Garmin Where2 GPSAs a company we are really keen on innovation (like starting this blog!) and introducing products and services that our customers will find useful. Our colleagues in the US have been doing some exciting stuff recently so I thought I would share some of their latest additions with you. They’re great – especially if you are into car and mobile technology, which I am!

Autonet Mobile Service wifi hotspot
Coming soon to selected US locations… This unit gives you a wireless internet connection wherever travel in your Avis Rent a Car, as it works almost anywhere in the States. It’s great for both business and families – you can go online for everything from email to film and music downloads. You plug the Auto Mobile box into your laptop or PDA, and then start surfing without any extra software. (I should point out that for safe driving you must only use it if you’re a passenger or when the car is parked.)

Where2 GPS navigation
Introducing… The new Where2 touchscreen sat nav from Garmin, which has real-time congestion and weather information, and alerts for any detours. It’s perfect for downtown LA – and cutting down on map-reading arguments!

XM Satellite Radio
XM is America’s leading satellite radio service and offers 160 music, news and sports channels, including MTV, ESPN radio and Fox news. There are also instant traffic and weather reports 24 hours a day. It’s available free in premium and luxury cars from Avis US. Our counterparts there ran a TV advertising campaign to promote it. You can see the ad on YouTube.

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Downsizing to Renault ClioI just came across this article about Avis on AutoblogGreen, which has posts about greener driving and new car technology. It discusses some research and cost comparisons we commissioned recently on how people can reduce their driving expenses – and carbon emissions – by downsizing the car they own, or using public transport instead, and then renting when they need a larger car, such as for holidays or weekend breaks. The research shows some pretty hefty savings!

It makes sense, when you think about it. In fact, drivers have already been doing this in Australia, because of higher oil prices (and fuel isn’t exactly cheap here either!). In the UK, another spur could be proposed ‘green taxes’ such as the emissions-based parking charges that the borough of Richmond in south-west London approved recently.

I’ve started car-sharing with a colleague whenever possible, so I’m beginning to see the savings first hand. Every little helps!

If you have downsized your car then let us know if you’ve been seeing the savings. And feel free to post any other ideas on how to cut the cost of transport.

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Congestion Charge zoneLast week we were getting ready for the change in London’s Congestion Charge zone – sending out multi-language leaflets to our offices, replacing outdated information on the desks and displays, and requesting new posters. From Monday 19 February, the zone was extended westwards to include Kensington, Notting Hill, Chelsea and Pimlico, although the time for which it’s in force (now 7am to 6pm, Monday to Friday) was reduced by half an hour. Click on the thumbnail image to the left to see a map of the whole charging zone and Avis locations. The BBC website also has a clear explanation of the changes.

When you rent a car you’ll need to arrange to pay the congestion charge yourself if you’re driving into central London – though we’ll give you all the help we can to make it as easy as possible. You can pay online, by phone on 0845 900 1234 and at PayPoint locations such as local shops. The Transport for London site has payment information and a rather long but useful FAQ.

Our Avis UK site also gives more information on the Congestion Charge, and what happens if you don’t pay it.

There are some ways of avoiding the charge if you’re driving across London – such as using the ‘inner ring road’ (shown on our map, around the edge of the zone) and the north-south through route of Park Lane, Grosvenor Place and Vauxhall Bridge Road, which is exempt.

Only two Avis locations – Mayfair and Waterloo – are inside the enlarged zone. With these, we buy your first day of Congestion Charge for you and add it on to the bill. Euston and Tower Bridge are still outside the zone and Earl’s Court is just on the edge (though you should ask our staff for directions, as the one-way system there can take you into the zone before you know it!).

We’ve put the pdf of the Avis Congestion Charge leaflet – which includes a map – up on the blog so you can download and print it out before you travel. And if you’re still feeling confused, we’ll be glad to answer your questions.

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Rapid ReturnI’ve had many conversations with customers over the past couple of months about things that I take for granted because I work in car rental. Like how much it costs to refuel a car, and how to find a petrol station near where you’re returning your vehicle.
It made me think that all this is something that’s easy when you know what to do, but how do you know what you need to know?

Here are my top four tips.

1. Fuel options
I’d recommend Fuel Up Front if you think you’ll be using most of the tank. It means no stress about having to find a petrol station when you bring the car back, and no extra fuel charges at the end. You pre-pay for a full tank of petrol or diesel when you pick up the car, so then you can return it to us empty. To make it fair, the price is guaranteed to be no higher than at the local pumps, and in the UK we give you a 5 per cent discount off the cheapest price in the area, as determined by PetrolPrices.com.

2. Use our return maps
If you’re taking your car back to a different place from where you picked it up in the UK (including at many airports, where the pick-up and return are at different locations), we can give you directions to the return point. Our staff can print you out a map too.

