Friday, 9 November 2018

Should you rent an RV with JUCY USA?

As you may have seen from the barrage of Instagram stories I have posted lately (@DigitalScarlett), I recently rented a car from Jucy USA RV Rentals at their San Francisco Branch. You may have heard of the company as I spoke about them earlier this year as I rented from them twice while in New Zealand. In New Zealand, however, I just rented a car, not a car-turned-RV. I have to say though, my experience with them in New Zealand was far better than in the USA when it comes to both cost and customer service. 

Follow me as I look at how much it costs, my experience with the company, and the benefits and downsides to renting through Jucy. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to leave a comment and I'll get back to you as soon as possible! 

(If you get bored, scroll down to the bottom to see my overall opinion).
My Jucy dwarfed by the Giant Redwood Trees.

First things first, how much did it cost me to rent a Jucy RV for three days?
  • Base rental fee: 
    • $48 (£37) per night * 3 = $144 (£112) from 2pm Monday until 11am Thursday. 
    • Note, I chose the 2-person model without the 'penthouse' roof tent but they only had a model with it included left (a 4-person birth) so I got that for 'no extra charge', even though I didn't want it as I was worried about fuel economy with it on... but anyway.
  • Mileage:
    • Note, because it is low season, I received 100 miles per night for free. I received a further 100 miles extra for free for checking-in on YELP upon arrival.
    • I opted for an extra 100 miles for $12 per night to bring me up to 700 miles. Note, you cannot choose how many nights you want the extra 100 miles for $12, you have to do it for the entire length of rental so I had to go for an extra 300 miles for $36 (£28).
    • HOWEVER, I ended up going over my limit of 700 miles (which I will discuss shortly), and ended up being charged a further $60 (£46) because if you do not buy an unlimited miles package (the next level up), you are charged 25 cents per mile. I went 240 miles over, hence the $60.
      • Overall: $100 (£76)

  • Insurance:
    • I did not get my insurance through Jucy. These days, I never buy car rental insurance from the car rental agency itself as it is always extortionate. At Jucy you have 3 levels: $10 per night, $15 per night, or $25 per night. Either way, it ends up being rather pricey by the end of it if you want to stay safe. Instead, I went to worldwideinsurance.com and took out a 3-day campervan policy. Initially, I purchased a car insurance policy but was advised at Jucy they may not honour it given it's a conversion. I got a refund on the car policy and got the campervan policy at £30 for the 3 nights to cover everything that the $25 a night policy covered with Jucy. 
      • Overall: £30.

  • Fuel:
    • As I have mentioned, I did nearly 1,000 miles! 940 miles to be exact. This ended up costing me $130 (£100) in fuel. Far more economical than my car back home to be clear.

  • Overall: £112 + £76 + £40 = A staggering £228 for a 3-day rental + £100 fuel = £328!
Inside view of the rear.

Benefits
  • No young drivers fee! One of the only rental places I have found in America that does not charge you extra if you are under 25. You do, however, have to be at least 21 to rent one of these vehicles. 

  • The car is super convenient/ practical: I actually loved the car itself. It was really handy - when you opened the rear door there was an entire kitchen set-up there - including a sink, chopping board, 2 gas stoves, a fridge, kitchen utensils, pots, pans etc! (Note, as I will go on to discuss, this is expensive in the summer season).

    I love the fact there was a second battery that meant you could keep your stuff cold all night and that you could charge your phone overnight in one of the several USB ports too. There was plenty of space for 2 people - the bed was easy to fold out and pack away as well. I didn't get to try out my roof-top tent because I had no need to but it looked robust enough.

    In the back, once you'd folded the bed away, you could then fold out a table if you wanted too that was built into the car and the perfect space to eat. There was also a large storage box under the table which is supposed to fit 2 large suitcases and 2 small ones... though I think that would be a squeeze/ hassle getting them in and out. I couldn't even be bothered to get my one bag out so just kept most of the stuff I needed in reach and put the rest below but it was handy anyway to keep stuff out of the way of prying eyes.
  •  Ease of driving: I mean, I honestly have no idea how I racked up nearly 1,000 miles. I know I drove 16,500 miles to Mongolia this summer but.. this was nearly a new record for me in less than 3 days. Part of this was due to the ease of driving. The seats were easy to control and were comfortable. Best of all, however, it has cruise control! I know most Americans are used to this but I have never used cruise control in my life because I rarely ever drive automatics either. The two factors combined meant it was a breeze to drive.
  • Ease of parking: Unlike a regular RV, this baby could be parked anywhere. I did not have to worry about height restrictions or being too obvious parked up anywhere. I mean, ok, the purple and green writing that says 'RV' on the side didn't help but generally it was rather inconspicuous and easy to get around in. As someone who has never driven an RV, I would worry about manoeuvring such a large vehicle. I didn't have that problem here though.
Downsides
  • Customer Service: This was my biggest pet peeve with the company. I have written a detailed explanation below this section on what went wrong/ why this irritated me so much.
  • Timing: It is a HUGE inconvenience to have such limited pick-up/ drop-off times. The earliest you can pick up your vehicle is at 1pm while the latest you can drop it off is at 11am. That is, without incurring an additional fee. From mid-October till the end of April you were only charged $35 for this fee but usually its $55. And, as you will read below, even if they say 1pm and you arrive early to ensure you get it on time, you may still be let down. 

