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Thread: Tales from the car wash, my time behind the scenes at Calgary’s largest car rental co

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    Cool Tales from the car wash, my time behind the scenes at Calgary’s largest car rental co

    Because of my fairly fruitless two-year quest to start and run a profitable business, I’ve been feeling both broke and bored recently, so I took on a 90-day contract with one of the big car rental companies starting this August. The job basically is night shift manager for the guys who clean and move the vehicles at the central facility located near the airport. When I was offered the job, I was told the requirements were threefold. 1) to show up for the shifts I was scheduled 2) to carry a clipboard and keep track of the guys so they didn’t slack off and 3) not get a union grievance filed against me. Sounds simple, right? So far, I’m succeeding, but it’s a lot harder than it sounds!

    Let me start this off by saying, no, I CAN’T get you a deal on vehicle rentals. I don’t even get deals, and I have nothing to do with pricing or reservations. I can’t even get you an upgrade, although I have some tips to help you maximize your chances. I also won’t mention which company this is for. It’s one of the two largest in town, and probably the largest. If you want you can probably figure it out. From what I’ve heard the other shops work pretty much the same way here in Calgary and also in other cities around Canada.

    I'll post up some thoughts on a few topics, but I'm also open to answering any questions people might have, AMA style.

    - - - Updated - - -

    Volume:

    The service centre mainly services the Airport location. That’s 90% of the volume they deal with. Because of the space restrictions at the airport, there is no room to clean or refuel vehicles there, so they all need to be moved off airport to this service centre. It’s about a seven-minute drive each way. To give some idea of the scale off the operation, during the summer the airport will rent around 400 cars a day, and they have room to park around 65, so they need to constantly have clean cars moving towards them or they run out quite quickly. A single 747 can have 50+ people on it with reservations, and they all end up at the reservation counter at the same time. When that same 747 departs, it can have 50 people returning cars at the same time too.
    To handle all these car movements from the airport to the service centre, they employ an army of shuttle drivers. FYI, this is a great job for semi-retired folks who enjoy driving. A lot of the staff are over 60 years old and they do a great job. Since it’s a 7-minute drive each way, and there’s a few minutes at each end, at best you can do one round-trip in 20 minutes. So a single driver in an 8 hour shift, after two coffee breaks and a couple trips to the bathroom can move about 21 cars each way per day. In reality, it’s very common for there to be too many returns at one time, or not enough, so the guys end up being a passenger for a good percentage of the trips.
    So those 400 reservations for a summer Friday, that needs 20 guys working 8 hour shifts at best just to service. Throw in a little bit of one-way trips and some inefficiency or dicking around, and that number roughly doubles. That’s 40 guys a day seven days a week for the whole summer. That’s basically what it is, split into two shifts, starting as early as 5AM and going well past midnight on busy days. During the summer an evening shift shuttle driver can have overtime every day if they want.

    In addition to the airport, this company also has five other locations inside the city. These take much less effort because they are supposed to clean their own cars, they fuel them at whatever gas station is nearby, and generally they only need more cars when they have higher than average reservations or a request for a more unique vehicle. Still, it takes a lot of time to move five cars from the airport to downtown during the day, and even late at night, that’s an hours round trip at best. Some summer Fridays the downtown location may require 30 additional cars to be delivered on top of the 40 or so cars they normally keep on hand. That’s a lot of man-hours.
    They also own the locations in Banff, Jasper, Medicine Hat, Red Deer and a few others. For some reason they send a lot of cars back and forth to Banff, but the rest seem to handle themselves without much help from us.

