs.
Best Time to Rent: If you want a Hummer or a Porsche Boxster, book two weeks in advance—there’s only one each of most specialty cars. If you don’t care about the make, short notice is fine.
Upside: You don’t need a credit card for regular cars—use debit or cash if you put down a $500 or larger deposit over the rental price.
Downside: There’s only one location, and the distance is restricted on some of the cars.
Best If: You absolutely have to make a splash next weekend.

For Afternoon Excursions
Price: $8.50 per hour to $65 per day.
Fleet: About 225 cars—Minis, Priuses, Jettas—parked at 80 locations throughout the five boroughs and New Jersey.
Best Time to Rent: You can book minutes before you want the car, at least on weekdays. But the chances of finding a last-minute rental nearby on a summer Friday are slim.
Upside: Rent for just an hour, including insurance, gas, and E-Z Pass. And after you pass the online approval process, there’s no paperwork—or need to talk to anyone.
Downside: You only get 150 miles per day, cars are cleaned only twice a week, and you get fined $50 if you smoke in the car.
Best If: Quick trips to Costco and day trips upstate.

For Organized Types on a Budget
Liberty Car Rental
Price: $44.99 to $129.99 per day.
Fleet: About 70 vehicles, including SUVs and Mustang convertibles.
Best Time to Rent: This is one of the cheapest rents in Manhattan, so book at least a week in advance.
Upside: You can drop off your car 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There are different rates for limited or unlimited mileage. And the minimum rental age is 18.
Downside: There’s only one location—in the East Village.
Best If: You’re taking a short mid-week trip—it’ll cost only $44.99 per day, which is less than even the cheapest chains offer in Manhattan.

For CollegeStudents
Enterprise Rent-a-Car
Price: $39.99 to $116.99 per day.
Fleet: Standard range—from Neons to Jeeps to Caravans.
Best Time to Rent: Chains tend to sell out fast with corporate clients and discount Internet bookings, so for weekends, book by Monday or Tuesday.
Upside: You can start renting at 18 and, unlike most others, there’s no extra fee if you’re under 25 but over 21. There are locations in all five boroughs.
Downside: Many garages are closed Sundays or have brief hours of operation, so you might have to keep the vehicle until Monday.
Best If: You’re an outer-borough resident under 25.

Top Six Rental-Car Tips
1. Remember that the city’s rental-car fleet is completely sold out on most hot summer weekends. So if you get a trip idea in your head Wednesday, book it. Don’t wait until Friday.
2. Don’t get talked into an upgrade for a few dollars more. Usually, agencies make that offer when they’ve run out of compacts and will have to give you a better car for free.
3. Check to see if you can drop off at a different location than you rented from. The crosstown return journey is a bad way to end a holiday.
4. Check to see what coverage your other insurance policies (tenant, homeowner, life, car, etc.) might already provide for car rentals. You may not need the coverage the car agency will probably try to sell you.
5. Don’t assume there’s a grace period. Some companies, like Dollar, don’t have one and count on you thinking they do so that they can rack up daily late charges.
6. If you’re traveling more than 300 miles away from the city, rent from a chain. Most of the independent rental agencies restrict your driving radius.

Illustrations by Kagen McLeod

See also:
Summer 2005 Weekend Getaways

Flee the City Fast