September 01, 2004

When I Grow Up, I'll Drive a Rental!

by PG

After I turned 21, I became complacent about age restrictions because I no longer had to lie about my age to do what I wanted. At this point, I could drive, drink, smoke, buy lottery tickets and porn -- what more could the world offer?

As it turns out, there's a final frontier of adulthood: car rentals. Somehow I'd forgotten the prohibition on under-25s that most rental companies apply, and that the remainder exploit in order to charge "underage" clients more than twice as much as the older drivers. I'm blogging out of exasperation here, having had to pay $100 for a two-day rental of a compact Toyota, but I sincerely do wonder what purpose this rule serves.

Friends have pointed out that people under 25 on average are higher risk drivers, and I agree that this is a good reason for insurance companies to charge this demographic more. It would be a good reason for the rental company to charge more if one buys coverage from them. But it is not a good reason to refuse to rent cars to under-25s, or to surcharge their rentals.

I'm in favor of legally distinguishing children from adults, but the rental conspiracy doesn't really do that. We are considered as capable of driving at 16, so it's not a problem of being unable to perform the function; we are considered capable of forming viable contracts at 21, so it's not a problem of being too young to know what we are doing. Twenty-four-year-olds are concededly adults. Why continue to withhold a last freedom of adulthood -- the ability to travel elsewhere and buy temporary automotive mobility -- from them?

September 1, 2004 12:31 PM | TrackBack

"Friends have pointed out that people under 25 on average are higher risk drivers, and I agree that this is a good reason for insurance companies to charge this demographic more...But it is not a good reason to refuse to rent cars to under-25s, or to surcharge their rentals."

Well, isn't it the same reason that insurance companies charge more? The rental agency is letting you use their car. If you are part of a group that is, statistically, more likely to ruin the car, then they are going to want to make it worth their while to loan you the car. The rental agency is taking an increased risk in allowing you to use their car - they want to offset that risk with a monetary surcharge.

I suppose they could play it safe and just refuse to let you rent a car until you are over 25, but then you would both be worse off - you wouldn't have a car and they wouldn't have your money. As it is, you get to rent the car, even though you are pose a high risk (statistically), and they get your money.

Posted by: seth at September 1, 2004 01:53 PM

But I've already contracted for any damages I make to the car. What risk are they taking? If I choose, I can carry insurance on the rental, either through my regular insurer (I think) or by buying the rental company's insurance. And as I said, I wouldn't argue with either of those parties charging me more for insurance as part of a demographically high-risk group. What bothers me is the prohibition (by companies like Hertz) and price discrimination (by companies like Thrifty) against under-25 renters.

The contract obliges all renters, regardless of age, to be responsible for "ruining" the car. Even if I don't have insurance, the company can force me to pay for any losses. Moreover, no one of any age has to show fiscal strength greater than a working credit card.

Posted by: PG at September 1, 2004 02:29 PM

If I'm not mistaken, NY made such age discrimination in rentals illegal. Anyone over 21 is allowed to rent without surcharge. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Posted by: Beanie at September 1, 2004 04:01 PM

PG -

"But I've already contracted for any damages I make to the car. What risk are they taking?"

Okay, let me make sure I've got this right. Say you contract for damages and take out insurance against any other incidents. In that case the renter would be protected at least as much as if they rented to someone with the lower statistical risk (25+). So, any additional charges - the higher base rental rate - wouldn't have a basis other than age. Hmmm...I see. So, if all potential damages are already covered, there's no need for the additional charge. Is it required that you have insurance on the rental (either through a private insurer or the rental agency)? If so, then I don't see the justification for the higher base rate.

Beanie -

Just out of curiosity - why would it be okay to set the age discrimination level for the base rate at 21 and not 25? The only difference I can think of between someone who is 18 and someone who is 21 is that the latter can legally drink (I may, of course, be missing something - I don't know). It seems to me that the age should be set at 18 (because you can't sign a contract under 18, as far as I know).

Thanks for bearing with me - I'm not a lawyer/student. Just a bored guy who thought this was an interesting topic.

Posted by: seth at September 1, 2004 05:11 PM


Despite not being a law-yer or -student, you've jumped into that pool, so... ;-)

New York State Consolidated Laws:
S 391-g. Rental of motor vehicles; discrimination on the basis of age prohibited.
1. It shall be unlawful for any person, firm, partnership, association or corporation engaged in the business of renting motor vehicles to refuse to rent such vehicle to any person eighteen years of age or older solely on the basis of age provided that insurance coverage for persons of such age is available. Any actual extra cost for insurance related to the age of the person renting such motor vehicle may be passed on to such person.
2. A knowing violation of this section shall be punishable by a fine not to exceed five hundred dollars.

Unfortunately, I was renting in Northern Virginia, so no help from the NY statute or case law (Hertz, Alamo). The Thrifty people surcharged me ridiculously but didn't require me to show proof of insurance at all, nor did I have to buy insurance from them -- both of which I would have been willing to do.

Posted by: PG at September 1, 2004 10:42 PM

>But I've already contracted for any damages I make to the car. What risk are they taking?

Just wondering (and I don't know the answer to this), is there any theory under which the rental company might be held liable for damages for injuries that you might inflict on a third party? It isn't just an issue of damage to the rental company's car, it may also be an issue of damage that you might inflict on somebody else's car. Or somebody else, for that matter.

Posted by: raj at September 2, 2004 02:16 PM

The rental company shouldn't have any more liability than a manufacturer would.

Then again, we're in the middle of several cases about lawsuits brought against automobile manufacturers, including one (Codling v. Paglia, Ct of Appeals of NY, 1973) brought by people who were injured in an accident with a Chrysler car, and brought suit against Chrysler as well as the driver. The court went with a strict products liability doctrine, and affirmed the judgments in favor of the injured non-drivers against Chrysler. But there has to be a defect in the product for this theory of liability.

Then again, tomorrow's reading may bring a new precedent. Yay.

Posted by: PG at September 2, 2004 02:37 PM
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