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Old Feb 16, 11, 8:33 am   #1
 
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Update on which rental car companies allow saddle road driving?

I'm starting to think about renting a car for a trip to the Big Island in August.

In 2006 we were careful to rent from a company that allows driving on the saddle road, and we took advantage of that to park at the 9000-ft visitor center at Mauna Kea and then hike up to the top.

I'd like to be able to do this again, but I can't remember which rental car company we used, and things may have changed since 2006 anyway.

So, does anybody knpw for sure which companies are currently allowing driving on the saddle road?

Thanks for any advice.
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Old Feb 17, 11, 8:12 pm   #2
 
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Originally Posted by rtom View Post
I'm starting to think about renting a car for a trip to the Big Island in August.

In 2006 we were careful to rent from a company that allows driving on the saddle road, and we took advantage of that to park at the 9000-ft visitor center at Mauna Kea and then hike up to the top.

I'd like to be able to do this again, but I can't remember which rental car company we used, and things may have changed since 2006 anyway.

So, does anybody knpw for sure which companies are currently allowing driving on the saddle road?

Thanks for any advice.

OK, I will start checking out KOA-based agencies one by one to answer my own question and I will post results in the hope this will be of use to others.

First out of the gate: a friendly Alamo rep called the KOA office and verified that saddle road driving is OK with Alamo.
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Old Feb 18, 11, 8:32 am   #3
 
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I can concur with the above. I've always used Alamo in Hawaii. Besides giving me the cheapest rates, they do allow to drive on certain roads (like Saddle) that isn't allowed on other companies.

personally Saddle Road gets a bad rap imho, it should be taken off the no-drive list some of these companies have. It's way more improved and quite nice to drive. Unlike State Highway 31 (near Kaupo) on Maui. Now that road is hell to drive on and yet Alamo allows me to drive on that one as well.

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Old Feb 18, 11, 11:05 am   #4
 
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The reason there was ever a ban on Saddle Road for rental cars was the expense of retrieving one if it were to break down up there. A flatbed truck is required and they charge a lot to drive up there & come back down.

The road is getting a straightening / re-route and is progressing nicely, but it may still be the case that some rental companies will be averse to allowing their cars up there.

Best to check in advance.

I do believe Harper Rentals (local company) allows vehicles anywhere on the BI. And they rent 4WD for those who wish to drive all the way to the summit of Mauna Loa.

4WD is required for the dirt sections from Visitors center (9000ft) to the summit (13,500ft) so you can have low range going down hill and not boil your brake fluid.
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Old Feb 18, 11, 8:49 pm   #5
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I'm going out on a limb here but I 'think' you'll find that none of the major rental companies will prohibit you from using the saddle road. Hey, it's paved & it's in the USA!

That road has never even been mentioned in my rental contracts.
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Old Feb 20, 11, 9:46 pm   #6
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Wow, I'm having a 'yikes!' moment here. My daughter used to live Hilo-side, so when I visited, we always used her car everywhere. Since she moved (to Buffalo!), now I have to rent when I go back. It never ever occurred to me that the rental company might have a problem with me driving Saddle Road. I knew about going up to Mauna Kea (saw a stranded rental jeep when we went up there), but not Saddle Road. Guess I better check next time.
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Old Feb 23, 11, 12:26 pm   #7
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None of the major rental car companies currently prohibit driving Saddle Rd - although you might want to double check Thrift and Dollar. Someone left their Thrifty contract in the lav on my flight back and I noticed it had so many disclaimers about this and that, I know never to rent from them.

If you drive Saddle Rd, the middle part is re-aligned and paved - but - the western side is still the old-fashioned two-lane, hilly, road which is subject to diverse drivers and blinding fog. The eastern side near Hilo is under construction, and subject to delays during the week.

Although not explicitly stated, all rental car companies bar driving the Mauna Kea access road to the summit because a portion is unpaved.
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Old Mar 1, 11, 1:05 am   #8
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I drove the Saddle Road, plus up to the Visitor's Center last year and I can't imagine any rental car company having a problem with it. The eastern half is practically a 4-line highway and the west side isn't much different than an average rural country road. I didn't even give it a second thought. I've heard stories of how bad it used to be, but it's a non-story nowadays, IMHO.
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Old Mar 2, 11, 5:06 pm   #9
 
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I rented from DTG (I forget which counter I went to, but same difference) on 16 February and the only prohibitions were Waipio Valley, the Green Sand Beach road at South Point, and the summit of Mauna Kea. Saddle Road and Mauna Kea Access Road up to the visitor station/end of the pavement are apparently fine.

