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Moving into the driver's seat

Smita Tripathi | May 22, 2004

Have you ever found yourself wondering what it would be like to drive a big powerful 4-wheel monster instead of your tiny Maruti 800, even if it's just for a day or a week?

Or how about heading for that most happening party in town in a chauffeur-driven Mercedes rather than your old Fiat, which any self-respecting valet refuses to park.

Now, there's a new way to get into the driver's seat without shelling out a few lakhs -- hire a car for the weekend or that special occasion.

Car rental companies including international giants like Hertz, Avis and locals like Travel House and Eco have turned on the ignition and are hiring out self-drive ones. Of course, they still offer chauffeur-driven cars and they are cheaper to hire.

Says Rajiv K Vij, CEO, Carzonrent, the master franchisee for Hertz in India, "The self-drive market is still in its nascent stage in India as only around 150 cars are rented out per day by the organised players but in the next three years this number is likely to go up to 5,000."

So if you wish to drive an SUV or may be a fancy car such as a Mitsubishi Lancer, you can simply hire it and zoom away. Of course, you have to pay the rental, which varies from car to car and also depends on the time period.

For instance, a small car such as a Maruti Zen or a Hyundai Santro can be rented for around Rs 1,500 to Rs 1,800 per day. If you wish to hire for a week, you need to pay around Rs 9,000.

On the other hand, a slightly bigger car such as a Ford Ikon is available for around Rs 2,900 per day and Rs 17,000 per week. For the same price you can also hire a Toyota Qualis or a Tata Safari. Of course, if you wish to drive something fancier like a Mitsubishi Pajero, you will have to shell out around Rs 4,000 per day.

All car rental companies require a photocopy of your driving licence, which could either be an Indian licence or an international one. Companies such as Hertz insist on a minimum three-year driving experience and require you to be at least 25 years of age.

Most car rental companies also insist on a proof of address and hence you are required to submit a copy of your passport or ration card.

Besides having a valid driving licence you must have a credit card with a limit of at least Rs 25,000 to Rs 30,000 in order to rent a car for self-drive.

This is because the security deposit for the car is made on your credit card. Some car rental companies such as Eco accept a cheque towards security deposit but this leads to needless delays since they will hand you over the keys only after the cheque has been cleared.

Also, once you return the car, they have to return the amount again in the form of a cheque and so it takes time for you to get your money back.

On the other hand, if you are paying by credit card the car companies immediately check your credit worthiness with the bank. They swipe the card but retain the counterfoil till the car is returned. This way no actual transfer of money takes place.

The security deposit also varies from car to car and is generally between Rs 7,500 to Rs 8,000 for a Zen, Wagon R or Santro and Rs 25,000 to Rs 30,000 for an Opel Astra or a Mitsubishi Lancer.

When you hire the car, the petrol tank is full and when you return the car you are required to return it with a full tank.

All these companies offer a chauffeur-driven option -- in fact, these are much more widely used in India. The rates for these companies are slightly higher than your local taxi stand, but then they offer a variety of cars.

For instance, Travel House offers a Mitsubishi Lancer, Honda City or a Hyundai Accent for Rs 1,100 for 4 hours/40 km. A Hyundai Sonata or a Toyota Camry will cost around Rs 2,250 and by paying Rs 3,600, you can hire a Mercedes Benz or a BMW.

A smaller car will cost around Rs 900 for a full day (8 hours/80 km) while your local taxi stand will charge you between Rs 500 and Rs 700.

However, when hiring a car from one of these car rental companies you are assured that the cars are well-maintained and, hopefully, won't breakdown. Also, the companies say their drivers are always courteous. Hertz and Travel House do not keep any car older than three years in their fleet.

If you hire one of the premium chauffeur-driven cars you can also enjoy other fringe benefits. For instance, Hertz has recently installed LCD screens in its premium fleet, and also has a small refrigerator in the boot. So you can let the chauffeur do the work and perhaps even drink to that one.


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