On the Road Again

Rounding the corner of a collapsing building just painted a bright yellow, a small pop and then the sound of rolling plastic told me that I had lost a hubcap in the town of Staritsa.

Stopping the car on the side of the dirty, potholed lane, I went off whacking through a stand of saplings looking for the gray plastic disk. I found it a couple of feet off the ground, wedged in some branches.

Back at the car, I realized I had lost another one somewhere on the hundreds of kilometers of abysmal roads and birch forests between Moscow and Uncle Pasha"s Dacha. I later found out that each hubcap would set me back 22 euros.

Bad roads, horrendous traffic, corrupt road police, confusing signs and dangerous drivers Ч just look up Moscow"s Lefortovo Tunnel on YouTube Ч are all convincing reasons not to rent a car in Moscow.

But driving is fun for expats who don"t get behind the wheel very often Ч especially now, with warm weather approaching and the dacha season beginning.

Renting a car is easy.

At Sixt, all you have to have is a passport, a credit card and a valid driver"s license from anywhere in the world to rent a car. Other international car rental companies in Moscow include Avis and Hertz. These companies all have pick up locations in the center as well as at Moscow"s major airports. Local competitors, such as www.rentcarmoscow.ru, are also trying to get a share of the business.

Sixt"s fleet car seems to be the Ford Focus, and the company offers them in both the two- and four-door variety, with a manual or an automatic transmission. Sixt also has Volkswagen Golfs and Passats and Audi A4s and A6s available.

When I arrived at the rental office, the representative took my passport details, credit card and driver"s license and handed me a key and a pile of documents.

Fortunately, I did not end up needing any of the documents, including the "documents for if you get pulled over by the traffic police,' and the "document for entering back into Moscow.'

Out in the parking deck, with the keys in my hands, the representative made an excruciatingly slow check of the exterior of the car. The diagram of the car on her clipboard was soon covered in red checks and circles as she noted every ding, dent and scratch.

With that, she was satisfied, and I jumped in, barely restraining myself from revving the 110 horsepower, two-liter engine.

Pulling out of the parking deck and into the meat grinder of Moscow traffic, I quickly realized where all the dings and dents had come from.

After a seven-hour drive (including an hour off road) to Uncle Pasha"s Dacha and a three-hour drive back, I returned the car not much the worse for wear, but Sixt claimed a bent wheel rim, a loose side panel and a cracked hubcap, along with the two missing ones.

I had to return the car directly to their repair garage near the MKAD because the representative at the central office was sick. After a bit of complaining, a Sixt driver took me home.

Besides a 600 euro deposit and a fine of more than 300 rubles for returning the car dirty, renting cost a little more than 61 euros a day. Gas to get to the dacha and back set me back another 1,500 rubles.

My recommendation? If driving out of town, take off the hubcaps and put them in the trunk the second you pass the Moscow Ring Road.