    - - - Updated - - -

    Fleet:
    So, let’s talk about the fleet. Firstly, it’s massive. Through the summer the fleet grows to just about 3000 cars for this one company alone. The second thing about the fleet is how much turnover there is . The vast majority of the vehicles are from the “big three” US companies, and those cars are on a 6-month buyback program. So no matter when that car showed up, or what the mileage is, it’s gone as soon as the calendar rolls over six months. Seriously, I’ve seen cars with under 10,000kms on the odometer heading to auction. It’s rare for anything to rack up more than about 25,0000 kms in that six months. That’s the deal they have with the manufacturer, and it’s pretty inflexible. These cars go through the Adesa dealer auction in Airdrie, and they mostly end up as “certified pre-owned” cars at dealerships. Yep those nice low mileage used cars at the dealership are mostly ex rentals.
    Vehicles from any Asian or European manufacturer are sold as well, either through dealer auctions or directly to dealerships. That’s mostly Kia, Hyundai, Toyota, Honda, Volkswagen, Audi and BMW. These generally end up at a dealership somewhere, but it’s up to those dealerships if they slap the “certified” used vehicle status on them or not. Occasionally these do end up with higher mileage, like 50,000 kms. But not often much higher than that.
    Through the summer, they are selling maybe 50 units a week. By fall when the vacation season is over, they are selling 200+ a week. Nearly the entire fleet is turned over every year.
    They are also a licensed dealership as well, so they do sell a small number of vehicles themselves, although that's not a core piece of their business.
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    Does the airport location provide shuttle service to nearby hangars for those smaller chartered flights that don't go by the main airport? Their poor attitude at the airport makes me not want to even talk to them. I usually have a pretty shitty experience when renting at the airport for business. This was when our flights still came through the international airport.

    I personally switched locations because the location (near Barlow and McKnight) not only is cheaper rates than the airport, but it's way closer to the hangar and they provide shuttle service to the hangar for free.

    With that in mind, we've already started to move all our rental bookings to that location instead of the airport.

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    for some preferred customers we do drop cars off at some of the charter or private hangers. I know for sure we've done some business with Netjets, millionair and Flair at least. No idea how you set that up, but for us it's been handled from the airport location.

    Agree that the airport is usually the most expensive place to rent. Off-airport locations are almost always cheaper.
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    Cool post, should move it to career section.

    Ahhhh the good old rental jobs. And who else can someone offer dozens of blue rain barrels that held industrial soap, by the airport come from, lol

    Good old days when you can flash your employee card world wide like a fraternity and able to get reasonable upgrades, oh man, that was ages ago. Perfect job for the new immigrant (that's never driven before, or never good drivers back in their own country; not a racist statement) or new drivers (within Canada), to get a freebie oopsy daisy fender bender (on the company's rentals), then sneak it in the damaged lineup and pretend the damage was always there when they picked it up for the trip.

    Where else can employees driving the same generation (1-5 years) of the same model year personal vehicle, that's on fleet, to get replacement parts...

    Too bad you'll be done your contract by Oct-Nov @ExtraSlow , would love hearing your managing experience during snow season

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    Nice thread, thanks.

    I was surprised about the 6-month thing too when I first heard about it. I think they want to send it back before it needs any real servicing. I'm sure the big rental companies have done studies about the optimal time to keep a car. Also, having a car break down during a rental would pretty much kill the chance of that customer ever coming back, so the chance of a 6 month old car breaking down is probably quite a bit less than 1.5 year old car.

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    I worked for a rental car company too - they didn't do as many buyback's as ExtraSlow's company. But basically every car was to be pulled from fleet before 60,000kms because that's when factory warranty would run out. Selling a car without factory warranty would drop it's resale by 25%.

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    Great post, pretty interesting to hear about the inner workings of the operation.

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    Quote Originally Posted by TomcoPDR View Post
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    Cool post, should move it to career section.

    Ahhhh the good old rental jobs. And who else can someone offer dozens of blue rain barrels that held industrial soap, by the airport come from, lol

    Good old days when you can flash your employee card world wide like a fraternity and able to get reasonable upgrades, oh man, that was ages ago. Perfect job for the new immigrant (that's never driven before, or never good drivers back in their own country; not a racist statement) or new drivers (within Canada), to get a freebie oopsy daisy fender bender (on the company's rentals), then sneak it in the damaged lineup and pretend the damage was always there when they picked it up for the trip.

    Where else can employees driving the same generation (1-5 years) of the same model year personal vehicle, that's on fleet, to get replacement parts...

    Too bad you'll be done your contract by Oct-Nov @ExtraSlow , would love hearing your managing experience during snow season
    I suspect in the old days it used to be pretty easy to hide damage done to a vehicle, but at least at our operation, things are pretty locked down. No vehicle moves without us knowing who moved it, and every time a car comes into or go out of our service centre, we have video of the drivers face, a scan of their ID card, and a scan of the license plate. There are multiple methods by which we can find out how a car was damaged. That being said, it's not like we fire people for having a little crunch. Shit happens, and as long as it's your first one, or first in a long time, basically nothing happens to the employee. Unless we have reason to think you might have been speeding or texting, that's instant dismissal most times.