3. Rapid Return
This is a great new one. At around 125 Avis stations across Europe (with 21 in the UK, including all the major airports) we’ve introduced technology that means you can return your car in 60 seconds. With Rapid Return your Avis agent reads a bar code on the car that means they can issue your receipt straight away. We guarantee there’ll be no extra charges after this, so you have the peace of mind of knowing that everything’s sorted out and paid for.

4. Check we’ve got it right
You don’t need any papers to return your car, but if you keep your original rental agreement handy it means you can double-check we’ve got everything correct while you’re at the rental office, rather than finding out when you get home. (Yes, however hard we try, mistakes can occasionally slip through, so like any other paperwork you should always check.)

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QueenstownOn Monday I came back into the office after my two weeks in New Zealand. I’ve been going through my holiday photos – here’s one of Queenstown, in the alpine region of South Island where a lot of The Lord of the Rings was filmed. The scenery is amazing, especially if you take a trip up the mountain on the gondola cable-car. We also managed to go whitewater rafting, jetboating and on a helicopter ride all in the same day!

We covered a lot of miles on our trip – renting cars from the local Avis offices, of course. In all the places I flew into (Auckland, Queenstown, Christchurch and Wellington) there were Avis stands in the terminal buildings. I didn’t even have to look for them, as the familiar red and white sign was there waiting for me. Sometimes if a car hire company gives the option of booking from an airport, it doesn’t necessarily mean the rental office is actually in the airport, so it’s worth checking. Generally, Avis is right in the airport buildings. You can find details of our locations worldwide on the Avis UK site.

Being on holiday, I decided to stay anonymous and not let on I’m with Avis in the UK. It was a bit like being a ‘mystery shopper’! I’m pleased to report that everything went very smoothly. Both the pick-up and return were really quick and the staff I dealt with were friendly, and willing to offer advice and directions when I asked them. So thank you, Avis New Zealand!

Now I’m back at my desk, and missing the sunshine and opportunities to go for long romantic walks on the beach. Because of being away, Valentine’s Day kind of crept up on me, but I did cook a special meal for my girlfriend last night!

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Peugeot 207We know from some of the research we’ve done that the choice of cars Avis offers is important to you. I like to personally try out as many of the new cars on our fleet as possible, and I have to say I was seriously impressed by the new Peugeot 207 when I took it on the road (I drive a 407 myself, and have also owned a 104 and 205). A lot of you liked it too, according to feedback that we and Peugeot have been collecting for the past six months.

Last year we decided to do something we haven’t tried before, which is to team up with a manufacturer so we could bring a brand new model to our customers and at the same time collect information for Peugeot about what you thought of the cars.

The results said that 86 per cent of those who responded would like to rent the 207 again, and half would consider buying one for yourself or your family. So we’ll definitely be keeping plenty of 207s available for you to hire this year!

Renting a car is a very good way of ‘trying before you buy’. It means you have several days or more to really test a car and see whether it suits you and performs how you would like. If you want to guarantee a particular model with Avis, the best way to do it is by reserving a car in our Select Series Fleet (I should point out that the 207 isn’t one of our Select series cars at present, althought the 307 CC is).

Peugeot will continue to monitor the feedback you give throughout this year, so many thanks to all of you who have responded so far, and if you do rent a 207 with Avis, please give your thoughts on it. We’d also like to encourage you to post comments on this blog about the Peugeot 207 and other cars you rate highly.

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Child car seatI think we probably all have driving safety at the front of our minds with the treacherous road conditions we’ve been having. And when there are children in the car being safe becomes even more crucial. I saw my sister-in-law and her children the other week, and it reminded me about the law change last autumn relating to children’s car seats. With the new rules my sister-in-law has had to get a booster seat for her eldest, as he’s under 12 and hasn’t quite reached 135cm (4ft 5in) tall, and the law now says he shouldn’t just use an adult belt.

Before September 2006 only babies and children under three had to have a special car seat, but the new UK law means that anyone under 12 (with certain exceptions, such as height) needs some kind of child restraint or booster. The government’s road safety site explains it all (if you find the table slightly baffling, most questions are answered in the FAQ). It’s something to bear in mind when you are renting in the UK – at Avis, we made sure we had sufficient stocks of child seats well in advance of the change.

The law change is to help protect children better if they are involved in a collision. Normal seat belts are designed to fit an adult across the strongest areas of the body (shoulders and hips), but they catch a child in exactly the wrong place. They don’t always hold a child in properly in an accident and, worryingly, can even cause injuries.

I’m glad to say that at Avis UK we offer high-quality baby and child seats that you can book along with your car, with most costing £23.50 including VAT per rental. At present I’m afraid we can’t absolutely guarantee that we will have the exact seat in stock (we’re looking into that at the moment), but over 99 per cent of requests are fulfilled. We’ve also reduced the price of our booster seats from £23.50 to £5.88 per rental as we knew there would be a lot more demand. Otherwise, you are welcome to bring your own.

