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Why there might be hope for millennials renting cars

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I actually kind of liked my time piloting the Accent. Photo credit: JACK WALSWORTH

LOS ANGELES — Did I ever think the first time I would drive on the scenic Pacific Coast Highway that I’d be behind the wheel of a 2017 Hyundai Accent with 17,000 odd miles and a Delaware license plate?

No.

But that’s where I found myself while visiting my girlfriend in California. She moved to Orange, Calif., in August for a yearlong volunteer service program.

While the program allows her access to a vehicle, the insurance policy doesn’t cover people who aren’t in the program (me).

I’m a Midwesterner who’s never been to Southern California outside of LAX, so I wanted to see some sights that were beyond Orange County.

Always traveling on a budget, we had some options for getting around.

Using Lyft could work — I am a millennial, after all — but I also knew that the option would quickly add up costwise.

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We also looked at taking buses and trains, but the added time would’ve given us less flexibility and made for a longer day.

So for the first time in my life, I rented a car, though somewhat hesitantly.

Outside of one friend, I don’t know anyone my age who has rented a car while on vacation.

Among my cohorts, Lyft or Uber always seems to win out thanks to convenience. No wonder rental companies are dealing with disruptions to their business model from ride-hailing services.

I’m 23, and therefore under the magic age of 25, so there would be a “young driver fee,” which wasn’t great for my budget.

I scoured rental car websites before reserving the cheapest option: a no-frills, economy-class car listed as a Mitsubishi Mirage “or similar.”

The rental company I went with charged only a $10 fee because of my age. My budget had room for that.

With the fee, I was quoted $49 out the door for 24 hours of use and unlimited miles.

Although I hadn’t been to Los Angeles before, I knew that $49 wouldn’t have gotten us very far in a Lyft or Uber one-way, let alone round trip.

My girlfriend and I went to the nondescript rental car center in Anaheim and were told it would be a couple of minutes before my ride would be ready.

After picking through some pamphlets from various tourist traps and wondering what car it would be, an employee told me, “your Hyundai Accent” was ready.

I landed the classic “or similar” rental agencies pitch when you shop for rental cars by size.

We walked out and there it was, a red sedan, still dripping from a wash.

After signing my life away, we had wheels.

With a car that small, it didn’t take long to get familiar with it.

Yes, the engine whined when I punched the pedal as we merged onto Interstate 5 heading to Los Angeles. And yes, there were some creaks and rattles every now and then.

But you know what? I actually kind of liked my time piloting the Accent.

The A/C blew cold, one of the cupholders fit my wide Nalgene water bottle, but most importantly, it had a USB port.

My girlfriend especially appreciated the USB port so she could play the soundtrack to La La Land as we drove through Hollywood and Griffith Park, checking off touristy things we wanted to see.

Its small size also shined when it came to parking. Even at the cramped Santa Monica Pier, parking was a breeze.

And the little Accent was not thirsty. It had to be returned with half a tank and we did just that, only needing about $8 to do so, combined with the initial gasoline that came with it.

To be sure, I had the Accent for just 24 hours and racked up 140 miles during our adventures. And with the amount of stopping we did, it’s not like we went on long stretches without any breaks.

Longer amounts of seat time might have skewed my opinion, but for what we needed, the little rental car was great for two people day-tripping.

I’m not sure when I’ll need to rent a car again. But when I do, I won’t hesitate to reserve the cheapest option on the lot.

There might be hope for millennials using rental car companies yet.

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