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Renting Green


I drive the Honda Insight hybrid these days. Well, except for this week, because my car is in for some repairs. The story behind that is to come: my third piece of successful part-time detective work, tracking down the guy who hit my car and thought he'd could get away with leaving me to pay to fix the gash. Bad idea!

Anyway, let's just say I'd dug up a pretty strong case -- which includes videotape of him looking at the damage he'd done!, so his insurance company agreed to pay to repair my car. (Of course, the call to pay for fixing it did come after I called them, after it was taking a while, to say, "Who do I sue in small claims court, Mercury, or the slimebucket who hit me?!")

Gregg reminded me that I'd have a rental while my car was being fixed, and asked if I would get a hybrid. Good idea! I told the lady at the car-hitter's insurance company, "I'm not going to pollute the air just because this unethical creep hit my car!" I asked for a hybrid -- not necessarily an Insight, but whatever they could get in the hybrid category. (Seeeee...I'm not totally inflexible!)

So, this week, I have a Prius from Enterprise. It seems they have, like, one Prius (or close to it), to rent, in Southern California. I had to wait from last week until yesterday to get my car fixed because they had to wait until they could get the Prius I'm now driving back from San Diego. That said, there are other eco-friendly rental places in Los Angeles. When I thought I wanted to buy the Insight (because, among other things, I'm a design ho, and I thought the Prius was too ugly), Gregg rented me one from EV Rentals, by the airport. I loved driving it. It's tiny, darling, looks like something out of a Tom Swift book, and I can get into what aren't parking spaces but mere suggestions of parking spaces. Made it without being late to a sexpert casting session last week because I could park in the suggestion between a huge-mobile and the cement pole in a parking garage.

The thing I didn't seriously consider when I was buying my car was getting a biodiesel vehicle (which runs on vegetable oil and smells like a rolling French fry), because I am too big a techno-loser to deal with it. Still, I have read that somebody who is savvy can convert a diesel Mercedes into a biodiesel-mobile for a few thou. More on all of eco-rentals below, in this New York Times article by Bonnie Tsui, called "Renting a Green Car: French Fries, Anyone?"

LAST October, Suzy Smith was looking for a rental car with good mileage for a weeklong vacation in Maui. She searched for "rental cars on Maui" on Google and found Maui Bio-Beetle, a company that rents cars that run on biodiesel fuel. She didn't know what to expect from a vehicle that used fuel made solely from recycled vegetable oil, but decided to give it a chance.

"It was fun!" said Ms. Smith, who owns a conference-call business in Seattle. She ended up renting a Volkswagen Golf from Bio-Beetle for the week. "The car had 'This vehicle powered by vegetable oil' written all over it, and people would stop and look and ask a million questions," she said. "Every now and again when we stopped at a stoplight, we'd get a whiff of something like burned French fries, but other than that it was like driving a regular car."

Bio-Beetle is part of a growing trend in environmentally friendly rental cars and other forms of for-hire transportation. In several places across the nation, it is possible to rent - by the hour, the day or the week - hybrid gasoline-electric cars or cars that run on electricity, natural gas or, as in the case of Bio-Beetle's VW, vegetable oil.

Fueling the car, Ms. Smith found, proved to be fairly easy, with a Pacific Biodiesel station in a convenient location near Kahului Airport in Maui. And it was cheaper, too. "When we refueled to go back to the airport, the price of biodiesel was quite a bit less," Ms. Smith said, about $2.30 a gallon versus $2.69 on average for regular unleaded.

High gas prices are another reason why renting green is an attractive option. These days, alternative rental car companies like Bio-Beetle Rental Cars, which opened branches in Maui and Oahu in 2003, are seeing a rise in business, and larger rental corporations around the country like Budget and Enterprise have added environmentally friendly cars - mostly hybrid gas-electric vehicles like the Toyota Prius and the Honda Civic Hybrid - to their own fleets. Though still a small segment of the economy, the market for green cars is attracting attention in the rental car industry.

