I have never rented a car before, nor have I ever been to Colorado before, but I am planning a trip that will involve both - specifically, I plan to fly into Denver and then go rafting with one of the full-day outfitters running trips leaving from the vicinity of Buena Vista.

My question is: I get the impression rental places love giving you crappy cars unless you pay a premium, which I would like to avoid doing, so I'll end up with a tiny and possibly old car, which I'm fine with, we pack light, but I would love someone from that area to ease my worry that I might have problems driving that way (I'm sure the rental place will try to convince me I will when I get there). Is the 285 between Denver and Salida windy or steep enough that I could have trouble if I didn't upgrade to a bigger/nicer car?

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    I've done that road in a Miata. I can't think of any reason a car of any size wouldn't make it, as long as it's in reasonably good working order. Mar 5, 2015 at 4:26
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    I don't know where you are from but in Europe cars are smaller on average than in North America. Roads are still steep, windy, wet or whatever, and cars are always adapted - as @TomHarrington said, as long as they are in reasonably good working order
    – Vince
    Mar 5, 2015 at 5:02
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    You need to assume you might get the car you booked, so pick something you'd be happy driving. You might get a 1 class free upgrade, or you might get offered a cheap upgrade deal, but you can't count on either!
    – Gagravarr
    Mar 5, 2015 at 5:20
  • I haven't done the specific route but I've taken a cheap rental over the 10,000' pass on the interstate and I've taken it on the high road through Estes? park, no problems at all. Mar 6, 2015 at 3:23

2 Answers 2


Just to supplement Rory Alsop's answer: I've driven that road, and didn't think it was excessively steep or windy. I was in a pickup truck, but small cars on the road didn't seem to have any trouble. I routinely drive steeper and windier roads in a Honda Civic. I think any modern car in good working order will be just fine, even a compact or economy model.

(If you're not from the US, note that cars here are more powerful than in many other parts of the world. Even the smallest cars on the US market today have at least a 1.5 L engine producing well over 100 hp (75 kW). (Oh, sorry, your profile says California so you know this. But I'll leave it for the benefit of future readers.))

The major car rental agencies provide a pretty good product, in my experience. The cheaper classes of rental cars will be smaller but they won't be crappy (unless you're the kind of person that thinks anything smaller than a Lincoln Town Car is inherently crappy). "Tiny" is perhaps relative, though I expect you won't find anything smaller than a 4-door compact sedan, like a Toyota Yaris. Major rental agencies usually keep their cars only a short time and then sell them, so the car you get will likely be less than a couple years old, and less than 30,000 miles or so. Whenever I've rented, I've found the vehicles to be in perfect working order. There is a good chance they will try to convince you to upgrade to a larger vehicle, but there's no real need for you to do so.

If you don't have experience driving in mountains, you might look up some relevant driving tips before you go. The main ones are (1) slow down, and (2) downshift when going downhill to take advantage of engine braking and avoid overheating your regular brakes, which makes them not work. It's also wise to keep an eye on your temperature gauge when going up, as this increases load on your engine and increases the risk of overheating, but modern cars are much less subject to this than older vehicles.

(Let's see, you're from Long Beach. I've lived in Southern California too - I would say US-285 is a little more steep/windy than I-5 over the Grapevine, but considerably less so than the Angeles Crest Highway (CA-2)).

(Note: Based on your mention of rafting, I'm assuming your trip will be in the summer. If you're going in winter, my advice would change - you'd want to consider renting a vehicle with four-wheel drive, as that region gets a considerable amount of snow.)

  • I drive a Honda Civic, so I know how those drive well, and would have zero concern driving one. I don't, however, know anything about driving a Yaris, which I'm assuming is what I'll end up with (or something like it), and which is why I was asking. Thanks! That said: I'm not talking about the winter, but I am talking about late May, which is sort of in the middle. I suppose I probably should have specified - not sure how late snow lasts in that part of the country, either.
    – neminem
    Mar 5, 2015 at 17:48
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    @neminem: A Yaris is slightly smaller than a Civic but not really that different. I wouldn't worry. If it makes you feel better, you could go for the "intermediate" or "midsize" class, which should be something like a Civic; they're often only a little more expensive. In late May there is a slight chance of snow but probably not worth worrying about either; just check the weather before going, and in case there is a lot of snow in one of the high passes, consider waiting a little while for it to be cleared. Mar 5, 2015 at 17:52
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    Just wanted to thank you again for the answer - just got back from the trip, where Advantage, as expected, did try to tell me that the car I'd arranged wasn't good enough for the trip and I should pay 60 more bucks for a bigger one. I was so glad I could say truthfully that I'd asked on a forum, and gotten a response from a Colorado native who said quite strongly otherwise, which shut her up. The car I got, having not bought the upsell, was a little smaller than a Civic, but absolutely performed just as well, and had no issues with any part of the trip. Thanks!
    – neminem
    May 28, 2015 at 16:05

Unless you are planning on taking some very out of the way trails (in which case I'd suggest renting a pickup truck) the 285 is a pretty good road, from all the info I can find online.

A small car is not going to present a problem if you are just packing light. You wouldn't want to try and shoehorn a lot of heavy luggage into one, but small rental cars will be just fine on that road.

When I go somewhere without the family, I often rent one of the next class up, but this is more for comfort than any need for a car to be capable of taking the roads.

And in my experience (mostly Avis, Hertz, Europcar and similar tier 1 car rental companies) they don't want to provide crappy cars. They would prefer repeat business.

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