Renting a car in Cuba: Keep the lead out

  I guess if I reserve through the same agency, for pickup at the same rental office, I shouldn’t be surprised to get the same car. So there awaiting me was my old friend the Accent, still with some shine to its wedding dress-white paint, but bearing an extra year of scuffs, and a trunk badge that read H UNDAI – the missing letter no doubt a trophy for some Generation Y’er.
   Three years ago, this car was nearly new. Now, 65,000 Cuban rental kilometres later, its springs had some extra bounce, yet the ride, overall, remained reasonably smooth.
   The engine, unfortunately, hadn’t fared as well. It felt and sounded coarse, with less power than I remembered. One afternoon in Havana, it seemed so fuel-starved, I wondered if I would be joining the roadside legion of hitchhikers. Despite this, fuel consumption was up.
   My guess? By accident or intent, it’s had a few tankfuls of “regular” gas, instead of the pricier “special gasoline” (1.10 CUC a litre on my visit) mandated for rental cars. Cuba’s regular gas contains lead – fine for the Blue Flame Six in a ’54 Chevy; not so fine for the sensors, catalytic converter and other innards of a modern car.
   I had two flat tires, both slow leaks. The first was from a ripped sidewall; the clerk at the agency office put on a new tire. Then, as I returned the car at the end of the rental, I noticed a different tire going flat. Lucky timing. Always check your spare.
   Next instalment: How to book; how much you’ll pay.


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