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For a vacation in the southwest USA, we're considering renting a high-clearance vehicle to visit locations such as the Toroweap overlook (also known as Tuweep overlook). Regular car rental classifications appear to classify cars as "Small", "Medium", "Large", "SUV" (all cheap), "Luxury", "Van", or "Convertible" (all expensive). I don't know if any of those may be expected to be high clearance. Independent companies rent actual Jeep Wranglers but judging from cars I've seen on similar high clearance roads in the past, a car like the Jeep Wrangler is overkill. How can I specifically rent a high clearance vehicle, without going all the way to specialised jeep rentals which would triple the rental price?


NB: See also this sister question on whether terms and conditions would allow driving on unpaved dirt roads at all.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – JonathanReez Supports Monica Nov 20 '17 at 16:36
  • Enterprise rents Wranglers for fairly reasonable prices. Have fun! – CramerTV Nov 21 '17 at 2:37
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    You simply can not take rental cars "off road", just forget it. (there are a handful of specialized places that rent them, sometimes unregistered on a trailer, but it's irrelevant to your needs.) – Fattie Nov 21 '17 at 11:44
  • And FWIW as others have said, the whole idea of being able to take on a difficult trail (assuming it is a difficult trail) because you have a vehicle with "high clearance" is nonsensical. It would be like me saying: "I'm really interested in boxing against Floyd Mayweather. Which gloves should I buy?" Or it would be like if I said "I noticed the Beatles have made a lot of money. Which guitar should I buy to do that?" Heh !! :) – Fattie Nov 21 '17 at 11:51
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    @Fattie Although I admit that I don't actually know the difficulty of those specific roads, this is a regularly frequented road to an NPS campsite and trailhead we're talking about, not some remote jungle track through Papua or the Alexander Mackenzie Heritage Trail. I don't agree that driving to an NPS campground or trailhead, where the last 4 km are "high clearance", is comparable to boxing against Mayweather or becoming as famous as the Beatles. – gerrit Nov 21 '17 at 14:37
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You're not the first to want this. This means a couple things. First, the national car rentals are savvy to the requirements of driving in the area, and can counsel you, and may have offerings for your needs.

Second, you are a newbie to this, and they see a dozen people a day who want to off-road but not pay. They know how to head them off or find artful ways to rob them blind. Off-road specialty rentals charge more because their genuine risk is more. Which makes it plain fraud to use false pretenses to get street-driving prices, and gives sly off-roaders no defense against a $1000 cleaning charge or $2000 for "suspension repairs". You don't want to get caught up in that meat grinder.

The answer is, contact the auto rental's local office, who knows the territory, and tell them what you plan to use the car for. Ask for their best rate under those conditions. Get a usage waiver in writing, because words mean nothing. Then check with your own insurance too.

I know you're not off-roading, but a 406MHz ELT is a really, really, really good thing to have. Hokey things like "SPOT" are not the same.

  • My SPOT has worked flawlessly for the last 4 years while riding motorcycles in the California deserts and mountains. I recommend one to anyone who may be out of cell phone range, whether they are in the back country or in the middle of a large body of water. Beacons are great too but the SPOT allows a Distress call to first responders, a Help message to whomever you've identified for help, and a customizable message to whomever you set it up to go to. It also allows folks to see where you are using the world wide web (if you turn it on and give them the link.) I would never call it hokey. – CramerTV Nov 21 '17 at 2:33
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You will not be able to specifically reserve a High Clearance vehicle since that is not an feature most agencies surface. An alternative is of course specialty agencies.

However, you can ultimately choose a High Clearance vehicle by working the system just a bit. Here's some tips:

  1. High Clearance is >=8 inches (20 cm) and many SUVs (Sport Utility Vehicles) meet this.
  2. Book a mid-sized or higher SUV but prepare to be flexible on features and price.
  3. Bing and Google are your friend. When you get to the counter and learn the exactly vehicle, search it with 'ground clearance'. It's very easy to ask for something else.* The Agent won't ask what you searching, and if they do, just say 'safety ratings'.
  4. You can pre-search the SUVs a particular agency features to save time.

