We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

Car rental question - best size to rent?

Kamloops, Canada
Level Contributor
609 posts
4 reviews
Car rental question - best size to rent?

I have been following with interest the info and recommendations regarding car rentals which is occurring on the following thread:


I have been mulling this whole car rental thing over for our own trip and this finally has triggered me into posting the following query. We are coming to the BI Nov 17-Dec 3 and already have our rental car secured through Discount Hawaii Rental.

This is going to be our fourth time back to Hawaii, and each time we have rented cars, only to have different experiences with them, and have found that we have definite preferences in what we want/don't want.

In 2010 we rented a full size car through Orbitz. Reserved a "full size" and got a Dodge Challenger and hated it! It was huge, unwieldy, hard to see out of, and guzzled gas like crazy. Wouldn't fit in any parking spaces and stuck out and screamed "tourist!!!" all over it like a sore thumb. Realized that such a large car is very impractical and overly expensive for Hawaii - very unnecessary!

In 2011, we rented a "midsize" through DHCR and got a Toyota Corolla. This car was very "bare bones" but served us ok. Not particularly comfortable over long distances but certainly economical on gas.

In 2012, we ended up renting a "standard" size through Budget. We also got a quote from DHCR for the same class of car which came in a bit less, however Budget had Ford Fusions available and we selected this as we specifically wanted to rent that type of car as we had been contemplating buying one for ourselves. Of course when we went to pick it up, there were no Fusions available, so ended up getting stuck with an Impala which we did not care for at all. Again we found it to be too large (wouldn't fit in any of the micro parking spots which seem to be all too common on Oahu) and was super expensive on gas. We ended up taking it back and getting a Fusion from Budget after about 5 days and were very happy with that car. It happened to be fully loaded and was very comfortable, was smaller in size so fit in the parking spaces, and while not exceptionally economical on gas, was certainly MUCH better than the Impala!

So this brings us to our trip this fall. After our experiences above, we decided that we definitely don't want an overlarge car or one that is super heavy on gas. Given this, I decided to reserve a "compact" through DHCR as figured it would be fairly economical to run, especially given that one seems much more inclined to be driving long distances when on the big island. Looks like the car rental company that will supply this particular car this time will be Budget. However since reserving this car class, have to say I am a bit torn about it and am wondering if I shouldn't be going up a car class or two as am worried this car will be just too small and maybe a bit uncomfortable for long periods on the road.

Right now Budget's compact is classified as a Ford Focus which I think is not a bad little car. Nothing fancy but should be pretty good on gas. My concern is that it might be a hatchback in which case luggage is exposed in full view and there is no place to lock things out of site. DHCR was unable to tell me if the car would be a hatchback or not. And am not sure how comfortable it will actually be to be doing quite a bit of driving in.

I have been really giving this some thought and in fact just this past week contacted DHCR about the cost of upgrading the car class. They sent me back a new quote and it actually increased the price very little - only about $30 for the duration of the car rental. The next class up is termed "intermediate" and the car type would be a Dodge Avenger. When I saw this, my enthusiasm for upgrading the car really waned as I have to say in all honesty, when I have rented Chrysler cars in the past, my experience has not been good... Disliked the Challenger as noted above and also once rented an Intrepid which was horrible!

So right now I am quite torn. Do we stick with the compact Ford Focus, which I expect is going to be quite small, bare bones, and probably not super comfortable but which should be really good on gas, easy to park, and won't particularly stand out.

Or do we upgrade and get a car which might not be that much better, and which I expect will probably be much worse fuel economy wise. Although we really enjoyed the Ford Fusion we got last year, not sure I would go to this car category again as their standard car class is now a Nissan Altima and frankly would be really worried about getting another Impala again (although I now see on their website it is considered a "full size" so apparently we must have been "upgraded" to that last year at no charge. Go figure!).

Would love to hear other people's thoughts and experiences - especially from others who have rented cars on the BI.

If you have rented one of these in the past, do you think that the compact Focus will be satisfactory?

Or has anyone had experience with the Avenger and if so, would you recommend it or not?

After mulling this over, I am quite curious to know what class of car most renters typically go with and that you find serves you best, comfort, maneuverability, and fuel economy wise?

Many thanks!

San Diego...
Level Contributor
4,027 posts
12 reviews
1. Re: Car rental question - best size to rent?

When it is just my wife and I we usually get either the compact or intermediate car. This last trip we had a Hundai Elantra. Worked just fine for us including the 9'6' Stand up Paddle board I brought with us. Completely comfortable.

When we went to the Big Island we rented a 4 door jeep because it was us and another couple. It was perfect and fit all our luggage perfectly including my body boards I brought from the mainland (which were useless since there were no waves).

South Pole
Level Contributor
41,180 posts
4 reviews
2. Re: Car rental question - best size to rent?

This is a very interesting question, and I look forward to hearing. It's annoying how car agencies have certain models that are just dogs and ruin that size of car when it might be the right size if you got to pick. The uncertainty is annoying.

