The Hassle of Picking a Rental Car: Understanding Car Rental Policies for Choosing a Car

by joeheg

I remember when I first became a National Car Rental Emerald Club member. That status gave me the privilege of booking a midsize car and being able to rent any vehicle parked in the Emerald Aisle. No more having to take the car they assigned me. I had the power to pick whichever car I wanted.

I remember renting an Oldsmobile Bravada just because I could.


OK, stop being jealous. Who wouldn’t want to rent this car?

In today’s car rental industry, National is no longer the sole provider of the option to select a car from the lot. Many other car rental companies offer this service as well. Additionally, the prerequisite of having a particular status to be eligible for this service is no longer mandatory. Now, any customer can choose their preferred vehicle from the available options without any restrictions. This policy shift has been executed by multiple car rental companies to better manage inventory and improve the customer experience.

Here are some of the car rental company policies for choosing your car:

National Car Rental

Choose any size, color, make, or model of vehicle available in the Aisle or Executive area – and only pay the Midsize car rate. Since the keys are in the car, it’s the easiest way to get on the road fast.


  1. Go to the car zone listed on your Hertz Rental Car reservation.
  2. Choose from a wide selection of vehicles from the designated zone.
  3. Scan the vehicle’s QR code or enter the license plate manually.
  4. Get in and go.


Looking for a ride that’s just right for your trip? With Avis Preferred Select & Go you have the freedom to:

  • Keep your pre-assigned vehicle
  • Exchange your pre-assigned vehicle at no extra cost
  • Upgrade to your choice of specialty vehicles for a daily fee


Car rental just got more personal. Our great rates and travel tools help you do more with your Dollar, and now you get to choose which specific vehicle you want to drive.

Here’s how it works. Reserve the car class that you want to drive. Pick up your rental agreement at the counter and select any vehicle within the car class you reserved.


At Thrifty, we’re always looking for ways to enhance your rental experience. We already save you money and now you get to pick which specific vehicle you want to drive.

Here’s how it works. Reserve the car class you want to drive. Pick up your rental agreement at the counter and then pick any vehicle within your reserved car class.

I dread picking a car

The availability of choosing a rental car from the aisle is not very useful if there are no cars available. In such a situation, one has to wait for others to return their cars, which can be unpredictable. However, waiting can also be advantageous as one can get a significant upgrade without paying extra money.

Do you imagine picking a car to be something like this picture from Hertz:


Instead, you’ll often find a mostly empty lot with three or four vehicles in the area you’re allowed to “pick your own car” from.

We were placed into this scenario on a  trip to Austin, TX. Because I’m a Hertz Gold Plus Rewards member, I can go directly to the lot and choose a car, skipping the counter.

Walking to the lot, I had the choice of three cars. Wait, someone’s already in that car. Make that two cars. It’s Texas in the summer. Check the interiors. Both vehicles have black leather interiors.


I go for the Black Nissan Altima and check for the only other determining factor. The Sirius XM radio is still activated. OK, the decision was made.


At this point, is having “my choice” of a car a selling point? I had a choice of two cars, and neither of them was what I booked, which was a VW Jetta or something similar. I should have paid more attention to the caveat (Make/model not guaranteed).

Final Thoughts

It’s time to realize that the gimmick of picking your car from the aisle isn’t for the customer. It’s a system that allows rental car companies to allocate cars to whichever area they need, depending on the demand. More frequent renters mean more cars in those sections. Not enough cars in the regular sections? Drop a premium car down there and make someone think they’re getting an upgrade.

Choosing a car can be stressful. What if I pick a lemon? I once rented a car that had a “Front radar unavailable due to obstruction” warning every time I started driving. Turns out it’s a known problem with Nissan Altimas. I told Hertz of the problem on Twitter, and their response was for me to tell the agent when returning the car or I could contact them to arrange for a replacement vehicle.

I didn’t complain because I felt it was partially my fault. I picked this car. It wasn’t assigned to me. Sharon says that’s because I was raised with guilt. Whatever.

Part of me likes the rentals where I am told to go and get my car from space A-113 (and congrats if you get that reference). There’s no pressure. I get in the car and leave the lot with no worries or regrets.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


Christian June 25, 2019 - 12:41 pm

Seeing that picture of an Oldsmobile goes a long way toward explaining why the company is not in business any more.

sj June 25, 2019 - 2:24 pm

Booked a bmw x3 and got handed a cadillac in Vancouver as an emerald elite. Tried to bring it up and nobody cared. So I am back to booking the emerald aisle.

Franklin White April 8, 2020 - 2:32 pm

I love the idea of being told which car to get after renting one so that I don’t have to make decisions. I hate having to choose between things. I’d love a rental service that chooses a car for me that matches what I need.

David Miller December 10, 2023 - 3:17 pm

It is pretty sad when one, given choices, complains about having to make a choice.


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