The Under-25 Curse

Car Rental Age Discrimination Runs Wild

By Auren Hoffman

Are you under 25? Ever try to get a rental car? It sucks.

I'm a seasoned car renter -- I rent a car over 12 times a year. But I wish it was easier.

When renting a car, my first task is to FIND a rental place that will rent to me. Depending on the state, this can be a difficult task. Even when you do find the right place, it is frequently a second-tier rental company that has slower service and is at least a shuttle ride away from the airport.

Almost no car rental company will rent to someone under 21 -- a real calamity. Luckily, I don't fit that age group -- but I remember what I had to go through when I was 20. Once I rented a Rider truck as a car -- because that was the only place that would rent to me.

So once you find a place that will rent to those 21 to 25 year olds, you have to pay the extra fee. Generally, the penalty for being under 25 is $15-$25 a day. Pretty outrageous if you ask me (but nobody does). Then, every piece of identification is scrutinized, every credit card is checked against your signature, and every word you say is not believed. You'd think that the car rental people would be more understanding since they are usually young themselves -- but they are trained to look at under-25 year olds with suspicion.

Then you have restrictions. Once I went into a car rental store and they were having a special -- you could rent a sporty convertible for the same price as a regular car. It was a hot day and I had a long drive ahead of me, so I opted for the special. No dice! The car rental place was not allowed to rent convertibles to people under 25. So I drove off in my Ford Escort.

The car rental places I frequent usually charge $35 a day for a mid-size car -- plus a $18 a day surcharge if you are under 25. That's a 51% tax just for being young. That does not seem fair to me. Is a young person 51% more likely to get into an accident or not return the car? That brings me to an interesting question -- is someone between the age of 21-25 a worse driver than someone between the ago of 81-85? I doubt it. But a 23-year-old pays 51% more than a 83-year-old a day. Odd.

By maintaining these discriminatory policies -- car rental places are loosing business. They are alienating what could be one of their best customers. For many young professionals, travel is constant and the need for renting a car is vital. These consultants, marketing reps, managers, and salespeople need to have a car when they are on the road. Also, many young professionals who live in cities (and don't have a car) would like to rent a car for weekend getaways. But the system thwarts them.

When you are 21 you can get married, serve in the armed forces (and drive $50 million tanks), vote, own a gun, and drink -- but for some reason renting a car requires more responsibility. Someone does not have their priorities straight.

Summation: Change the policy (and the law in some states) to treat under-25-year-olds as equals.

Auren Hoffman writes a weekly column called Summation (