  • Cost: There are actually several more fees that one would usually incur if you were renting during the peak period. Some of my favourite things about the car included the free 'Personal Kit', that is, the free bedding and towels provided, as well as the 'Provisioning Kit' which included cooking equipment and utensils. However, these perks are astoundingly expensive during the summer months. $50 for the Personal Kit and $150 for the Provisioning Kit!

    Of course, there is the issue of miles - it is expensive to add on unlimited mileage - something I found was definitely needed in America given its vast size. Further, don't forget there are taxes added on top of all of this. That's not Jucy's fault but you don't see it easily in the prices - be sure to check the 'total cost' not the cost per night as that's where they add it on. 

  • The car itself: Though I raved about the RV, there were some minor downsides. Well, actually, one of the biggest downsides which is really rather inconvenient is the lack of decent curtains/ blinds. Mine just constantly fell down and there weren't even any provided for the front window or driver/ passenger door. When I was sat up in bed on my laptop late at night, everyone could see me through the window. Even the windows with blinds were very dodgy. They all needed to be replaced.

    One minor thing - I wish I could have connected my phone via Bluetooth! That's more of a 'me' issue than a 'them' issue though - you could do it by aux cable but I'd forgotten the headphone adapter for my iPhone so couldn't do it. The car also came up with an oil replacement warning light and I didn't know what to do/ whether I had to pay for more oil so I just left it and they told me that it comes on all the time... odd thing to do. Oh, and the fridge is super noisy at night!
  • Hidden fees: Be careful you don't get extra charges. Be sure you empty your water tank before you return it or you will be heavily fined. Further, make sure you pay for all road tolls/ bridges in advance otherwise they charge an admin fee to cover them. I have also seen people complaining about a $700 fee for taking the car to Burning Man so be cautious of that. Oh, and don't do a me - keep track of your mileage and ensure you get it before leaving the place so you don't face a $60 charge (or worse) like I did!

Problems with Customer Service
Frankly, this review would all be glowingly positive if it wasn't for the customer service I received. I'll be honest, I loved the car and could have perhaps even stomached the cost if it hadn't been for the difficulties I had dealing with the company/ extra fees.

First things first: I arrived to the Jucy rental location one hour early. Frankly, I knew it would take them a while to get the paperwork in order and I wanted to be sure I could leave at 1pm as I had a long drive ahead of me. However, I was told if I wanted to start early I would be charged an early pick-up fee of $30 (usually $55 during peak season). Obviously, I declined but hoped things would be sorted out shortly. Unfortunately, however, 2pm rolled around and I STILL hadn't gotten my car. It was 2:15pm before I drove out of the door. I roamed around for one hour bored, waiting to pick up and wanting to fill out paperwork but instead, they forced me to wait then kept me waiting for an extra hour more. Not a good start.

Next, I hit a problem when I realised they had not written the number of miles the car started with on any of my documents. I say any of them... turns out they only gave me one piece of paper. While trying to find the number of miles the car had on this piece of paper, I realised she ignored my request to add the extra 100 miles at $12 per days. I had asked her to do this but then she went off with another customer and must have forgotten my request and so I had not been charged nor received these miles - something I knew would cause problems upon return.

Consequently, I tried to contact the Jucy office by phone but my English mobile would not let me call them. I then e-mailed them and heard nothing back. I was able to contact someone on their Instagram but they also took ages to respond. Later, in their defence, I found out they had sent the miles through by e-mail but it had gone straight to my junk box. It was also too late as I had already gone over my mileage limit by the time they had sent it and knew to get back I'd have to pay 25 cents per mile. 

At the office, they initially thought about charging me $130 for the extra mileage as I had not booked the $12 per day 100 extra miles package (which I had asked to do)... instead, they made it sound like they were doing me a favour by allowing me to now buy that package and to then pay an extra $60 on top for the mileage that went over despite having no way of checking what the mileage was at when I first set off. I was told by customer services there should have been the mileage written down on the contract I signed but the box was empty on my sheet and the staff at the local Jucy in San Francisco told me they don't bother filling it out if you're returning to the same store - even though the customer needs to know this!

Anyway, I have now asked Jucy for a refund for the $60 as there wasn't any way I could know the mileage as they never told me - so I'll let you know how that goes. I should say though, the man that took back my car was the sweetest guy ever. I had a very emotional day with some bad family news and he was so sweet and kind to me, he really cheered me up and made me feel like he cared. The lady in the office, however, was far more focused on sternly smiling with a fake-cheery tone... odd!

OVERALL VERDICT: TO RENT OR NOT TO RENT?
Overall, I would give my experience with Jucy a 6.5 out of 10. I would recommend the company based on the fact that I absolutely loved the car and that it is perfect for adventuring around California. However, I would say it is best suited for 3 people - that is, to help split the costs while still remaining comfortable/ having enough space for bags. 

I'd also say my recommendation of the company depends on what time of year you are renting. During the off-season, the car/ RV is way more affordable than during peak months. During peak months they charge you extra for EVERYTHING, including an increased cost of rental in the first place. Winter months are far more flexible/ generous and everywhere is quieter so it's easy to park for the night as well.

Finally, just be sure too that you double-check everything you are signing, even if they try to rush you through it, to make sure you have everything you listed and that you have paid for what you are expecting to get so you don't return to any nasty surprises! I hope for your sake that you never need to contact customer service either...

Enjoy and good luck! :).

Let me know if you decide to rent one in the comments below.