Car hire in the USA is often the best and easiest way to get around. Outside the major cities the US is not spoiled for public transport. The roads in America are well maintained, well marked and easy to drive. By and large, drivers are courteous and obey the road rules.
With our European sensibilities where a Ford Focus is considered a decent sized family car, most people end up hiring an economy or compact car on their first visit to America. Don’t! You will find the cars underpowered in comparison to the European equivalents and you feel like you are in a very tiny car when you are driving down the motorway with a gargantuan SUV bearing down on either side of you.
Our advice is to hire a full sized car (my husband is a particular fan of the Chevy Impala, not sure why). The additional cost tends to be relatively small and it will be easier to drive and more comfortable than a smaller car. The roads, the parking and other infrastructure are geared up for big cars so you will not find it difficult to manoeuvre (as you would if you attempted to drive one of these beasts around a UK town).
In terms of language differences, a sedan is a saloon car and a manual gear box is known as a stick shift. It is very hard to hire a car that is not an automatic in the US so cars with a stick shift are uncommon. Many cars will come equipped with cruise control which is very handy. Even if traffic is quite heavy I find it useful as you can set it to the speed limit and it gives you one less thing to think about. Many cars will also come with air conditioning but this is worth checking, especially if you are visiting one of the Southern States.
The term “hire car” is not commonly used in the US – they tend to use the term “rental car”. I discovered this when working in the US and someone had kindly arranged a hire car for me to travel somewhere. I went to ask her where I needed to collect it and struggled to interpret the look of complete confusion on her face. She heard the “hire” bit and was trying to figure out what I meant, all she could come up with was that I wanted a “higher” car, maybe an SUV rather than the standard sedan she had ordered. We eventually got it all figured out but we did have a couple of minutes of complete misunderstanding. Sorry Shelley!