How to be sure I get the size vehicle I need?

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Dec 5, 2014
Next July I need to rent a large SUV (like a Chevy Suburban, Ford Excursion ) in Seattle for a ten day trip with 7 family members and all of our luggage. My experience both as a consumer and as a former employee of a car rental company is that you can never count on your reservation being honored. A few years ago I reserved a regular size SUV for a family trip out of Denver, but at the airport all that Hertz had and would offer was a small SUV which was quite cramped for our vacation. This year our family has expanded to include son-in-law and significant other, so we really need a larger vehicle.

Many years ago (several decades ago, really), I worked in the national headquarters handling complaints for one of the "big three" car rental companies of the era, a post from which I saw any number of things go awry. In one instance, our company had a major promotion for rentals in Florida at Easter with "guaranteed reservations" prominently featured in the promotion. Of course - as usual - there were more renters than cars at the airport counters in Florida, and since it was a holiday weekend, there were no additional cars to be rented from the competitors at the next booths, so our customers were just out of luck and without the cars they had reserved. (We in the complaint department were instructed to tell callers that while we did not have the cars, we did indeed have their "guaranteed reservations" - "right there on the screen" in front of us. (This was not a very successful customer relations tactic, I can assure you, but it is what we were instructed to say). Then there was the time that a renter in Boston complained that the rental staff had not cleaned the trunk of the car. How did this renter know this? Because when he opened the trunk to put in his luggage, he found a murdered dead body in it. And so on.

But I digress. My question is, we need one of those really-large SUV's for this trip...and I don't think I can trust anyone to honor a reservation specifying this. Does anyone have suggestions as to how to maximize my chances of getting the vehicle I need? I'm willing to go off-airport, and price is, within reason, not a primary concern.

Thank you.
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Grant Ritchie

Dependable adequacy :-)
Oct 1, 2014
Dear m/m/m,

I'm one of Chris' assistants. Below are several different ideas:

1) Here's a link to a rental vehicle search engine that covers Seattle and SUVs. They only seem to search oddball companies that you've never heard of, but if they can find what you want, what the heck:

2) Posting a question on for the city in which you'll be renting can sometimes yield helpful information. Here's an example from San Francisco:

3) Here's a link to a Google page about guaranteeing an SUV rental:

4) Consider making multiple reservations, then going from company to company until you get what you want.

5) I believe some companies have rental options which say, "Book this exact vehicle." That would give you a better chance of getting an SUV.

Hope this helps!

Grant Ritchie


Oct 1, 2014
Call ahead 24 hours or more to the renting location and explain your situation. Call at the same time as you plan to arrive and ask to speak to a manager. Be sure that person will be there when you arrive. If not, get the name of someone who will and speak to that person. No guaranty but it will help. Did that once with a van and had no issues. My problem often goes the other way -- I reserve a small car and get stuck with an SUV.

Good luck.


The suggestion to read Yelp had me go look and I cringed when the poster, who wants to go to Tahoe, was told about Enterprise. Enterprise doesn't allow cars rented in our area to go to the Nevada side of Tahoe. SO you need to take any reviews with a critical eye.

You can call the car company and have them put a note in the reservation. I can do it in my GDS, but I have noticed that I can't do that online. A call to the rental desk where you are going to pick up the car is a good suggestion, but since you have worked for rental car company, you know they won't guarantee a car as people don't show up to get their reserved cars, so if someone wants your car type and they are down to one, you lose. Off site location, if near an airport do share cars, so you might call and find out how many SUV's they tend to have for rentals. If you are flying into a major airport, you usually have better luck on a car type than smaller airports.
Nov 22, 2014
This is purely anecdotal, but arriving earlier in the day seems to improve your chances. When I arrive in the late evening the stock of available cars seems depleted. This is particularly true in the smaller airports. Your odds are good in Seattle where the rental counters and vehicles are located in the same satellite building, and traffic is heavy
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