So here at Vic (Victoria University of Wellington) we get a 2 week spring break of which to entertain ourselves with (let me tell you, my home school in little old Ohio barely hangs onto a single week of spring break before saying its too much vacation time for the students). And during this time, it seems that every international student has the same idea: to travel.
Some people travel within New Zealand, some go to Australia, some go to Fiji, the Cook Islands, Hawaii, and all of the other Polynesian and Oceanian islands, in short there's a lot of traveling to be had. My group of friends and I were no different on wanting to travel. We decided to travel the whole two weeks in the South Island by camper van. Now, as much as I enjoyed the trip, I would advise that if you or your friends are interested in this kind of trip keep in mind that South Island has a lot of natural beauty. A lot. Way more nature than city life or even human inhabitants.
Regardless, if you have the opportunity to go, I would still recommend everyone to have a look for even a day or two.
Of course the trip was fantastic and magical and wondrous and terrifying and new and different and all the adjectives that come to mind for road tripping around a beautiful country in a shady camper van, but I want to specifically speak on one part--a major part--of the trip. Said shady camper van.
So my friends and I rented through Jucy, a large countrywide car/vehicle renting service. And to be fair, we chose them for the following reasons:
Jucy reached all of these expectations, without trouble, which is a good thing. But there were other unforeseen troubles that arose.
Indubitably, we all ended up just getting a very old and questionable vehicle.
Our troubles first arose when we realized the weight of our beloved Jucy Lucy posed a problem. A vehicle this size-- we're looking at 2500 kg, upward of 5000 lbs, plus the added weight of bodies and luggage--and a vehicle as old and, dare I say it, poorly designed as Lucy Jucy--not aerodynamic in any way. With all the heavy interior weight on the back tires, all the heavy mechanical weight on the front tires, no 4-wheel drive--we easily, and within the first 2 days of our trip, mind you, got stuck in a field.
Having stopped at the Catlins Nature preserve to hike a trail, we left Lucy in the only available parking area, a grassy field labeled Parking. That of course was our first mistake, which we take upon ourselves completely, but to be equally as fair, when we arrived other camper vans were there also. So assuming that they moved in and out without problems gave us hope that we should expect the same thing.
When we came back from our hike a hike that didn't last even 2 hours we came back to the van with its back tires sunken all the way to the rims. Three of us who have our licenses and went to driving school immediately barraged the wheels with rocks and sticks, and spent time pushing and shoving the vehicle, and dumping all of our water stations, and removing all of our luggage and doing any method we could imagine to un-stuck ourselves.
Long story short, we had to call a tow.
The moral of that story is that the weight of these vehicles could be troublesome, and indefinitely bar you from certain activities with uncertain parking. A couple of days later we ran into double trouble, with the oil light coming on, and one out of the two of our gas burners going out.
It would be beneficial to interject here that Jucy has a 24 hour policy, where if something goes wrong or stops working or on the vehicle you have 24 hours to report it to them or else they have the right to fine you on neglect.
We immediately called them to report the problems--in which I was the one to interact with their customer service help line and was very pleased with their ethic and manners. The lady I spoke to was very nice and understanding, helpful, and prompt and I hope everyone who calls them gets the same service that I did. She advised us to go to an immediate mechanic for an oil check, and offered that if we wanted to purchase another burner, we would be refunded the additional burner upon return of the vehicle. We opted out of the latter advice, and successfully lived the remaining week and a half with only one burner - a difficult endeavor, but not impossible. We did, of course, decide to go to a mechanic as soon as possible, which, since it was the weekend, unfortunately could not be done until Monday.
Let me explain here that many mechanics are not operable on weekends, although, that I am aware some are. In our circumstance, they sent us to a specific mechanic that was contracted through Jucy themselves, meaning as long as we went there, the bill was put on their tab and not ours.
With that being said, we continued our journey for two more days before getting to the mechanic and in those two days a terrible knocking and coughing sound started up in the engine pretty much every time Lucy Jucy accelerated.
Needless to say, my group and I had some growing concerns.
That following Monday, we happily yet fearfully dropped off Lucy to the mechanic.
Another thing to point out is that Jucy contracts people to take care of their vehicles to the best of their ability. Which is fair enough. The renter is not liable for unpreventable complications (i.e. low oil/ transmission fluid/ other internal mechanical processes that are natural for the vehicle). But Jucy will undoubtedly hold the renter accountable for preventable complications. So if the oil light comes on because there is a leak in the oil tank, a leak that was somehow caused by you recklessly driving: that would be your fault, and Jucy would have the right to fine you.