    Funny you mention getting replacement parts. Had a few renters this summer try that trick. One took the spare tire, two wheels, and the owners manual out of a dodge charger. I don't know what we ended up charging the guy, but the bosses weren't worried, they said it was all going on his credit card anyway.

    I do agree it's a great job for a new immigrant. That's probably half our our workforce. Lots of guys from India are surrounding areas, and a whole pile from Africa too. I feel really sorry for some of them, because they know basically zero English, and probably can't get jobs elsewhere. As long as they work hard though, we treat them decently and they'll last a long time.
    Last edited by ExtraSlow; 09-25-2017 at 03:34 PM.
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    I'm pretty sure the 6-month buyback timeframe is driven by the manufacturers more than by us. Because we're selling cars that are in high demand, and that we are running out of for rentals. I suspect we get a better deal up front for purchases because we promise to send 95% of the cars back within that timeframe. Occasionally a vehicle gets sent out on a long rental and gets "too old" for the buyback program. In that case we have to sell it separately, and the managers don't like that to happen too often. I suspect we get significantly less money selling it ourselves.

    None of the Aisan or Euro cars are on those programs, so we just sell them whenever makes sense for us. Those get run longer.
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    Rented and expedition this summer. 2017. Had 55K km when I returned it. I’m guessing you don’t work for national. Haha

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    It happens even with vehicles that are supposed to be sent back. Just got back an F150 this week that was rented "for one month" in October 2016. Corporate rental and the guy ended up keeping it for a year. Two broken mirrors and a broken windshield on that truck. We are getting it fixed on the customers dime and selling it right away. Handed that customer the keys to a brand new 2017 F150 with under 10k on the odo. Hope he keeps this one a year too. Great for us even at the discounted corporate rate he's got.
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    I make sure the interior is cleaned off garbage and what not before returning... What kind of nasty stuff do rude people leave behind?

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    Quote Originally Posted by ExtraSlow View Post
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    Corporate rental and the guy ended up keeping it for a year. Two broken mirrors and a broken windshield on that truck. We are getting it fixed on the customers dime and selling it right away. Handed that customer the keys to a brand new 2017 F150 with under 10k on the odo. Hope he keeps this one a year too. Great for us even at the discounted corporate rate he's got.
    Just curious, but is it actually cheaper or reasonable for someone to rent a truck like this for a year from a rental company vs leasing it from a company like driving force?

    Just wondering how much it would actually cost to rent a truck per month(even discounted) vs owning or leasing one.

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    most people are reasonably respectful of the vehicles, but those who aren't make up for it! Had toyota tacoma show up, the back seat was literally filled with fast food garbage. Like both sides, it was stacked up in the footwells so high that it was covering the rear seats. Front passenger side had "only" a few dozen meals worth, I guess this guy liked to throw things behind him. Box had a few random things in it too, like a full cardboard box of clean empty glass jars.

    Found one car with a bottle of wine spilled in the passenger seat. Bottle was still there, rolling around, with only about 10% left in it.

    Sickest thing was a truck that had a bunch of monster energy spilled all over it. Man that stuff STINKS when it's been baking in the sunshine for a few days.

    Its really common for our pickup trucks to come back with mud all over the interior, and for things to still be in the truck bed. Minivans almost always have spilled food in them, crumbs everywhere.

    Chocolate is really gross once it melts into a cupholder. I don't know any efficient method of removing that.
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    Here's my list of all the models I've personally seen. There's probably more.
    Ford (Focus, Fusion, C-max, Taurus, Mustang, Escape, Edge, Flex, Exporer, Expedition, F150, F350, Transit 10 pass, Transit 15 passenger high roof)
    GMC (Terrain, Yukon XL)
    Cheverolet (Spark, Cruze, Malibu, Impala, Equinox, Traverse, Suburban, Silverado, Express)
    Buick (Enclave)
    RAM (1500 crew cab)
    Dodge (Grand Caravan, Charger, Challenger, Journey, Durango)
    Chrysler (Pacifica, 300, 300S, 300C)
    Jeep (compass, renegade, cherokee, grand cherokee, wrangler)
    Fiat (500x)
    Toyota (Corolla, Prius, Camry, Rav4, Tacoma, Sienna, Tundra, Sequoia)
    Nissan (versa, sentra, altima, rogue)
    Honda (Civic, CRV)
    Kia (Rio, Forte, Optima, Soul, Sportage, Sorento)
    Hyundai (Accent, Elantra, Tuscon, Santa Fe Sport, Santa Fe XL)
    Cadillac (ATS, CTS, XTS, Escalade)
    Lincoln (Navigator, MKX)
    BMW (3-series, 5-series, X3, X5)
    Audi (A4, Q5)
    Volkswagen (Golf, Jetta, Passat, Tiguan)
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    Quote Originally Posted by ExtraSlow View Post
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    Funny you mention getting replacement parts. Had a few renters this summer try that trick. One took the spare tire, two wheels, and the owners manual out of a dodge charger. I don't know what we ended up charging the guy, but the bosses weren't worried, they said it was all going on his credit card anyway.
    So what happens if they disagree who caused the damage (or claim the part was missing beforehand), and just file a charge back on the credit card if you bill them? Also once the car gets dropped off and the damage or missing parts aren't noticed until after, how can you go after the guy when it has already changed hands and the possibility is there that someone else did it? Even with usage logs, it's still he-said-she-said is it not?