Given the popularity of vehicles like the Prius and the Civic Hybrid, it seems logical that companies like Enterprise - with 5,400 locations, it's the largest rental car company in North America - would add them to their fleets. And they have: in 2004, Enterprise had 2,700 Toyota Prius cars available for rent. But the shortage of cars available for sale is also limiting the numbers being sent to rental agencies. Enterprise had to return most of its Priuses after a few months, when its short-term lease on them expired, and by May the company will have none available.

EV Rentals, Fox Rent a Car, Maui Bio-Beetle, and Electric Time Car Rentals at Fisherman's Wharf in SF are four places you can find hybrids, electrics, and/or french fry cookers on wheels.

Posted by aalkon at February 25, 2005 8:11 AM


Hi Amy -

Interestingly enough, EV just can't obtain enough vehicles !

(("I would take 500 Toyota Priuses tomorrow if I could get them," says Jeff Pink, CEO of EV Rental Cars, a Los Angeles-based agency specializing in environmentally friendly vehicles. "I've been begging these guys to give us cars for over a year." Consumers are waiting up to two months for delivery of hybrids. Some fleet operators say they're waiting months longer.))

Article at:


Posted by: L'Amerloque at February 25, 2005 4:22 AM

Did you report it to the police? That qualifies as a hit and run with property damage only.

c) Any person failing to comply with all the
requirements of this section is guilty of a misdemeanor
and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by
imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six
months, or by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars
($1,000), or by both that imprisonment and fine.


Posted by: Ron at February 25, 2005 6:41 AM

FYI, the police don't do so much for you -- even if you bring your own evidence. I don't think the officer ever went and got the rest of the videotape -- nor did the insurance company. I tracked the guy like a dog. He's soon going to be prosecuted in Santa Monica Court. I just want to send a message, if you're going to be unethical, don't! Because you might be unethical to somebody like ME!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 25, 2005 8:21 AM

PS I had to import my car from Texas. Getting it took a lot of hunting and persuading! is a good way to find one now. When I bought my Insight, there wasn't one to be found in the eight states surrounding California. There were two in Michigan, four in New Jersey, and two in Texas.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 25, 2005 8:23 AM

May be a silly question, but where does one go to fill up a bio-diesel car? The back door of a Burger King?

"I'll take a Whopper, Medium Fries, Vanilla Shake and 10 gallons of vegetable oil... to go."

A month back I rented one of the new hybrid Honda Civics with a 5-speed. Aside from a few extra gauges on the dash it was no different from any other small sedan I have ever driven. Very zippy. Don't ask me about milage. I drove it for 5 days and the gas gauge never moved.

Posted by: The Prop at February 25, 2005 10:56 AM

Yeah, I forget how to get gas because I fill up my tank and months go by until I need to do it again. I think I was at the gas station last in late December, and I still have yet to go back...and it's what, February 25? People get these cookers for the biodiesel, and I did hear about a station -- or maybe it's hydrogen? -- near Sacramento.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 25, 2005 12:50 PM

just found your site while googling for some research on the insight.. i own one too and -love- it. it's in right now for a 60,000 mile tune up.. they had to keep it overnight as i brought it in late yesterday, but they gave me a freakin ford escape when i asked for another hybrid. "it's the closest thing we have right now" at 26mpg? HA!

i realize it's a while back now, i'm curious what you thought of the prius they gave you on loaner.. did you pay much attention to the millage you were getting compared to what you were used to getting w/ the insight? i've heard prius drivers claim they're able to get 60mpg downtown sf. i'm lucky if i can keep above 48 in my cvt insight around the mission/downtown area.

for those who might be searching, i found my '03 insight in jan 04 w/ 10k miles for $14,200 on ebay motors.. for sale by a dealership.. the auction didn't meet the reserve, so i called the dealership @ the end of the auction, asked what the reserve was, met it and made a deal over the phone. the car was in gainesville, FL. I was in Chicago Il. one way plane ticket and a 1000 mile break in drive w/ a new (to me) car. fun way to buy a car! Also gave me the best possible opportunity find any problems early, for a quick return if necessary.. luckily it wasn't and it still drives like new!

Posted by: rob at September 15, 2005 6:43 PM

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