At my wife's suggestion we looked for a suitable rental rig on Turo, a ride share app that connects a renter (me) with the owner of a vehicle who is interested in renting their personal vehicle. In Austin that day, there weren't a lot of suitable large vehicles, no large vans, but because of the price we eventually booked a guy's Cadillac Escalade EXT for our use, which is the longer wheelbase version, much like a Chevy Suburban. Truthfully, I wasn't excited about the choice, because I knew (from my previous two trips to Austin) that not everything is in fact is bigger in Texas. It's good to note that the parking spots and roads look far more at home in old Europe, as many Texas roads were built far too narrow for easy driving and may be one contributor to the many accidents we saw. Unlike our past trips through Europe, I didn't see as many small cars and slender vans, you instead see full-size trucks, SUV's and old Hummers. All navigate, too often, across the narrow lines of the lanes and across some frustratingly narrow parking spots that just don't make sense, especially not in Texas.
Well, it turned out that the Escalade wasn't available for the day of our arrival, so it was cancelled and another plan was set in motion.
I found, what looked like a good deal with Avis and booked it.This was my first experience with the company, so I signed up for their "Preferred" program and I was convinced to sign up for their business program as well. I rented a full-size, Ford Transit van. However, after I prepaid for the van, the rate for some unknown reason seemingly kept increasing; by hundreds of dollars, before we even hopped on our plane to Texas. After several calls, speaking with people who clearly spoke Spanish far better than English, Avis' answer was to have me jump through red tape hoops to fix their error. I decided I had to cancel the reservation.
I booked another Transit at a totally different outfit, about 4 miles from the airport. I called and spoke with the guy from the Van rental outfit and I explained that I was looking for a full-sized van, but I needed to have some seats removed for a wheelchair and several large suitcases. He said that renting the 15 passenger Transit van was cheaper than the 12 passenger Ford Transit van. He said he would remove the rear four seats before fetching us at the airport. Next he would take us to the rental office to do the paperwork and pre-trip inspection. I was excited to see this plan come together.
Thanksgiving Day, we arrive much earlier to Austin Airport from our direct flight than we had planned. When he pulls up, an hour later I observe that the van seats are in fact NOT removed! This literally leaves about 6" of room behind the rear seat and the rear door. The driver insists that they never remove seats from their vans, ever. Due to the craziness of traffic around us, as our driver stopped one lane away from the curb, we frantically toss everything over the seats, wheelchair included and wait to sort it out at the rental facility.
Once we arrive at the rental facility I obviously knew that this van wouldn't work for our needs. Afterall, I didn't have 15 people to move, I rented a van because I had six people, their large suitcases and a heavy wheelchair to move. On arrival to the rental facility I saw that they had a couple of black, extended length Chevy Surbubans. I inquired, the rate was better, so we transferred the passengers and people to one of the Surburbans.
Good to note that if you ever need to transfer a lot of people, without their belongings, a van is the best way to go. If you ever need to move luggage and people a van, with the back seat removed, works very well. It turned out, on this day, that this (very packed) Suburban was probably the only other rig that would have worked, thank God that they had one for our use.
That being said, the Suburban worked, however it was was totally stuffed full and all but one 3rd row seat needed to be folded flat for storage. This wouldn't have worked if we would of had one more person, or any more luggage. In fact, our last trip, on our way back we did get one more suitcase and totally forgot that an additional person would still need to fit, to drive us to the airport. My ten year-old had to sit on someone's lap for that longer than anticipated 30 minute, 4 mile drive. Yes, my family tends to snowball some with souvenirs and deals when on a longer vacation, accumulating more things until the very end, fortunately we made it out.
We drove the Suburban for our planned four hour trip to Houston and Galveston, to see NASA, my wife's friends and relatives, among other sites in the area. The trip was largely done over 80 mph, both ways on the mostly straight freeways, which the big rig seemed pretty well designed for. Unfortunately, when not driving a straight line, the Burban' handled like a listing oil tanker in the most benign of corners. It floated in a way that made me really miss my 3 ton, extra tall Freightliner Sprinter van, which, as silly as it sounds handles the corners with far more bite and far less concern. Unfortunately, the listing oil tanker in corners is what you pay for the Surburban's softer, Buick-like ride traits. The Burban is a popular rig in Texas, you see them everywhere. I can note that our fuel economy on our trip computer was noting a pretty good gasoline fed fuel milage, in the low 20's, for our 80 mph, 4 hour trip.
Perhaps it's worth mentioning that our rental Suburban, although new, was also notably the cheaper trim version, lacking some of the bells and whistles that most may have and likely lacking a better, (optional) firmer suspension, that may be available on higher trim lines.
So, in a nutshell, I learned that wide vehicles and trucks should probably be avoided for driving or parking in the city, European style vans are narrower, have sliding doors and thus more suitable. I learned that toll roads are everywhere, fuel is cheap and it's definitely a good idea to have more than one back up plan on rental vehicles. I also learned that Suburbans can save the day, when your plans fall apart at the seams.