TL;DR – got stranded in the middle of the highway for 4 hours because of mechanical failure. Lessons learned – ask to see the car history of the car you’re renting. And if it’s been to the mechanic a thousand times for battery problems, maybe ask for a different car.
When I was initially planning this trip I considered renting a car from Lisbon and driving it to either Barcelona or Nice. After realizing that one-way drop off fees in Europe are just shy of 29348572948579$ USD, we quickly changed our plan to mostly use public transport and only rent locally for a day or two.
So here we are, the night before leaving Lisbon, when I finally decide to pull up our car reservation for the next day in Lagos. The first thing they list in the “make sure to bring this with you to pick up the car” is an International Drivers Permit.
Oops. My heart sank a little.
But no big deal, we can probably get one real quick online. So off to the internets we go, scouring the 3rd, 4th and even 5th pages of Google in hopes of a “24 hour and remote IDP service”. Unfortunately looks like you have to be in your home country to get that IDP in less than 24hrs, or if you’re remote, need a whole lot more than 24 hours. It’s like one of those Venn diagrams that don’t intersect.
My heart sank a little more.
Ok no big deal, looks like some rental companies might not care if you don’t have it. So back to the internets we go, scouring the 6rd, 7th and 8th pages of reddit, TripAdvisor and other forums trying to figure out what the jail time is for getting caught without an IDP. Turns out it’s a 500 Euro fine if you’re pulled over without one. Ok. My heart can handle that. My wallet though…
Without much choice and lack of a better plan, we headed out to Lagos the next morning. The first part of the trip was a 3 hour train to Faro, where our rental company was. Now, this rental company though, if you can call it that, was this tiny, sketchy, hole-in-the-wall company that no one’s ever heard of before (except maybe the 8th page of Google..). But they had the cheapest rates and a shuttle from the train station, so I went with them. The shuttle came to get us without much of a wait, and we were seen at the counter without a line.
So far so good.
They asked for my license, a credit card to hold on file, and gave us options for insurance; either 17$ a day, or the combined life savings of you, your spouse, your parents, your cousins and their parents as a deposit. We went with option 1.
Still unsure of when or wether they’re gonna pop the IDP question, we were getting pretty antsy for them to complete our car pickup. When the lady at the counter finally gave us the keys, we both let our a huge sigh of relief (in our heads, since we didn’t want to tip them off!), and went to collect our prize (HA!).
If only we knew at the time that the IDP was going to be the least of our worries!
The car pulled up, the tiniest Toyota I’d ever seen (if it even was a Toyota under the hood!), and we were told we’re free to go. Except there was no infant car seat, so one more hour later, we finally had a semi-decent-looking and maybe-properly-installed car seat.
We reserved automatic. The gear shift options were: E, R, N and M. By ways of elimination I figured that E is Drive, and N is Park (but only if you’re on level ground and you do a few prayers).
Anyway, OFF WE WERE!
Not even 10 mins into the drive, the car starts getting jerky and the speed starts jumping around even though I have my foot on the gas at a consistent pressure. I’m not even hitting the 120km speed limit. Then the speedometer just starts sinking like a rock (as does my heart) while we’re in the middle of the highway. I start panicking, and telling Danny I have no control of the car and that it’s just dropping to 0. I also start questioning my reasoning earlier on with the gears. Maybe E wasn’t for Drive?
I ask if there’s an exit coming up, he tells me not really, so I start pulling over onto the shoulder. My heart’s racing, so we take a moment to think and see where we can go from here. On the map we see a turn off with a few smallish streets that seem like maybe there’s civilization there. We decide to try to drive the car over to that exit so we can try to get help there.
The car engine starts fine, and I’m able to get it to drive on the shoulder. So I decide to risk it and get back on the highway. I take the aforementioned exit, and just as I’m coming off the exit and merging on the next road, the car starts dying again with the speed going to 0 and cars behind me zooming past, looking at me like I’m a lunatic.
At this point I’m just praying that I don’t end up stopping right on the merge lane. I make it juuuuust past the merge and into the shoulder, but we’re also on a curve, so cars are coming at us from around the corner. We exit the car and start trying to flag people down, but no one stops.
I take baby out to flag with me. Next car stops.
And it’s a family with a 3yr old. They speak English (THANK GOD) and come to us to see what’s up. The dad looks at our car, says he doesn’t understand what’s wrong with it (since it still starts), and says it’s super weird that there’s no P or D and that E is the drive gear.
They call our rental company for us. The agent confirms that E was in fact in the right gear. (Great?) The dad says we can try driving the car back to the rental place to get a different car, and that they’ll follow us all the way to make sure we get there.
Halfway through they see that the car is doing fine and signal to us that they’re going to take an exit to go where they need and that we should be fine from here.
Two minutes later, our dashboard started having a Christmas lights party with every warning sign flashing, and the car died a third time.
We’re back on the shoulder, this time on a bridge on the highway.
So we spend a while trying to flag someone down, and eventually that assistance truck in the photo pulls over. But he’s just “road assistance” and can’t actually help us with anything, but he decides to stay with us until the tow truck comes. We call the rental company and ask them to send roadside assistance and a taxi. They say it’ll be an hour. Portuguese time.
Danny’s like… no f*ing way, we have a baby. Send a taxi earlier than that. They’re like ok. Taxi in 10 mins, tow truck in an hour. Great!
3hrs later, the taxi shows up.
Apparently he was touring all of Portugal looking for us because they gave him the wrong directions initially.
At this point I’m furious and just want to get to our Airbnb since it’s getting late and baby is gonna start losing it at any moment. I tell Danny that no way are we getting this model car again and that we’re going to get a an upgrade for free because this is bullshit.
We arrive back at the rental, and they’re like
“HI HI!!! Do you have a reservation with us?!”
I just about lost it and started yelling that we were the people stranded on the side of the road with a baby for four hours.
After lots of negotiating and explaining that no, not everyone in Canada can drive stick, we end up with the same model car. I even considered ditching our reservation here and trying to find another rental company, but Danny reminded me that the other place might ask for an IDP…
He has a point so we start asking what was wrong with our car to make sure it doesn’t happen with this new one. The guy pulls up a history and turns out that car has a history of battery problems and it’s been to the mechanic for it MULTIPLE TIMES.
We ask to see the new car’s history to make sure there’s been nothing wrong with it and asked if it’s been rented recently with no problems. It all checks out, and so we take our new Toyota POS and walk away.