I cannot answer all that, as in the last decade I have only rented on Oahu. I can share that I have no problem parking my Honda CRV, which is quite a bit bigger than my former car, a Civic Hybrid. More people drive pick up trucks here on the east side than not. Then the smaller SUV's, like I see a ton of CRV's like mine. But in part that is due to the need for hauling stuff as part of the lifestyle. It does mean that a compact gets towered over by big trucks on the east side and in some west side areas.

The drives are long and the roads are none too smooth.

The two vehicles that scream tourist when you see them coming are Jeeps and convertibles (sorry Pirates).

You do not want a hatch back. You want to have a trunk so that you can hide stuff.

If you do not have passengers in the rear seat, you don't have to worry about the read seat being miserable, and a compact becomes a viable choice.

Level Contributor
2,272 posts
3 reviews
3. Re: Car rental question - best size to rent?

I've never understood why anyone would rent anything other than a compact (barring one experience I'll tell you about in a sec).

As your post illustrates, car rental agency size categories do not correlate with comfort or quality or even safety.

As for looks and image: Who cares? Half the cars in Hawaii scream "tourist" beause that's who's driving them. There's no shame in not passing for a local in Hawaii. Nor is there any shame in driving something less than prestigious. It's a rental car. Whatever peer pressure causes people to go into hock for luxury cars on the mainland just doesn't apply for a Hawaii visitor in a rented car.

Smaller cars are easier to park, are smaller targets for others to hit (including with their doors in parking lots), use less gas and (here comes the clincher) are cheaper. So I can't see any reason to rent anything but the cheapest car on offer -- with these exceptions:

1. You really would have fun driving a convertible.

2. Your party has four or more people or a lot of gear and you need the space of a larger car.

3. You need power for uphill or other challenging drives.

Number 3 was an issue for me on the Big Island. When we were driving to the astronomy center halfway up Mauna Kea, our rented PT Cruiser (the cheapest car they had) simply didn't have the power for the job. I had the gas pedal floored and other cars were piling up behind me, getting very angry. I definitely could have used more muscle.

South Pole
Level Contributor
41,180 posts
4 reviews
4. Re: Car rental question - best size to rent?

>>> As for looks and image: Who cares? Half the cars in Hawaii scream "tourist" beause that's who's driving them. There's no shame in not passing for a local in Hawaii.

Itʻs not at all a question of passing for a local, which in not going to happen. Half the cars on my side of the island are certainly not driven by tourists. Iʻd say not one in 20 are rentals, and there just isnʻt that acceptance of tourists over here that there is west side.

I absolutely disagree that tourists of the east side should not attempt to fit in a little. People over here donʻt like to have the look of their community changed by tourism. You can come, but you should be humble. Humility is the deal over here. Jeeps and convertibles are not humble. They cost more, and that is conspicuous consumption, and that puts a gap between you and the people here, and it definitely can make you a target with the criminal element.

Example: community meeting in my area discussing car rental breakins, opinion of local guy who is well respected was: "simple, donʻt drive convertibles and make yourself a target." His attitude was that if people arenʻt bright enough to get that, they should expect problems. This is a rural farming and mill area; it does not live by the tourist dollar and has very little tolerance of people who say so what, I am a tourist. Stay in Kailua Kona and South Kohala if you want the island to revolve around you. If you want to see the real Hawaiʻi, be prepared to meet it halfway or it will blow you off. (I do consider South Kohala to have plenty of the real Hawaiʻi in terms of cultural history and performance, but the people who interact with tourists there are generally into the tourism culture as a dominant feature of the area.)

Edited: 6:02 pm, July 22, 2013
South Pole
Level Contributor
41,180 posts
4 reviews
5. Re: Car rental question - best size to rent?

PS. I donʻt drive a compact because itʻs hard to see the road from behind the trucks. Again, this is east side and Hamakua.

Parking is not an issue. There is plenty of parking, except for in old downtown Hilo. At worst you may have to walk from a little farther out in the lot.

So I guess I am saying it depends on how much time you want to spend in the rugged, rural areas with funky weather. If very little, and more in town, resort, good weather, then a small car is fine.

Destination Expert
for Oahu
Level Contributor
49,073 posts
18 reviews
6. Re: Car rental question - best size to rent?

You are renting over Thanksgiving, but (give thanks that) you are arriving before the rush.

This is my personal approach ... but I always use Hertz because I want a Toyota or a Ford. And I want the smallest they have -- because I have a very difficult time seeing out of the low-slung larger cars. (I drive a higher profile car at home ... so I can see!)

I am a member of their "club," and I get a AAA (or in your case CAA) discount.

I really, really hate Dodges and Chevys, etc. ... and would probably have a hissy fit if I had to pay money to drive one. We all have our preferences, and that's how I deal with mine.

Edited: 6:12 pm, July 22, 2013
South Pacific
Level Contributor
4,871 posts
5 reviews
7. Re: Car rental question - best size to rent?

