Insider’s Guide To Driving in Los Angeles

los angeles freeway cheapest monthly car rentalIf you’re planning on staying in Los Angeles for more than a day or two, it’s smart to rent a car to get around. Los Angeles has always been a car-centric place. Public transit is spotty compared to other big cities like New York. Driving in Los Angeles is slightly more complicated than simply looking for the cheapest monthly car rental you can find and turning on your GPS. If you’ve never driven in Los Angeles before, you’ll soon find out that drivers do things a little differently here compared to the rest of the country.

Because of the sunny weather and the big highways, many drivers find that it’s simpler to make your way around Los Angeles than it is in almost any other major American city. However, it still pays to understand the city’s neighborhoods, traffic patterns, and local traffic laws and driving customs. We’ve assembled an insider’s guide to driving in Los Angeles to make it easier!

What To Call It

Los Angeles is a big city. It has a definable vibe, and that vibe is based in large part on the automobile. Drivers in Los Angeles have their own particular vocabulary for most everything that has to do with getting around in a car. You’ll have fewer problems getting from point A to point B in Los Angeles if you know some driving terms that are peculiar to the Los Angeles area:

Los Angeles Has Freeways, Not Highways

Get used to every big road being called a freeway. You’ll almost never hear a Los Angeles driver referring to anything as a highway, an interstate, or a state route. If you want to sound like you belong in Los Angeles, call everything with guard rails a freeway.

Los Angeles freeways all have names. For instance, the 405 freeway is called the San Diego Freeway. The Golden State Freeway is the 5 freeway anywhere north of Downtown L.A. It’s not really necessary to learn all the freeway names, however. Los Angeles drivers don’t use freeway names very often. They simply refer to roads by their number, preceded by “The.” If you ask for directions in Los Angeles, you’ll most likely hear something like, “Take The 405 to The 10.”

Even the road signs are set up for following freeways by number. Road names are mostly absent from freeway signage. Most simply list the freeway number and the compass direction. Some add the largest city or neighborhood for each direction. For example, if you’re looking for signs for the Santa Monica Freeway, you might miss your turn. Look for “The 10,” and you’ll be fine.

Telling Surface Streets From Service Streets

It can be easy to be confused by the difference between the terms “surface streets” and “service streets” when you’re getting directions in Los Angeles.

Surface Streets in Los Angeles

You’ll hear the term surface street a lot when you’re driving in Los Angeles. For the most part, locals refer to any street that isn’t a freeway as a surface street. If it’s not a limited access road, it’s a surface street. Los Angeles is an enormous grid of surface streets that’s crisscrossed by big, limited access freeways.

Service Streets in Los Angeles

Los Angeles is the city of boulevards. In general, a boulevard is a wide, multi-lane road, often with a median strip. Boulevards can also have lanes that run parallel to the main road. These lanes are called service streets, and are usually separated from the main boulevard by a grassy island. If you’re trying to visit an address on a boulevard that has a service street, you’ll have to make a turn before you reach your destination, or turn around shortly after.

Luckily, service streets don’t usually have a different name than the boulevard they serve. The signage will read the same as the main road. If you’re from a crowded eastern city, you’ll appreciate how much easier it can be to drive slowly along a service street to find a street address. It makes finding a parking space, easier, too.

There Are Cities Inside The City of Los Angeles

You can drive at full speed for more than an hour and never leave Los Angeles. It’s a big city, and really spread out. However, it’s also possible to pass through four different cities in about ten miles of road. Cities like Beverly Hills and West Hollywood are completely encircled by the City of Los Angeles.

All these smaller cities inside of Los Angeles makes the city much more vibrant and interesting. They can pose problems for out-of-town drivers, however. Street names can change when you enter a new city. Sometimes a street name changes when you enter a city, and changes back when you reach the other border.

Sometimes streets just end when they reach a notable destination like a park, a lake, or an airport. The road may begin again on the other side of the obstacle, but they’re disconnected.

