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The Car Rental

We’ve been renting a car for the last couple of months and have been happy with the car and the rental company — no real problems…until yesterday.

In the afternoon, my wife didn’t leave to pick up my daughter from school. She didn’t leave because the car wouldn’t start.  The elementary school is only 10 minutes away by foot.  After trying to get the car started for 10 minutes, she finally left on foot.

We contacted the rental company and they tried to help us start the car over the phone. They asked the obvious questions, asked us to do this and to do that, and eventually came to the conclusion that the car really wouldn’t start.  They told us that a mechanic would be sent to resolve the problem.

About 30 or 40 minutes later, the mechanic arrived.  As you might expect, he didn’t speak English.  He fooled around with the car, poked here, fiddled there, and seemingly came to some conclusion. The nature of his conclusion remained a mystery for a while until he had the rather clever idea of calling someone at his company who could speak English. He explained the problem into his phone and then handed me the phone.

I was told that the problem must be with the LATECOT. LATECOT is a technical term that I’m pretty sure you don’t know. My confidence comes from the fact that I just made up the term since I don’t know what it is really called.  LATECOT is an acronym for the little anti-theft engine cut-off thingy.

To start the car, you first need to enter a 4-digit code into this little box (the LATECOT). If you enter the code properly, the LATECOT makes this “you win” sound and you’re allowed to start the engine.  If you don’t enter a code (or if you enter the wrong code), then the engine will start, run for a few seconds, and then shutdown.

I was told that someone from the LATECOT company would call us in about 10 minutes.  After 30 or 40 minutes, the call arrived.  The LATECOT technician asked me to reset (or perhaps disable) the box by following a sequence of timed steps with the ignition switch. When that failed, I was told that a mechanic would be sent to fix the problem. Unfortunately, the nearest mechanic could not come for 90 minutes.

I was annoyed and concerned at this point.  I was annoyed because our plans for the evening were now trashed. I was concerned because I was scheduled to take a trip the next morning to Jerusalem and I needed a functioning car! The local car rental company was already closed at this point, but the person at the LATECOT company gave me the contact information for someone named Hadar at the car rental company’s 24-hour facility.

I decided to call Hadar. I wanted to know what would happen if the LATECOT could not be fixed. Here’s the transcript of that conversation:

Hadar: שלימ (Hello)
Me: ? את מדברת אנגלית (Do you speak English?)
Hadar: לא (No)
Me: I need to talk with someone in English
Hadar: <click>

Great. The “I’m Concerned” light was now blinking red on my mental dashboard.

By the time the LATECOT mechanic arrived, it was already dark. He fiddled around for 15 minutes and finally got under the dashboard with some wire cutters.  After some targeted cutting, he demonstrated to me that the car could now be started. I noticed that he started the car without entering any codes. He then asked me if I could bring the car to his shop in the morning to have the problem fixed.

First of all, the answer was “no” because I needed to take a trip to Jerusalem in the morning. The answer was also “no” because I’m not accustomed to taking rental cars to the mechanic. He told me I should really get it fixed as soon as possible.

In addition to the blinking “I’m Concerned” light, there was now an alarm sounding in my head. I recently had a problem with the phone company. We had a disagreement about my mobile data plan. Somehow I didn’t have one and the bill for the first month was outrageous. They added the plan, but still expected me to pay the first bill. Since I was receiving SMS alerts from the phone company (in Hebrew) warning me about data usage, they figured I was properly warned. In the end, we decided to basically split the bill, but the experience taught me some lessons and I was now very concerned about not having a functioning LATECOT.

I called the LATECOT company again and they told me that if the car was stolen, I would probably be responsible for the loss since the LATECOT was broken. She also agreed to call the car rental company on my behalf and have an English-speaker contact me.

The car rental company did call me and they confirmed that a stolen car was now my responsibility since the LATECOT was not functioning. I was also told that I could have the car replaced. I could wait until the morning and bring it to a local shop or I could take it to their 24-hour facility at the airport.  The airport is about 30 minutes away.

That was a no-brainer: off to the airport.  Of course, there was traffic. My wife and I did manage to get the car replaced. As an added bonus, the new car is clean and free of sand.

We finally arrived home around 10:00 pm with the new rental car.

It only took 8 hours to get this problem resolved!

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Categories: Israel Tags: ,
  1. janice e. nelson
    2010-10-20 at 10:12 pm

    You have such a wonderful sense of humor. Sounds like the story of my life. I figure that we may as well laugh at these frustrating events now, because it is healthier, and we will only laugh at them later anyway.

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