Rental car (hog)wash

Nobody ever washes a rental car.

I need a label for this kind of nostrum, which lives in the same apartment building as the notion that “Eskimos” have 28 or 36 or 72 different words for snow.

Maybe the label is thinsight — a rhetorical optical illusion.

Image by Doug Wilson, iboy_daniel; Creative Commons license; some rights reservedGranted, the sentence is direct and pithy. It connects with a person’s own observations: I certainly haven’t washed a rental car. Nobody I’ve worked with has washed one.

The hidden “moral” seems to relate to initiative, or ownership, or empowerment, or some other Good Thing. If it were my car, I’d wash it. (That’s not necessarily the case; if it were my car, I might wash it twice a year, if I could squeeze that in to my schedule.)

So we have a rhetorical attention-grabber that can resonate with your audience.

Too bad it’s nonsense.

I’ve probably rented cars from more than a dozen companies in more than a hundred locations. I will bet a week’s rental in New York City against a box of stale doughnuts that every one of those locations had a car wash.

And a car washer: someone responsible for cleaning returned cars so they’d be ready for the next customer.

In other words, not only do people wash rental cars, companies pay people to wash them — because a washed rental car is a CTQ: a critical-to-quality element for a rental company.

Your CTQs for a rental car might not all match mine, but you’d probably agree on: reliable. Safe. Available.

And clean.

The contract doesn’t obligate the customer to do the washing. You could argue that the company wants the customer to feel free not to wash the car. When you rent from Acme, you’re buying transportation, convenience, security, and you’re also buying freedom from maintenance.

It’s untrue (and a little silly) to claim that no one washes a rental car. A clean car is a given, so someone’s doing the washing. No customer does, but then, customers at restaurants almost never wash the dishes.

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