You wouldn’t believe what people do to (and in) rental cars. Or maybe you would. We surveyed car rental operators for their horror stories.
Laura, EZ Auto Rental (Caribou, Maine)
Around here, the worst messes to clean up are tree sap and road tar. Inside the car, my biggest issue is getting rid of the cigarette smell. A lot of people around here treat the rental vehicle like a garbage can.
Mike Risheill, Arena Dodge (Dayton, Ohio)
We occasionally get tree sap. We occasionally get pets who have thrown up in the back seat. We have special cleaners who clean it up for us. Everything is pretty much industrial strength. We have some aerosol stuff that we use to cover up the smell.
Tom Prunty, Alaska Car and Van Rentals (Anchorage, Alaska)
Fish is absolutely our deadliest pollutant. As it warms up, the ice melts the fish slime and it mixes with water. If the drain is left open the mixture seeps slowly into either carpet or upholstery in the car.
We use an extractor and a product that has organisms in it that eat the bad stuff, but that's only moderately effective. After we've cleaned it the best we can, if we think we can save it, I put an ozone machine in there overnight. Ozone will not remove the fish gurry out of the carpet, but if there are any lingering smells, it's pretty good at killing that.
On the outside, probably the hardest thing is tar. We use mineral oil or WD-40. Mineral oil is cheaper, but WD-40 is magic for some reason.
Ryan Fahey, North Star Rent A Car (Sitka, Alaska)
The worst we get is stuff like coffee stains. We use a rug cleaner to get out the stains. We scrub it in and then we rinse it out with an extractor. It works pretty well.
Lauren, Avis (Corpus Christie, Tex)
We just had someone who left fish in the car, as a matter of fact! It took a lot of vinegar to get that out. They went fishing, and I don't know if they left anything in there, but you could tell they went fishing.
The other one was milk left in the vehicle forming maggots. We used baking soda to get that out.
We once found a rat in the engine. That really stunk up pretty good. We had to take the vehicle to one of our body shops and they had to take some of the parts off the vehicle to get the pieces of the rat out. Actually, the eyes were kind of looking at you when you opened it.
Jimmy Osborn, Hertz (Orlando Fla.)
One of our main cleaning jobs is after a vehicle is rented to go deer hunting and there is animal blood and guts in the back of the vehicles and vans that we have to clean out.
We also once found a big boa constrictor underneath the dash. It was alive. We had animal control come and get the snake out. There really wasn't anything to clean except for a big snake.
It was a good feeling for one of our technicians who went into the car and saw the tail hanging down.
Cynde Morton, Affordable Car Rental (Oregon City, Ore.)
A lady got a car impounded at the time she was in the middle of a fast food feast. When we finally got the car out of the building, a whole bunch of fruit flies flew out. Her crusty underwear was jammed into the glove box. Then there are the used condoms we found behind the back window. If you're going to clean stuff out of a rental car, I would always advise gloves.
Sharon Faulkner Thrifty licensee (Albany, N.Y.)
To remove odors we use dryer sheets under seats, open can of coffee in a closed up car overnight absorbs scents, and most any kind of strong scented cleaner scrubbed into carpets and left to dry helps cure many a smelly car.
Matthew Holowinski, Greenberg Rent a Car (Norridge, Ill)
The biggest nightmare to clean is dog hair all over the car, but I've had used diapers left in the car and kids vomit on the back seat.
Ben Bennani, AA Car Rental (Costa Mesa, Calif.)
Since I rent to teens 18 years and over, 90 percent of my rental cars come back trashed with leftover food, cigarette butts and soda bottles.
Neil Rivel, Dollar Rent a Car licensee, (N.J.)
When fishing groups come back in their minivans their coolers would leak. Fish water soaked into the carpet on a hot summer day-ah, the wonderful smell.
Give me a blood-soaked car from a gang fight any day of the week compared to that. How do we get the blood out? No clue. We've used a lot of baking powder to absorb what we could, and we've gone so far as replacing the carpet. Cleaning blood is easy if it leather. With cloth seats, just get new ones.
Once we opened the center console of one of our cars and an elderly gentleman had used it as a urinal! The manager freaked out; the wash guy wouldn't go near the car. We called the customer and told him to come back and get it cleaned out.
Mike Dabish, Rent a Ride USA (Detroit, Mich.)
The worst thing to clean out of a car is blood. It just doesn't come out. If the stain doesn't come out I'll find new seats from a salvage yard.