Many car rental shoppers have their heart set on a specific make and model car: “It’s what I drive at home;” “I might buy one;” ”It’s exactly what we need.” “It’s what I had last year and it was perfect.” “Oh, and I gotta’ have diesel.”

Unless by chance the exact car you want is on the lot when you arrive for pick-up, you will get a car in the category booked. Instead of the VW Passat you desperately want, it may be a Ford Mondeo, Opel Insignia, Skoda Octavia or one of perhaps half a dozen other cars in the intermediate category. In fact, when you smartly booked several months in advance of your trip, the rental company may not have even known the composition of its fleet on the date of your rental.rsz rental counter sfw

Here, roughly, are the main categories: mini, economy, compact, intermediate, standard, fullsize, SUV, luxury, premium...plus station wagons and automatics in most of those categories. There are also vans, SUVs, sports cars, and convertibles...both manual and automatic.

The Rental Company's Problem

The reluctance to guarantee a certain car with certain equipment at a certain future date, is understandable. It’s difficult enough to guarantee a category, let alone a specific make and model. Let’s say a multi-national company in Germany such as Europcar has 30 different car categories. It might be more. We’ll use compacts as an example. There’s a compact sedan manual, a compact sedan automatic, a compact station wagon manual, and a compact station wagon automatic. If Europcar decides to have a diesel version of each of those compact categories they have just doubled their compact categories from four to eight. Apply that to all categories and there are now 60 categories rather than 30. Instead of making sure 30 different car categories are available at the proper time at some 400 offices in Germany alone, it’s now 60 categories. Realize there are no-shows, last minute cancellations, late returns, and customers with no reservations showing up at the rental counter, and it soon becomes clear that rental companies can only estimate their need for compact station wagons with automatic transmission at the Frankfurt Airport at 3:30pm on June 15...let alone a specific make and model compact wagon with diesel and factory-installed GPS.

So, you may ask, why don’t the rental companies have a cushion of extra cars? Cars in reserve in 30 different categories, around the clock, at 400 locations in Germany? Great for the customer, but when cars sit on the lot they don’t earn and the extra cost of adding thousands of non-revenue vehicles to the inventory will only drive up rental prices.

What they WILL Guarantee

This is what car rental companies will guarantee: car category, number of seat belts, air-conditioning, and transmission. If the car description on the reservation says diesel and/or GPS then those items are also guaranteed. Nothing else; not a trunk or hatchback, color, sunroof, fold-down seats, nothing. However, you can be certain of some sort of sound system including a radio, Blue Tooth and/or USB port to connect your smartphone or tablet. There will be an outlet to power your devices.

Frankly, it’s a waste of time to pursue a specific make or model. If your Europcar quote says BMW 3 Series and your Avis quote says Mercedes C-Class, it’s probably because the company’s marketing department knows those models attract more bookings when they are used as example cars in advertising and in issuing online quotes. There are other cars in the fullsize category and you may get one of them.

A strategy that works for some renters is to visit the rental location a day prior to pickup and very politely ask if it might be possible to get an XYZ car equipped with blah, blah, blah. We say very politely because rental agents have little patience for customers seeking a specific vehicle and you might catch an agent at a bad time: “I’ve got four compact automatics on the lot for the six compact automatic reservations coming in the next hour and this guy wants a VW Golf with Turbodiesel and GPS?”