Beware Familiar Street Names in Unfamiliar Places

If you’re stuck in traffic, it can be tempting to see a familiar street name on a sign, and take the exit thinking you can go the rest of the way on surface streets. Be careful. Many smaller cities inside of Los Angeles have roads with the same names as other local cities, but that are completely unrelated to roads with the same name elsewhere.

cheapest monthly car rental driving los angelesHow Los Angeles Natives Drive

Driving in Los Angeles isn’t much different than anywhere else in the US. There are some laws and habits you might not be aware of, however. Here’s a short list of traffic rules for L.A

DUI

Law enforcement is very strict for driving under the influence. The legal limit for blood alcohol is 0.08%, and sobriety checkpoints are common. You can still be charged with driving under the influence for even lower levels if you exhibit other signs of intoxication. If you’re out for a big bash in Los Angeles with a bunch of friends, it’s smart to rent a party bus or use limousine service to avoid trouble with a DUI.

Carpool Lanes

Los Angeles was a pioneer in the use of carpool lanes. On L.A. freeways, they’re called High Occupancy Vehicle lanes, or simply HOVs. You can recognize HOV lanes by they diamond painted on the road surface. You’ll have to be vigilant about what constitutes a HOV lane. Some require only two occupants, others are reserved for three or more.

If you’re visiting from other parts of California that have HOV lanes that are only restricted during rush hour, don’t forget that in LA, carpool lane rules apply 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Some motorcycles and low emission vehicles are eligible to ride in the HOV lane at any time, so don’t get confused if you see a car in the HOV lane with just a driver.

Cell Phone Etiquette

It’s legal to talk on your cell phone while you’re driving. You must use a hands-free device, though. If you’re spotted holding a smartphone to your ear while driving, you can expect a hefty ticket. Texting is specifically banned, including reading texts. You shouldn’t use the GPS in your handheld phone while driving, either. Even the cheapest monthly car rental deals are available with dedicated GPS now, and it’s smart to use one.

Leaving Children in the Car

It gets hot in Southern California. It’s not smart to leave a small child in an unattended car even for short periods, and it’s also against the law. Children under the age of six can’t be left in a car alone, and a child must be at least twelve to look after another child in a parked car. It’s also illegal to leave pets unattended in parked cars. One more thing about kids and cars: it’s against the law to smoke if you have a child in the car.

Traffic Is a Fact of Life in LA

If you’re new to Los Angeles, you might be astonished by the number of cars on the road, and the number of roads for cars to be on. LA natives are accustomed to heavy traffic, and have smart strategies for avoiding freeways during rush hours. There are plenty of major surface streets that can look like parking lots for long stretches during commuting hours. If you have a traffic app like Waze,  Google Maps, or Mapquest, you’ll be able to avoid many traffic tie-ups. You’d do well to ask LA natives for advice on the best times to travel, too.

If you’re more old school, you can tune in t KNX-AM 1070. They feature traffic reports six times an hour, all day and night. You can also dial 511 on your phone for an instant traffic report, but remember to use hands free mode on your phone.

If you’d like to get a real feeling of what it’s like to drive in downtown Los Angeles, check out this video:

Remember, for the cheapest monthly car rental in greater Los Angeles, contact Value Rental Car, with convenient locations in Los Angeles and Pasadena.

Insider's Guide To Los Angeles Freeway Names from rentavaluecar.com

Photos courtesy of the The Jon B. Lovelace Collection of California Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America Project, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

How To Deal With an Overbooked Airline, Hotel, or Auto Rental

hotel lobby auto rental valuerentalcar.comFor many travelers, airline flights, hotel stays, and auto rental are heavily dependent on each other. If any one of your travel arrangements are disrupted, it can have downstream effects on all of them. Each reservation you make for your trip is like a link in a chain. It’s important that no link in the chain is less reliable than any other.

For most travelers, the weakest link is airline travel reservations. Airlines routinely overbook their flights, because they figure that some of their customers will cancel. This policy helps airlines keep their flights full. It can cause a lot of problems for travelers who need to make connections like auto rental pickups, and hotel check-ins, however.