There's lots of YouTube videos on the Toroweap Overlook road, many in apparently factory SUV's.

This site describes the road as 'easy to moderate' and 'suitable for passenger cars': AZ Offroading

*For clarity, this is not at all unusual, to request a different vehicle than the one assigned. Frequent renters do this to get specific features or even cars they prefer.

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    As for the Toroweap Overlook, NPS says only the last 4 km need high clearance. – gerrit Nov 19 '17 at 16:24
  • @gerrit Yep, but if it's a meter, might as well be a mile. ;) – Johns-305 Nov 19 '17 at 16:26
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    I can walk a metre. I can also walk 4 km, but perhaps not if I need to carry in water for 3 days. – gerrit Nov 19 '17 at 16:52
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    @gerrit Kayak? You need to look at the specific agencies, Budget, Avis, Dollar, etc. Note, I said mid size or higher which means Grand Cherokee to a Tahoe. Each agency may have slightly different ratings. – Johns-305 Nov 19 '17 at 18:22
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    @gerrit Absolutely. Do it regularly to get a care that has Bluetooth or some other useful feature. It's not unusual at all. Beware, this will give them an opportunity to upsell you! – Johns-305 Nov 19 '17 at 22:21
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An alternative option, especially if you're from the US, is to see if you can find a vehicle for sale on the likes of Craigslist. If you can buy a vehicle and drive it for a couple of days, then you can probably sell it for less than it would cost you to rent one. Of course then you still have to deal with the hassle of selling it again, depending on your time commitments, maybe that's worth it.

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    Buying a vehicle involves paying taxes on the sale. Even if you bought and sold it for the same price, you'd still have a tax bill to worry about. And title/registration fees. – JPhi1618 Nov 20 '17 at 16:28
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    This site has a question on that alternative. I very strongly suspect that I can not buy + sell a vehicle after a couple of days for less than it would cost me to rent one (maybe an experienced used car buyer/seller can). And with buying a car, I would have no clue how many days or weeks it would take before I get approved (or rejected!) by an insurance company in order to drive it. Also, I wouldn't want to drive a crappy old car of unknown maintenance state to a remote backroad in the Arizona Strip. – gerrit Nov 20 '17 at 16:50
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    @JPhi1618 in most (all?) states, you have about 30 days to register. In Arkansas, at least, if you spend less than I think it's $4,600 on the car there's no sales tax due. And the titles come with a handy dandy bill o' sale on the back - several actually, so the car can be sold a couple of times before you have to register it. In Arkansas, as well, your existing insurance (probably) covers the car while you're driving it. Of course specifics will vary by state to state, and renting is probably easier all around, but buying is an option a cost-conscious individual could consider. – Wayne Werner Nov 20 '17 at 17:32
  • @WayneWerner, interesting - I thought you had to register a car in order to sell it unless you were a dealer (only the registered owner can sell it). I'll have to see what the rules are in Texas. Thanks for the counterpoint. – JPhi1618 Nov 20 '17 at 19:02
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We had (almost) exactly the same plan last year when we were camping on Point Sublime. We had booked the largest SUV to drive around the states (even with full insurance), but didn't want to take the risk of getting it stuck in the mud in the middle of nowhere. So we additionally reserved a dedicated off-road jeep locally for two days (all-in cost about $200 for six people).

We got lucky and actually got the biggest car in the lot (Chevrolet Suburban, 4-wheel drive, higher than normal ground clearance). We kept an eye on the weather, checked with a local park ranger, which assured us the road was "in really good conditions" and decided to cancel the jeep and go for it with the Chevy.

Everyone has his own definition of "Good conditions"; we made it, but it was still a difficult ride. If we didn't have that much ground clearance, we would have scraped the bottom of the car over the rocky road or got stuck.

So I'd still advise to get the proper vehicle for the job and definitely inform with the park rangers about road conditions.

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