It’s nearly four years since I last drove in the USA (or indeed anywhere abroad). Has anything changed?
Not much. With the benefit of experience, a couple of things I got right while making the booking…
(1) Make sure you buy the right insurance as part of your booking. Many Americans will have insurance that covers them no matter what they are driving, so it’s possible to make a rental car reservation with no insurance cover (not even third party) at all. This is almost certainly not what the travelling Brit wants. The quickest way to avoid this is to book before you travel, and use the UK website of one of the big car hire firms. Avis certainly get this right.
(2) Don’t skimp. For driving on US roads, especially freeways and interstates, you want a decent amount of power under your right foot to avoid feeling like you’re in an under-powered roller skate. I went for a “large automatic” which turned out to be a Chevy Malibu.
The Chevy was perfectly fine and had a few more toys on it than my last US hire (also a Chevy); in particular the steering fights back against you if it thinks you’re drifting out of lane - quite useful once you realize that’s what it’s doing - and it beeps at you if you get too close to the vehicle in front. Or screams and beeps most disconcertingly if a pedestrian walks in front of you while you’re in motion (even at 5mph in a car park).
The gas tank is enormous (I clocked up nearly 500 miles without a refil) and the seats are comfy enough to sit in for five or six hours with infrequent rest stops.
Same as last time, the only thing I really struggled with were the four-way junctions with stop signs and no traffic lights. You “simply” have to take your turn with everyone else stopped.
The only annoyance with the Malibu was that it claimed to have Android Auto. Excellent! I’ve never used this before but as I understand it, the car’s screen displays Android from your phone, so you can sort out music and maps in a manner fully integrated with the display and controls on the steering wheel, etc.
Unfortunately, despite claiming to pair with my phone, I never got Android up on the display. I’m not sure whether to blame the car or the phone for this (or my travelling stock of USB-C cables, though I did try four different ones), but if it doesn’t Just Work with a stock Google phone like a Pixel 6a, what’s the point? Music over bluetooth and Google Maps shouting directions aloud had to suffice.