Airlines Have More Regulations Than Hotels and Auto Rental Companies

Airlines operate under more government regulations than most businesses. That’s because they’re common carriers. Since major airlines operate internationally, they must comply with regulations from many different countries. That means that when there’s a problem with your flight, there are more rules in place to cover it.

If your flight is oversold, it’s likely that you qualify for specific levels of compensation. The exact amount of help you’ll get depends a lot on the circumstances of your travel arrangements. Short hop economy flights with last-minute tickets don’t qualify for the same level of compensation as round the world trips booked many months in advance. However, it’s important to keep in mind that anyone bumped off a flight is entitled to some form of legal recourse.

Hotel Guests Have Rights, Too

Hotels overbook rooms for the same reason that airlines overbook flights. They want to ensure that their hotel is full of guests, and they’re afraid that some guests will cancel. Hotels usually have a better idea of how many cancellations they can expect than airlines. They’re also much more likely to have a few rooms in reserve at all times in order to deal with emergencies. Airlines can’t just add a few folding chairs in the aisle and invite more people on board. Hotels have more flexibility.

There are many reasons why a hotel might be overbooked. It’s not always due to deliberate overbooking of rooms. Hotel guests often check in with a certain length of stay in mind, but later change their minds and stay longer. Hotels are under no legal obligation to enforce the length of hotel stays in order to make sure rooms open up in time for new reservations. It would be infuriating to most hotel guests to be turned out of a hotel to make way for new guests in any case.

Car Rental Reservations

As anyone who has watched Seinfeld can tell you, some car rental companies aren’t great at holding on to reservations. There are very few laws about auto rental reservations. That means it’s up to the individual car rental company to set a policy, and stick to it. Most large car rental companies have policies set by their home offices, and don’t have a lot of flexibility. Independent car rental companies are much more likely to work with you when there’s a problem.

What To Do if Your Reservation Falls Through

Airline Customers

Remember, the airlines have a lot of rules to follow. If you’re bumped from a flight, you almost always have compensation coming. Some delays and other mishaps also qualify you for additional compensation. It’s important that you defend your rights, but without becoming agitated at airline personnel. Airlines offer passengers different alternatives when their flights have been interrupted. You’re under no obligation to take the first offer made to you. Passengers who hold out for more often get more.

Don’t make the mistake of being unreasonable, however. Airlines do have limits on what they’re willing to offer you. If you get an offer that takes care of your inconvenience, you should take it and move on with your trip.

Hotel Customers

If your hotel is overbooked, it’s likely that some form of alternative will be offered to you. It’s actually quite common to get an upgraded room at no extra charge if you’re bumped from the room you reserved. On the other hand, if your reservation was for a large suite, and the only room available is an economy room, make sure you receive the downgraded rate.

In the event that a hotel doesn’t have any rooms available, don’t give up. While there are no laws forcing them to, most hotel chains have a policy of “walking” customers to a new hotel if they can’t accommodate them. It’s quite common for overbooked hotels to make all the arrangements for your new room with another hotel, and even pay for your cab ride if you need it.

Auto Rental Customers

There are few legal requirements for car rental companies to honor their reservations. Once traditional car rental companies run out of cars, there’s usually very little they can do to help you.

First, ask if an upgrade or a downgrade is available for the car you reserved. If there is, it’s usually smart to take what’s available. You’re in the right, but it’s more important for you to get some sort of transportation. It’s OK to negotiate, but being adamant can turn you into a pedestrian in a strange city in a hurry.

Never Do This

No matter whether you’re bumped from a flight, a hotel room, or an auto rental, there’s one approach that never works. Never cancel your reservation in a huff. A reservation is a legally binding contract. While it doesn’t always pay to argue at a reservation desk over your rights, it never makes sense to cancel your reservation because you’re angry. By cancelling your original reservations, you remove the original obligation the company has for you. In essence, you’ve made their problem into your problem.

In all cases, be reasonable with the companies you’re dealing with, and they’ll be more likely to be reasonable in return. Threatening bad reviews on social media sites is unlikely to help you, and may hurt. Don’t be a pushover, however. Ask for what you’re entitled to, and remind the company of their obligations to their customers when they take — but don’t hold — a reservation.