Renting a 4x4 to visit the summit of Mauna Kea?
BEWARE HARPERS CAR & TRUCK RENTALS!!
Be sure to take a close look at the tread thickness on all 4 tires of your Harpers 4x4 rental vehicle - your life may depend on it, and Harpers is not concerned about that fact!
In early September 2012, I rented a 4x4 vehicle from Harpers to take my wife and another couple who reside on the Big Island to the summit of Mauna Kea. Harpers’ painstaking inspection and photographing of the vehicle prior to my departure should have been a red flag for me, but I assumed they were just protecting themselves against negligent renters who might abuse their property. I had only one purpose for the day- to drive up the unpaved, volcanic gravel road to the summit observatory at 14,000 ft. elevation, and then to return the vehicle to Harpers, a 4x4 being recommended on many tourist planning websites, and Harpers being mentioned as the only 4x4 vendor in Hilo.
However, I should have checked the tire tread before taking the vehicle, given the importance of it for driving Mauna Kea. Upon arriving at the summit, the park ranger told me that my right rear tire was dangerously soft, and it was clear that it had a slow leak. I changed the tire, but also noted that all four tires had very little tread on them.
Back at Harpers, I told the desk attendant about the soft tire, and pointed out that all the tires were lacking sufficient tread for such a rugged trip. He said that an inspection would be made of the vehicle, and assuming there was no other discernable damage, everything would be fine. Again, I should have remembered his having had me sign off on a clause in the rental contract that said I would take full responsibility for “any damage regardless of fault” to the vehicle, which included the worn tires.
A full month later, after returning home to Connecticut, I received an email report and bill for $190. Harpers sent a photograph that showed a thinly treaded tire with a barely discernable .5 inch line on it, purportedly a cut, perhaps the result of my trip on volcanic gravel, but perhaps not – How could I prove otherwise? The bill credited me $40 for depreciation, and Harpers’ “administrative fee” of $25 was waved because I paid the bill promptly- in effect I was buying Harpers a brand new tire to replace one that should never had been on that road in the first place; or at least that is what I said to their agent over the telephone, and especially questioning the legality of the thin tread.
She told me that the tread of the tire measured “9/32” (that’s a hair over ¼ of an inch!), and that “2/32” of tread is the legal limit in Hawaii, which is, incredibly correct, despite any consideration for the primary conditions under which a tire are used. In this case, the tire was on a vehicle that Harpers knowingly rents to people who are going to visit the summit Mauna Kea at an elevation of 14,000 ft. on an unpaved, volcanic gravel road with no guard rail for its entire length!
Legality aside, if I had known I was driving on such thin tread, I would never have made that trip! Harpers Car Rental seems rto have a clear conscience- and they also have a new tire paid for by me! This practice is apparently by deliberate design- a good percentage of their equipment replacement budget must be paid for by their unwitting customers- and they sleep soundly knowing it is “legal”! Mauna Kea is worth the trip, but you can do it in any type of standard SUV- we saw plenty of them going up and down the volcano just fine. Don’t do it on low tread though, and DON’T DO IT IN A HARPERS RENTAL!!!! They couldn’t care less!