You can select a child seat or booster when you book your car online, and do contact us if you need advice.

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Snowy gardenWell, with Stephen still on holiday and Eibhlin and Xavier stuck at home, I’m the only one who has managed to beat the snow and make it into the office! (Our Finance Director Mike McEnaney took this picture of his garden to show how it is out his way.) I’m sure everyone is talking about the snow today (perhaps to avoid talking about England’s result last night!). Given the current conditions I’ve done a bit of digging around on the web and found some helpful tips on driving in snow…

• It can take 10 times longer to stop in icy conditions than on a dry road, according to the Highways Agency, so drive slowly, allowing extra room to slow down and stop. Manoeuvre gently, with no harsh braking or acceleration.

• To avoid wheel spin, use the highest gear possible – you can pull away gently in second rather than first.

• To brake on ice or snow without locking your wheels, get into a low gear earlier than normal, allow your speed to fall and use the brake gently.

• If you do start to skid, ease off the accelerator but don’t brake suddenly. If your foot is on the brake, ease it off and disengage the clutch.

The Think! road safety site has advice on driving in other hazardous conditions, such as heavy rain and fog. The AA also has a useful checklist on getting your car in shape for winter driving. At Avis we have a ‘Winterisation’ checklist to ensure that the car you rent is safe and ready for the winter weather.

If you have tips for driving in winter, do share them in your comments on this post. You can keep up to date with the latest news on today’s weather conditions on the BBC website.

Please remember to drive carefully, and if there’s more snow to come round your way, perhaps the best driving tip is to leave your car at home if you possibly can, or, even better, stay warm at home yourself! (I must remember that the next time it’s snowing…)

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Daniel McCarthyMy boss, Avis UK Commercial Director Daniel McCarthy, has been on Reuters TV, talking to reporter Chris Burns about how we’ve been reducing our CO2 emissions and offsetting any that are unavoidable by supporting carbon-reduction schemes around the world.

We work in partnership with the The CarbonNeutral Company and are also independently audited by the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Management. In 2006 Avis Europe achieved full CarbonNeutral® status, which I’m very happy to be able to say.

Like many people, I am passionate about our responsibility to the environment and I’m proud of Avis’s long-standing commitment to this cause, having worked with The CarbonNeutral Company (formerly Future Forests) since 1998. We’ll be posting more about our environmental policies, including our relationship with The CarbonNeutral Company, but in the meantime have a look at the clip and let us know what you think.

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Avis can't afford not to be niceI’ve been looking forward to the launch of this blog for quite a while, so I’m really pleased that it’s up and running now. We didn’t have to look far to find a good title for it – ‘We try harder’ has been the Avis motto for more than 40 years. But doing the blog has started me thinking more about the importance of our history as a company, and I’ve been doing lots of research into the subject!

In 1963 Avis launched an ad campaign that was very bold and gutsy. Its message was: ‘We know we’re only the number two rental company. We can’t be complacent – we have to try harder. So come on, why not give us a go?’ After many years in the red that campaign brought Avis back into the black. ‘We try harder’ is considered to be one of the 10 best advertising slogans ever (according not just to us, but the Advertising Slogan Hall of Fame).

This blog is a bit bold and gutsy too, but most importantly it is true to our ‘We try harder’ values. Xavier, Stephen and Eibhlin have all spoken about how committed we are to listening to our customers and how this is driving the changes we are making to our products and service.

This blog is a great platform for discussing these changes and keeping you involved in what’s going on. We’ll also be able to share advice, plans and tips on a more personal level, without all the advertising-speak. So keep coming to the blog, and I encourage you to have your say on what we’re doing so we can make that ‘We try harder’ difference!

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Please note:

The details of all blog posts are correct at the time of publication. Information and offers are subject to change without prior notice. Please check www.avis.co.uk for the most up-to-date information.

All comments will be moderated so there may be a delay in your comment going live. We will filter out anything that is confidential, inappropriate, abusive, defamatory, profane, or anything considered as spam or an advertising link. We promise not to cut something just because it's not favourable to Avis.

We ask that if your feedback is regarding a past rental, you include your reservation details (which will be removed from the live post). If your comment is a customer service issue, you can email customer.service@avis.co.uk .
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Why we love to blog

At Avis, we really do try harder. We pioneered blogging in the car rental world and we aim to make our blog much more than just an information source. You can use our blog to ask questions or tell us what’s important to you when you hire a car. We try harder because we care what you think, so we really do value your feedback.

New to car rentals? Our blog gives you tips and advice on getting the most out of your Avis car hire experience. You can find information about booking and hiring your car, safety tips, and eco driving. We also provide driving advice and the latest news about our fleet.

We understand that hiring a car is just one part of your trip, so our blog covers other aspects of holiday and business travel too. Whether you want to know more about business travel hire conditions, access to location and city guides or ideas for families travelling with children, it’s all here.

But that’s just a taster – find out more about the Avis blog.