I can remember the days - not so long ago - when rental agencies told me all of Saddle Road was off-limits, but with the improvements and realignment proceeding apace, the part of the road on the actual "saddle" is in great shape now, very modern, safe and easy to drive, and the slopes at the ends are getting fixed, so even though it's still terribly inconvenient to get a tow truck up there, people are less likely to get into trouble and need one.
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Old Mar 2, 11, 6:32 pm   #10
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I rented from DTG (I forget which counter I went to, but same difference) on 16 February and the only prohibitions were Waipio Valley, the Green Sand Beach road at South Point, and the summit of Mauna Kea. Saddle Road and Mauna Kea Access Road up to the visitor station/end of the pavement are apparently fine.

I can remember the days - not so long ago - when rental agencies told me all of Saddle Road was off-limits, but with the improvements and realignment proceeding apace, the part of the road on the actual "saddle" is in great shape now, very modern, safe and easy to drive, and the slopes at the ends are getting fixed, so even though it's still terribly inconvenient to get a tow truck up there, people are less likely to get into trouble and need one.
Agreed. Its amazing the transformation that the saddle road has gone through... and is continuing to go thru. The KOA side is much improved, [although it was kinda fun before] and the ITO side is an epic change...

Here's a pic from Jan of a bit of the construction heading towards ITO

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Old Mar 4, 11, 10:49 am   #11
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Got my Alamo contract and they allow Saddle Road driving and driving up to the Mauna Kea observatory. They however, do not allow driving up to the summit as the road is not paved.

We didn't plan to go to the summit anyways because we have an infant 1 year old, and many have recommended not to go up to the summit with small children. So the contract is a bit of a moot point anyways.
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Old Mar 4, 11, 6:35 pm   #12
 
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Originally Posted by Ancien Maestro View Post
Got my Alamo contract and they allow Saddle Road driving and driving up to the Mauna Kea observatory. They however, do not allow driving up to the summit as the road is not paved.
Tiny correction: the Mauna Kea Observatories are on the summit.

The contract allows driving up to the end of the paved road at about 9,300 feet. That's far enough for astronomers to get to the "Hale Pohaku" complex just before the end of the paved road, where observatory night staff sleep during the day - they'd take an observatory-owned 4WD the rest of the way.

Just below that complex - maybe 1/4 mile before the end of the paved road - is the Visitor Information Station (VIS), which has the gift shop, snacks, hot cocoa, movies, stargazing, and so on and so forth. Both of those are part of the "Ellison Onizuka Center for International Astronomy" (named after the Hawaii-born astronaut who died in the 1986 Challenger explosion).

(I was going to lead a summit tour from the VIS this Saturday, March 5, but it was cancelled due to a winter storm.)
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Last edited by DanTravels; Mar 5, 11 at 1:48 pm.. Reason: Tour was cancelled due to bad weather
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Old May 1, 11, 8:31 pm   #13
 
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I do believe Harper Rentals (local company) allows vehicles anywhere on the BI. And they rent 4WD for those who wish to drive all the way to the summit of Mauna Loa.
Do you happen to have a ballpark figure on how much it is to rent the cheapest 4WD for a day?
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Old May 2, 11, 11:05 pm   #14
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Do you happen to have a ballpark figure on how much it is to rent the cheapest 4WD for a day?
You don't need to pay the Harper's premium for a 4wd - just rent one for a day from the airport (if you're staying south) or National at the Hilton Waikoloa Village.
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Old May 3, 11, 4:35 pm   #15
 
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Do you happen to have a ballpark figure on how much it is to rent the cheapest 4WD for a day?
You don't need one. If you are renting a somewhat decent car you will be fine with it. I been to the summit in a Ford Fusion in 2009 and Saturn Vue in 2008. You don't need an SUV to drive to the top. It's a simple dirt road pretty much any car will get to the top. When coming back down shift the transmission into second gear (both automatic and manual cars can do this). Even if you don't shift down and just use the breaks on the way down you will still be fine. There is no point spending extra money on getting an SUV just to get to the summit.
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