I’m not talking about the ridiculous roadrippers I’ve had in my time. They all had brakes that worked properly, enough roadholding to make it if the brakes didn’t give you enough room, terrific handling so you knew what they were doing. They might make your armpits smell a bit if you overdid things, but in general they would get you to where you wanted to be. Usually.
However, anybody who has ever hired a car in a country with lax attitudes to automotive safety will know the pitfalls here. You just have to hitch up your panties and possibly incontinence pads, and hope for the best.
The Suzuki Vitara we hired in Thailand. That took some getting used to, I can tell you. There was a sticker on the dash, ‘Not for offroad use.’ Eh? The Vitara was a budget offroader. Naturally we paid no attention, and risked life and limb, and I mean that quite literally because who the hell knew when the last time was the suspension had been tracked, and the shock absorbers/dampers replaced? Well they didn’t apparently work. We did a bit of mild offroad, sand dune stuff, and found a fab café in the middle of nowhere and ate prawns and rice till we could hardly move.
The journey back was intriguing. Did I mention the clutch slip? On uphills this meant the engine revved like hell, but struggled to move the car, concentrating instead on overheating and burning fuel. We did a lot of clutch-free freewheeling on downgrades. We made it though.
Northern Cyprus. The owner of the admittedly downmarket hotel we were in was most accommodating when we asked if he could find somebody to rent us a car. Of course he was. We knew it was a dodgy deal at seven quid a day, but that Renault 9 was really dangerous. Four bald tyres, and brakes that were seemingly operated by an ‘on/off’ switch. We had a very close call indeed with a 20 ton aggregate truck, even though we clearly had right of way. I learned a lot about cadence braking with that little episode. Even Alison, one of the most shockproof passengers ever, was braced for impact.
But it’s not only abroad, with dodgy motors. I once, via Hertz, rented an almost brand new Hyundai Sonata in Scotland. Looked OK on paper, decent amount of room (I had three passengers with me), well appointed, a/c. I also managed to snag a manual. It was nearly new and shockingly awful. From a world leading carhire outfit in the UK.
There seemed to be no real power from the two litre motor. At the same time, it had so little traction off the crap front wheel drive you could die trying to enter a roundabout in the wet. If you did get it moving, which was no mean feat, in the wet the antilock brakes kicked in at about three miles an hour. This wasn’t all bad, since it would slow down, which was just as well since it handled like a milktruck and didn’t seem to have any roadholding to speak of.
That was a trying experience with my boss in the car.