There are a few things to consider before deciding on what kind of car. For one thing, how much driving will you be doing?? If you're just going a few miles each day to go to restaurants, shopping, etc., does it really matter if it's a full size car and a gas guzzler?? I ask this because a lot of people that go to the Big Island almost never leave their resort/hotel except maybe to go eat. If you're going to be driving all over the island, then yes, maybe a smaller car would be better. Some of the Ford Focuses are hatchbacks and so your luggage and stuff would be exposed. They're definitely not very big and if you're a big like me, I wouldn't go for a small car like that. And on the Big Island, are there really a lot of places that have "micro" parking spots?? I know in Honolulu/Waikiki this might be a problem. Another factor of course is how much luggage you'll have and how big is it? Many compact cars won't even fit 2 large suitcases.

Level Contributor
2,272 posts
3 reviews
8. Re: Car rental question - best size to rent?

<<I absolutely disagree that tourists of the east side should not attempt to fit in a little.>>

Attempts to fit in anywhere are a show of respect to the locals -- from saying "grazie" in Rome to bowing in Japan to not saying "Pass the ketchup" in Paris. I'm all for being a good guest and showing my hosts respect. I just don't think spending more on a rental car contributes to this in any way.

South Pole
Level Contributor
41,180 posts
4 reviews
9. Re: Car rental question - best size to rent?

I didnʻt say that spending more on a car indicates respect. The only reason to spend more for more size is to have enough capacity and comfort for the job, and possibly more safety (more strength engineered into the car).

Spending more on cars that are perceived to be more "fun" when they are out of place in the context, is a bad idea.

The car you are driving is the only way you will interface with a lot of people; they donʻt see you; they see the car. The car says something about whether you bothered to find out where you were visiting, whether you care.

I agree with BLBL about seeing over bigger cars with standard profiles on the road. There was a time in my life when I had to drive a huge gas guzzler because of a long story, anyhow, it was not my selection. It had six whole feet of hood length sticking out in front of it; what a nightmare.

The island has a lot of spaces striped as compact, but they are not micro. If they were, full sized trucks would not be able to fit in them, which they do. Snugly.

Kamloops, Canada
Level Contributor
609 posts
4 reviews
10. Re: Car rental question - best size to rent?

Ok, perhaps a bit more info re our history and needs will be in order here.

We live on a farm in rural BC so at home we typically drive either a full size pick up or else an SUV as we have a VERY challenging driveway in the wintertime! So we are definitely comfortable in larger vehicles.

But having said that, we still like to try to be fuel economy conscious - especially when travelling.

Accommodation wise, we arrive on the BI at noon on the 17th and will pick up rental car and immediately head over to our two nights accommodation in Volcano. Then starting Nov 19, will spend the duration of our time at a condo rental in Kohala (Mauna Lani Golf Villas).

We are definitely NOT resort people. Don't get me wrong - we probably will spend a couple hrs here and there reading on the beach or by the pool and will do some snorkeling in the area as well. However we are definitely not the kind of folks who just stay in one place and hang out at a resort - that is definitely not our style!

We are very much explorers and really like to get out and about and see as much of a place as we can, but not setting a frenetic pace while doing so. For that reason, we are not planning a day to day itinerary but rather having a loose idea of places we want to go and see, but letting them fall into place as they may, depending on weather, how we feel etc. Definitely want to do some hiking, snorkeling, horseback rides, visiting cultural and historic spots, and possibly even some diving.

Because we come from and enjoy a rural lifestyle we are hoping to try to visit some coffee farms and other types of agricultural operations if we can. Also since we are "horsey folks" we plan to take in (as in spectate at) any horse events that might be going on in the area as well. But I expect all of these will still be accessible by regular car so don't foresee a need for any sort of "special" vehicle for doing this.

So with this in mind, I anticipate that we'll likely be doing a fair amount of driving around - doing day trips out from the resort to see various areas etc. So, accordingly, I anticipate we'll be spending a good amount of time in the car.

Vehicle wise, definitely don't want an SUV. I drive one of these each day and so they have no appeal to me. Although they are nice because you are sitting high and they have good visibility, they do tend to be hard on gas, and worst of all, do not have a trunk so all your belongings are in open view all the time.

Also, because we both drive utility type vehicles at home, we actually quite enjoy the change of getting to drive a regular car while on vacation.

Would never rent a jeep nor a convertible. Think the former are kind of useless for the reasons above (hard on fuel, not secure) and actually grew up with a convertible so have to admit that to me they really have NO appeal whatsoever (wind blows hair all around face, constantly having to put roof up and down depending on weather, very unsecure and NO trunk space).

It is interesting the different perceptions people have regarding whether or not they are labelled as tourist or not. :)

I guess our style of travel is of mind that we want to be respectful and polite and to try to blend in as much as possible (if possible). As such, we do try make a concerted effort to not stand out as tourists as much as we can, so really don't want a car that draws attention to us as such. We live in a very heavily touristed area here in Canada (thankfully only in summer months though!) and I know how annoying it can be when inundated with clueless tourists driving around in their ostentatious rentals clogging up the roads, lost, trespassing on peoples private property, not knowing which way they are going etc. So definitely don't want to be this sort of person ourselves!

Basically our goal with our rental is to quietly and respectfully travel about, take in the sights that interest us, in a relaxed and comfortable fashion, and to have something that is safe, practical, comfortable, doesn't stand out and most importantly, is not a pig fuel wise.

Hope this helps to clarify our needs a bit better.