With our recent car troubles, I’d like to thank all those marvelously decent British motorists and passers-by who asked if we needed help.  Not that there was much anyone could do, especially those out walking their dogs, but we do appreciate the kindness and thought that came with the questions.  And special thanks to the gentleman who came out of his house (in front of which we had parked once) and offered his tools.  Sorry, we didn’t catch your name.  Not only did you help us on our way, you provided some temporary entertainment.

When our car breaks down, I like to turn away and pretend everything’s OK.  I’d stare out at the grass, or whatever, to take my mind off the problem.  I have to say that I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of cars that stopped to make sure we were OK and the walkers who asked if we needed help.  In the US, you’d have to wait for a cop, making his rounds, to stop and help.  Sometimes, truck drivers will stop or call for help for you.

Of course, things are different in the US.  You never know who might stop and hurt you.  You never know if you might get hurt trying to help.  So, it usually does fall to the policeman’s lot to check on you.  And, over there, you have cops and troopers driving around everywhere.  You don’t see a lot of cops on the roads here, unless they are responding to a call.  (Oh, yes, in Florida once, we had a ranger stop and help us out, just minutes after we had hung up with the AAA.  At first, we thought it was the AAA, but then we realised it wasn’t.  They have rangers patrolling the highways down there and they offer basic motorist services.  He gave us some gas and sent us on our way to the next service station.  If we had known we wouldn’t have had to call the AAA.)

We are members of the RAC, but it would not have been worth the call unless we needed them to tow us.  They have been helpful when we’ve called, and they are much better than the US AAA.  For now, we are just holding on until our parts come in.

It is funny that I had expounded on the lack of potholes earlier in my British experience.  I did mention that there were a few potholes to be found after our winter storm, but it was nothing in comparison to the US.  The potholes we have experienced were mostly off on the sides of the roads and in parking areas in the Ashdown Forest.

But now, it appears that some council areas in the UK are full of potholes.  Yet, these councils refuse to have the holes filled in.  In fact, they are using them as speed deterrents.  Can you imagine that?  Of course, residents are angry because of the dangers to cars and their passengers.  Not to mention the number of accidents that would occur as people swerve to and fro to dodge these potholes.  As I mentioned before, if we were to have potholes in those narrow country lanes where high hedges and winding roads obscure your view of oncoming traffic, we would be in serious trouble.

Had I spoken too soon?  Are there many potholes out there that I am not aware of?  Perhaps we are just fortunate to live in an area where the councils believe in providing good roads.

It’s funny to think how my perception of size has changed. Perhaps, I am starting to really adapt to the British system. Everything in the US is “huge” compared to here. No where is this more obvious than on the roads. However, even those narrow roads aren’t so “narrow” anymore. Oh, yes, they can be quite cramped in some places, and no one, not even a native Britisher, will deny that. Yet, many of what would be construed as “narrow” by a new American coming on to the scene are now viewed as “normal” to me. I tried to picture the width of the US roads the other day and found that I really couldn’t – without imagining that they were the same size.

Not only that. It seems the sizes of cars are different for me now. The SUVs and American pick-up trucks are humongous, especially next to the little cars. I think I’ve finally fallen for the Minis – I’d seen quite a few in the US but they just seemed “cute” there. Now I see these little toy cars as perfect for travelling these roads. Not only that, our Honda, which would be considered a small sedan in the US – not big enough to be a mid-size and not small enough to be a compact – is considered full-size over here. Imagine what a full-size sedan in the US would look like over here. Some of the same models you’d find in the US are scaled down over here. And I have become used to seeing them. These little cars that looked funny when I first came are now normal.

Land is scarce, so many properties have small yards. That is one thing that I am able to compare in my mind when it comes to size. We’ve always been fortunate (or unfortunate, if you are looking at the angle of maintenance) to have had large yards in the places we’ve lived. The kids appreciated being able to run around the house. Now, we’re living on a large estate and the house is surrounded by yard. (But this will probably change soon as we’re considering a move.) So we have not had to face the change of having a small yard yet.

But my perception of housing sizes have already changed. What would have looked small and cramped to me when we first arrived now appear adequate. What would have been normal, in comparison to US houses, are now seen as huge. It is very strange. It makes me wonder what it would be like if we were to move back to the States.

Car rentals can be very expensive in England.  It is even more so if you cannot drive a manual.  Most cars here are manuals.  They are cheaper to rent, as well as buy, because they are more readily available.  Some car rental companies do not carry many automatics, if at all.  So, if you can’t drive a manual, you should start learning now.

For those, like me, who cannot drive manuals and dread learning to, there are other considerations in renting that will impact their finances.  First, and foremost, is the insurance.  If you cannot prove that you have adequate insurance coverage (for their purposes), then you are required to purchase their insurance.  In addition, if something should happen, there is a high deductible (called excess) applied.  This deductible is added to your car rental until you return it claim-free.  You can also choose to pay an extra fee to reduce this deductible (or excess).  The terms were so confusing that we did not fully understand it at first.  Besides the basic car insurance that you pay for, you also must pay another insurance for Tire & Windshield.

The issue regarding fuel over here is similar to the US.  You either choose to pay for your gas upfront or refill it to the same level you took it out.  If you don’t return it at the same level, they charge you a small fee for refueling it.  The difference is that you don’t have to pay the maximum rate for fuel.  They just charge you their current fuel charge, which can be cheaper than what you’d find locally.  I know Hertz does something similar now.

When we’ve rented in the US, there never seems to be a major inspection of the car prior to you taking the car; but when it is returned, sometimes they look it over, other times you just park it up and leave.  that attitude varies over here.  Some places, you have someone going around the car quite thoroughly with you before they hand over the keys and they do the same when you return it.  Others, they just hand you the keys and expect you to look it over yourself.  It is your responsibility to report any damage to the car before you take it.  Otherwise, you may be expected to pay for it.

Whether you are visiting or staying, you will need your passport as proof of identity.  Some places (we know from our experience of Enterprise) will also require your flight details in order to confirm that you are only renting temporarily.  If you are staying, some places (again, Enterprise) will want proof that you are residing here – they will want two bills for this.  It made it difficult for us because we still didn’t have a place of residence and needed a car to rent.  We couldn’t prove that we were staying because we didn’t have any bills and we couldn’t prove that we were visiting because we didn’t have airline tickets.  They had no answer when we asked how we could rent a car so that we could get around and find a place to live.  Luckily, we had found another company that was not going to put us through that rigmarole.

It’s best to use a credit card to reserve a car.  Using a debit will mean that they will take your money out first and return it later if you did not damage the car.  I find it more reassuring if they only take out money after the fact and you know how much they will take, rather than guessing whether they have returned your money.  Or, if you have cash on hand, that is even better.  Just remember that Discover is not accepted at most places in England.