Gold Car – the bottom feeders of car rentals

Our latest column from William Thomas

Not a good sign – long lines of people at all the other car rental booths but mine. Gold Car. The flight from Toronto to Funchal, Madeira with a stopover in Ponta Delgada, The Azores was a dream. Thank you Azores Airlines. My bag came off first and intact. A sunny, breezy day awaited me outside. All too good to be true, I suspected.

That’s when I met Thelma and Louise, two tough-talkin’ girls behind the Gold Car desk openly plotting a public crime with me cast in the role as victim. “No, your Visa card insurance is not good with us. You must take out our insurance. It’s 17 euros per day.” I go through this every time in Portugal. My Visa works and they have to accept it.

“Okay, but if we accept it, you must leave a deposit.” I’m prepared to pay the exorbitant 900 euro deposit.

“Our deposit is 1,500 euros.” That’s more than the car’s worth.

“And on top of that, there’s a 40 euro service charge.” But …

“And if you put one little scratch on the car, we will deduct 600 euros from your deposit.” But …

“And if you have a flat tire or burn out the clutch, don’t call us!” But …

“Also if you take our insurance you have Top Priority down at the lot. Otherwise you will stand there for an hour while other people get their cars.”

Back and forth and smiling all the while – they were good. Well-trained and completely unconscionable, thick as thieves these two!! But to be fair, I have to add – no weapon was used in this mugging!

My problem was twofold. First, I’d booked through the Economy Car Rentals agency and they had my commission deposit. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried getting a refund from anything online but losing weight by eating more is easier. Secondly, I was scared witless of these two Jezebels.

“Okay,” I nodded, folding up like a lawn chair. I’d been had and all three of us knew it. Scam completed, bonuses secured, they couldn’t’ be nicer now.

“Now my colleague will give you a much better car than you rented,” said Thelma whose mug shot appears in the credits of Grand Theft Auto.

“So I can burn up the clutch now?”, I joked.

“You can burn up the car now,” replied Thelma amid gales of laughter from her colleague and I thought, oh, oh, she reads minds too!

Mad at myself for not walking away, I hauled my luggage across the catwalk outside the airport to the rental car lots and there he is, Senor Top Priority waiting for me with a set of car keys in hand. And, he’s the Maytag Repairman of Madeira. He’s happy to see me. He’s happy to see anybody! Had I not purchased the Top Priority Plus Package that would have been a really awkward hour – both of us staring at each other and looking at our watches.

He hands me a flat fob, the likes of which I’ve never seen and points to the very top of the lot where my rental car awaits. Up, up, up I go heaving the big bag into the backseat and placing my backpack on the passenger seat. Climbing into the driver’s seat, I buckle up, insert the fob and press a button marked ‘Start’ and ‘Stop.’ More stop than start, I have to walk all the way back to the booth where I tell Maytag Man the car won’t start.

And he looks at me like I’m the dumbest ass he’s ever had to deal with. (After my performance with Thelma and Louise, he may not be far off the mark!)

“You must insert this thing,” he says, tapping the flat piece of plastic in my hand. “Got it? Then put the car in ‘even’. Neutral, got it? Then you push the clutch to the floor and step on the brake pedal at the same time. Then push ‘Start’.”

“Oh man,” I say, slapping myself on the side of the head. “How stupid of me because that’s how we start everything back in Canada … including toasters!!!”

So back at the sleek, black upgrade, I do the secret handshake dance and I’m on my way … to a digitally-operated gate at the other end of the parking lot … that would not open in much the same way as the car wouldn’t start.

There’s a small screen from which a voice keeps repeating “Show Your Card.” I spot the plastic card attached to the rental swindle, sorry, contract. I keep showing the card to the screen which earns another annoying “Show Your Card!” Now I have to press the “Help” button and who shows up because he’s got nothing else to do … Maytag Man. He points to a tiny square to the top right of the screen. “There, there you show your card.” Of course because you need the big screen to show movies to people who are stuck here for hours on end!

I couldn’t resist asking him why Gold Car needed a security gate when most customers would not steal a car they couldn’t start in the first pace. While he’s thinking about that, I inadvertently peel out of the lot, screeching the tires as I go. I did not mean to, honest. But for me to make a slow and courteous exit with this car, I believe you must push down the clutch and step on the brake at the same time, honk the horn and fart before stepping on the accelerator.

Gold Car, the most unpleasant surprise you’ll ever have on the beautiful island of Madeira.

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