View Full Version : Rental Cars on Unpaved Roads

08-23-2009, 04:39 AM
Firstly "Hi!" to all the posters on this board, I *think* this is my first post here. :o

I am from England and visit the USA about every 18 months. I am an aviation nut and also love looking for ghost towns and abandoned places. This started with a visit to Bodie back in 1993 and I have been hooked ever since. Have since been back to CA, NV, AZ, NM, UT, and believe it or not OK!

My next visit is in a couple of weeks time, will be starting in Denver CO then up through Nebraska into the Black Hills area of South Dakota. Lots of old mining towns as well as a number of near derelict former railroad towns on state highway 44 east of Rapid City. Then west into WY, lots to see there :)

My problem is car rental. The big rental companies all used to stipulate that the car was not to be used 'off road' but as long as a highway was graded or improved it could be travelled upon. This has changed over the last few years and now the car can specifically only be driven on 'paved roads'. So, if I wanted to go to Bodie now - I can't! :( Several of the more interesting old mining towns in the Black Hills are only accessible via dirt or gravel roads so I am a bit up a gum tree!

So, my questions:

1) Is there any US national car rental agency which allows cars to be driven on graded or improved highways;

2) Is there any specialist rental agency in the Black Hills or Rapid City area which would rent a Jeep or a 4x4? I have done a Google search and came up blank!

Any help appreciated.


PS: My mess of a website here, gives an idea of what I do: http://ghostbase.fotopic.net/

PPS: A big thanks to you guys who post details of all the ghosts on the website, this is such a valuable source of information for me :)

08-23-2009, 04:57 AM
Your website is very interesting. You have some great photos, check it out guys!

While it would be cheating, you could simply rent a bigger car, take it gently onto the "better" dirt roads, and clean it well before giving it back. Just a thought, I've known others (other Brits) to do the same, staying within the boundaries of reason. You will probably have trouble finding anyone who will rent something intended to be taken "off road".

Good luck on your adventure! We would like to see where you go!

David A. Wright
08-23-2009, 05:14 AM
In the early 1990s, I rented SUVs from my local Avis. I used to take them on any dirt trail I felt like. I'd wash them good before turning them back in.

I did give one black Chevy Blazer a good dose of "desert pinstriping" once, though. It couldn't be hidden. I turned in the truck. Got a look from the clerk, but nothing said.

A guy I know rented for a couple of decades and drove them all over Death Valley, even on some of the worst trails.

Dirt roads in the Black Hills or to Bodie wouldn't make me think twice about taking a rental (I lived in the Black Hills on the Wyoming side for a couple years in the 1980s and I think I drove every road there was in my own passenger cars without problem). If you get asked about Bodie, tell 'em it's a state highway, for heaven's sake! Well, it is as far as the pavement runs ... :rolleyes:

08-23-2009, 06:16 AM
Many of the car rental companies have gps tracking devices installed in their vehicles.
If push comes to shove, they can prove where you've driven.
Be careful.
PS Sounds like a great trip!

08-25-2009, 03:08 PM
When I went to Death Valley earlier this year, I rented a 2WD 4Runner from Enterprise and drove it all over the place (Titus Canyon, Racetrack, etc.) with no problems. Heck, I didn't even wash the car before I returned it. I think as long as you're not reckless and bring it back with dents and missing pieces, you're ok.

Norman Johnson
08-26-2009, 08:53 AM
Fifteen years ago, I rented a caddy from Budget and took it all over the Mojave, Red Rock Canyon, the Dutch Cleanser mine, Last Chance Canyon, the Pinnacles, Fremont Peak, the works. I was planing the high spots with the under carriage of the big tin beast, music blasting, a cooler full of beer on the back seat. Fear and loathing in the Mojave.

Of course that was then and this is now.


09-04-2009, 06:14 AM
Thank you muchly for your comments and ideas (and warnings) :)

Even with 2WD on tarmac roads there is plenty to be seen and I do have a soft spot for 'railroad' ghosts and former mining towns - SD and WY seem to have quite a few of these! Going to be a great two weeks and when I return will see about posting some of the photos on this board.


09-04-2009, 08:12 AM
I once took some friends from South Africa on a trip to Death Valley. I rented a Jeep Cherokee from a Dealership in Huntington Beach, Ca. It had 400 mi. on it when I picked it up. After starting in Beatty, Nv. We stopped at Rhyolite and continued on to Death Valley via Titus Canyon. We then made the loop around to Racetrack Valley and then dropped down into Saline Valley on a Jeep trail clearly marked "Not recommended for low clearance vehicles" (and boy they were right) and continued on through Grapevine Canyon and back to Hwy 190. After washing it three times I brought it back to the Dealer with 1600 miles on the OD and no questions asked. Last year I rented a car from National and had to drive it down a dirt road to a job site. This time I didn't wash it. Again no questions asked. Now if you drive on a dirt road and cause serious damage they may have something to say then. (Figuratively and legally)

09-04-2009, 09:26 AM
buy the insurance and beat the he!! out of that car! heh heh heh :D