Although this did not happen to us, for the hour we had left the vehicle with the mechanic my group and I imagined every possible scenario where the problems arising in Lucy were going to be our faults and we would be fined right out of New Zealand. (*Cough cough* let it be said that Jucy's fines are steep).
Thankfully, when we went back to the mechanic, the only problem was an empty oil tank--an obvious assessment thanks to the oil light informing us so--and an unlubricated engine due to the lack of oil in the system. In other words, nothing could be pinned down as our faults.
After that we continued on our trip! But our troubles were not even close to being finished.
Since maybe day 3 or 4 of the trip our little group started noticing an... unpleasant smell coming from the fridge. It was a mixture of overbearing deodorizer and rotten milk. There was in fact a small deodorizing mechanism in the fridge, and we did in fact have milk at one point that may or may no have spilled, to create this nauseating smell--a smell that literally permeated into any open food container that was put in the fridge. So we decided to clean it out (the fridge, I mean). A day later, the smell (and the badly tasting food from said smell) was no more!
Two days though, the smell came back, and in full force. This time around we didn't buy milk, in fact we had so little perishable food that could be placed in the fridge, if I remember correctly the only thing we had in there at one point was a tub of butter. So there was no way this rotten milk and vile flowery scent could be our doing. We reported this incident, but there was nothing Jucy could do until we returned the vehicle. My guess here is that in addition to the vehicle itself, the fridge was also old, and retaining years and years of smells and odors that would have been better forgotten. To say the least, we avoided opening the fridge at all costs for the rest of the trip.
Sometime after that the oil light came back on. A little upset this time, we called Jucy yet again to report the light, and they sent us again to another mechanic for a check. This mechanic checked the engine to find that the oil was completely gone again! This really freaked us out, as we're thinking that there is a hole in the tank and it will be our fault, and we will have to foot the bill thereafter.
But, after a quick peek underneath the vehicle, the mechanic also reports that there is no sign of leakage. The mechanic therein assumed that the oil hadn't been checked in so long that the engine was completely dry and needed all of the oil that had been put in only a couple days previous, and left the tank empty instead. So he refilled our oil, and we were on our way again.
That pretty much tops it off with all of our active troubles for that trip, but a couple days before the end of our trip we get an email from Jucy asking us to stop at a mechanic yet again. They want us to make absolutely sure that the oil fine. Now to preface this, this is only protocol for them and their vehicles, better safe then sorry, right? But protocol or not, I and the rest of my group were livid.
We had cut out almost an entire day to take care of the vehicle that Jucy lent us. We had to spend our own gas and used up our own time, time already taken up by our vacation plans, to fix a vehicle that should have been either fixed by the company themselves before handing it over, or completely retired for the safety of the company and the renters.
We ended up going to a mechanic for a third time. Everything was good under the hood, this time at least. But still, it was the final straw for us. As we waited once again for Lucy to be looked at my good friend and fellow blogger here (Austin G.) emailed them to demand a refund of some sort, explaining that we've spent more than enough money and time, fixing up their vehicle for them. The good news is that they complied, and refunded us for a day of rent. Bad news is, a day of rent is just $45, and $45 split between 5 people... well it wasn't quite the satisfactory feeling we were hoping for. To be (very) fair, our small refund was better than nothing. So after all of that, we returned the vehicle, and the second the unlucky Jucy employee asked if we were pleased with the experience, we did not hold back our opinions and dissatisfactions.
To make this rant a little confusing, I don't want to completely denigrate this company. Because on a day to day basis the rental was cheap, it was one of the few places that allowed 20-year-olds to drive, and under the circumstances, the vehicle still got us to points A, B, C, and D. And as a poor, 20 year old, who just wants to travel as much as she can in a beautiful country, well at least I was able to do that.
But still, when renting with Jucy, be wary. Ask lots of questions. Make sure all of their engine checks are up to date, and even if it makes you feel better, ask for a vehicle with not as many miles on it (Jucy has plenty of vehicles, at the Christchurch rental shop alone, there was an entire parking lot of vehicles of I would say 100 different vehicles or more, so I think they can spare another vehicle to the mindful customer).
But just as a rule of thumb, always read the contract for the rental car you are getting, its boring and it has terms that may or may not make sense to you, but you have to do it. Luckily my friends and I did. I can only imagine the pile of fines we'd be under right now if we hadn't.
So again, not completely knocking out Jucy as a rental vehicle option, just making it clear that it might not be the absolute best choice.
Hope you still want to road trip after reading this!