For most, borrowing a Shelby Mustang or even a Corvette is great entertainment for the long weekend (or even a high school reunion). But for some, that Hertz Fun Fleet just isn't going to cut it. Not even close. Enter the much higher caliber, exotic car luxury rental world where you can rent a Ferrari F430, or just as easily, a Rolls Royce Phantom, for the weekend.
We've all wondered what it would be like to pilot some of Italy's finest down our favorite back roads or maybe even pick up a date in 007's favorite ride, but what's it really take to make this happen and more importantly, will you still have access to that $11 insurance policy?
Popular in locales where exotic cars are the norm; places like LA, Las Vegas, San Francisco, New York and Miami; the exotic car rental business is booming. When enough money still isn't enough and image is everything, a $100,000+ car can move you right up the social ladder and it can all be yours from anywhere between $200- to $7000-per day (at one rental lot a Saleen S7 is $7740-per day). In this day and age, it's not about who you know; but what you drive and who sees you driving it. It's no surprise that males are in the majority when it comes to exotic car rental and are mainly looking for one thing – women. According to one South Floridian rental outfit, more than a few of their male customers have luxury cars of their own, but are looking to pick up a car for the sole purpose of remaining undetected by their spouse while they go out with the girlfriend for a night on the town. Oftentimes the rental outfit will drop off the car at a valet or in a parking structure to allow the customer to remain discreet, while all business transactions are done over the phone (Take that, Joey Greco!). Others just want to feel what it's like to cruise around in a LP560-4 for a day – to walk in the better man's shoes, or they're looking to spend the day test driving a car that they might actually buy, though that's an unlikely story in most cases.
At the opposite side of the spectrum is the small amount of females who play a role in this business. While there surely are a few that rent for the same reason as the men, there are more than a few who need to appear as if they have money in order to attract the big money. These cars can grant first-class access to restaurants, clubs and more importantly, the guys with the big bucks (AKA, not you or me).
Now that you know the types of people who rent these cars, let's look at the businesses themselves. Imagine walking up to a lot that has Murciélagos, Continental GTs, 612 Scagliettis, and boat loads of Mercedes S-Class and Hummer H2s. Now imagine if you were the guy who owned the lot. You've got some pretty serious cash, right? Wrong. A common misconception about exotic car rental companies is that they're hugely profitable, when in fact the majority of them are actually quite the opposite. Instead of owning the vehicles that they advertise (for reasons explained further on), they simply flick through their rolodex and call up one of their many over-extended clients and go pick up that Lamborghini you really wanted for the weekend. While many of these cars cost in excess of $3000-per-month to own, their owners lend them out to a broker for a few days each month to cover the cost of ownership rather than lose their pride and joy - American capitalism at its best.
The reason that many of these rental outfits don't own the vehicles they rent is a lack of financing available to them due to bad credit, bankruptcy and the fact that no lender wants to give out the $1million+ that it takes to start a risky operation like this. Many of the owners are previous club promoters out to make a quick buck and quickly learn that it's not as easy as it initially seemed. A quick search through the phonebook will net you half-a-dozen different rental stores in South Beach, while only a few of them still reside or ever resided in their advertised location, most likely due to previous bankruptcy. These bankrupt businesses somehow pop up again in a new location down the street with a new owner on the license and restart business operations with no one the wiser. They're able to do this because of the poor regulation of the exotic car rental industry, something that the insurance companies are furious about.
This brings us around to the legality issues surrounding the exotic car rental business. While a visit to your local Enterprise rental office seems like a pain-in-the-ass when you have to fill out a half-hours worth of clipboarded paperwork using a crappy Bic ballpoint pen; be thankful you have to do it. These forms not only give Enterprise the ability to know who they're renting to, they also give you an important piece of protection – insurance. When you go to one of the exotic car rental outfits, you may have to fill out some forms that seem really important, but this is mainly so that if a) you don't return the car or, knock on wood, b) flip it upside-down and wrap it around a tree all in one fell swoop; the rental company's owner can send his paid-by-the-bruise gorillas after you. Trust me when I tell you that you don't want to be in this situation.
The list of reasons for these companies not having proper insurance is about as long as the Ocean Drive strip, but it's mainly from years and years of these business's involvement in fraud. The brokers mentioned earlier, don't properly insure the cars that they "borrow" from their clients and coincidentally neither do the over-extended clients. After Brent and Dirk came and kicked your ass inside-out for wrecking the custom-painted, bright purple Maserati Gran Turismo on 22s that you rented; the owner of the car, not the business; had to make a claim to his insurance. His reasoning goes a little something like this (cue the oldest exotic car rental excuse in the book), "My friend was borrowing it." The insurance companies used to buy into this, but now they've become wiser to the game and will end up calling it a total loss. Bummer dude.
The other reason why insurance companies won't insure most of the exotic car rental guys is simple – It's just too high of a risk. Because not only do rented high-performance cars get wrecked at the hands of weekend amateur enthusiasts; warehouses full of cars magically burst into flames or they disappear all-together into some shipping container at the Port of Long Beach never to be seen from again (unless you happen to live in Eastern Europe).
So you've read this far and you still want to rent that Porsche Carrera GT for your weekend jaunt to Vegas? You're in luck because despite all the bad seeds in the business, there are quite a few legit operations nationwide. One of the better outfits is Gotham Dream Cars, where you can rent by the day, weekend or even set yourself and some friends up with the Dream Car Tour; a 4+ hour drive in 6 or more exotic cars with each driver getting 30-minutes behind the wheel of each car. Or for the more budget conscious (read: sarcasm) there's Beverly Hills Rent-a-Car where you can really indulge with a $25,000-a-day cruise in their Bugatti Veyron (bonus for no mileage charges!). You can even "go green" and rent one of their hybrids for a day, giving you the perfect eco-friendly choice while shopping for your next Hummer H2.
The moral of this story is this: If you decide that you need to treat yourself to the car of your dreams the next time you take a vacation, be smart and please make sure the guy you're renting from is wearing fewer gold chains than your old Uncle Sal. Consider yourself warned.
[source: Miami New Times]