    One reason I'm curious is I often just get told to go pick a car with the keys in it when I rent - nobody checks the existing damage with me, and unless both parties agree on what's existing, there is no way they can really come after the customer for new damage unless it's blatantly obvious like a significant car accident.

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    I don't know the ins and outs of that process, but at least for the airport, we've got pretty good security camera footage of every car entering or leaving our parking area, so anything large would show up. I suspect that there's a pretty locked down process that gives the rental company a high rate of success in these disputes.
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    Brings back memories! I worked in the service centre for extra income just after I got married, night shift 3-12am. Managed to get promoted to shift super in 2 months! Actually had a blast working there (stampede week was looney tunes tho)

    Some of the more interesting things I saw there (worked in yr 2000)

    - People would rent a Dodge Caravan, bring it home and swap the dead transmission out of their van into the rental. This happened more than once.
    - Cars would return with 4 bald tires, again swapped out. This was much more common on the pickup trucks and big cube-vans.
    - People are pigs. The stuff left behind in the cars was scarry. We had a car with a bag of dead Opossums in the trunk, we have absolutely no idea to the how's or why's of that one. Had a Cadillac Deville come back with a bloody finger tip in the cupholder, all I could think about was some mobster hitman rented that car lol.
    - The vehicles get treated like shit by the employees, our yard had a strip of oversized speed bumps, on the night shifts the porters would take them at 80+. The softly sprung Ford Crown Vic's would actually bounce so high they'd catch air.
    - Was SUPER common for cars to get towed in with a tank full of diesel fuel. My only guess is that European customers are so used to diesel vehicles they assume that diesel is the fuel of choice everywhere.
    - A Pontiac Montana minivan was in the repair row, it had a oil light on. It still ran (a bit noisy) upon inspection we found the oil pan was nearly gone with a chunk of rebar right through the part that remained (it had a aluminum/cast pan). When the tech got the rest of the pan off it was full of rocks, twigs, etc... He ordered a new pan, threw it on, filled with oil and the van fired up and ran nice! That van was still in service 3 months later, I feel sorry for the CPO buyer of that one.
    - Often some oil/gas exec would rent a Taurus or Camry and drive it down 100 miles of lease road. We had cars with mud impacted so badly underneath you couldn't see the exhaust system. They'd get charged a $20 cleaning fee.

    I'm sure I'll think of more....really was a fun place to work though. As a car nut I got to drive many new models and compare them.

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    Did you charge them for the tranny/tires that were swapped out?
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    That's why I just say I have a 4" dick and lift weights to make up for it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ExtraSlow View Post
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    I'm pretty sure the 6-month buyback timeframe is driven by the manufacturers more than by us. Because we're selling cars that are in high demand, and that we are running out of for rentals. I suspect we get a better deal up front for purchases because we promise to send 95% of the cars back within that timeframe. Occasionally a vehicle gets sent out on a long rental and gets "too old" for the buyback program. In that case we have to sell it separately, and the managers don't like that to happen too often. I suspect we get significantly less money selling it ourselves.

    None of the Aisan or Euro cars are on those programs, so we just sell them whenever makes sense for us. Those get run longer.

    Yeah there is a fixed rate on the buy backs that the rental company will pay for the 6 months and the car is not to exceed a certain amount of milage - break either of those terms and the car rental company will have to pay a penalty and inherit that car at a certain price. Buy back's were only typically used in the summer time as it helped the company "fleet up" for the summer and be done with them around august/sept when the fleet start downsizing.

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