You’ve probably seen Wicked Campers in the news recently. No stranger to controversy, the car rental company has once again been thrust into the spotlight by Splendour in the Grass festival organisers. Unhappy with the often misogynistic paint jobs, the festival is heavily encouraging attendees to forgo the rental company.
Even if you put aside the fact that Wicked Campers agreed to phase out the sexists slogans nearly 2 years ago, there’s still a strong argument for boycotting the company for your next road trip.
Wicked Campers’ tagline is “we believe in the experience”.
And they do.
They believe in the shit experience.
Earlier this year my boyfriend and I booked a Wicked campervan for an eight day holiday in Tasmania. I knew about the slogan controversy, but I also thought – as stated above – that the issue had been resolved. I booked with the company as the vehicles seemed compact, reasonably priced and to be honest they looked pretty rad (they don’t show any of the vans with sexist paint work in their online gallery, obviously). I’d read through their website thoroughly so I thought I knew what I was in for. I didn’t expect a particularly new or fancy van, or even one that was super clean.
Perhaps I was being unreasonable, perhaps my standards were too high.
But what I didn’t expect was to be given an unsafe, leaking, un-roadworthy vehicle five hours late.
On the day my boyfriend and I had scheduled to pick up our Wicked van we arrived at the Hobart Wicked depot at 10:30am. After getting up at 4:30am to catch a flight, you can imagine how delighted we were when staff told us the vehicle we’d be allotted would not be available until 3:30 – 4pm. My dumbfounded response to this was:
“But I’ve got confirmation right here the van would be available to pick up from 9am today!”
Their apathetic response:
“Yeah, this happens sometimes. The bookings office is separate from us. We have no control over it.”
To be fair, the Hobart Wicked staff did offer to lend us a car for the day but we would be unable to travel outside of the city. Sleep deprived and hungry we took them up on this offer, as the alternative was being stuck for five hours at an industrial estate.
Skip forward five hours of lollygagging and we’re back at the depot ready to pick up our van.
Thankfully it’s there and ready to go.
A quick condition report was done with the site mechanic. The van had smashed floodlights and a few paint scratches, but we were assured this would not affect the vehicle. I asked whether we should check the van’s interior condition, to make sure that all the auxiliaries worked. “Nope, that’s not necessary” said our mechanic. Too tired and fed up to argue, I conceded.
So around 4pm, seven hours after we were told in our rental contract that the van would be available, we finally left the Wicked depot. The parting wisdom of our beloved Wicked staff members was that the company fuel policy was to:
“pick-up empty and drop-off empty”.
Near empty obviously. Enough to get you to a service station, which the staff gave us vague directions for. I saw no issue with this policy. Until my boyfriend pointed out with considerable consternation that the van we’d been given was a diesel. And we were running on fumes.
I drew a blank. My knowledge of cars is restricted to making it go, making it stop and making it not hit people.
Helpful boyfriend schooled me on why running out of fuel in a diesel car will royally f**k you over. Here is an expertly drawn diagram of the problem:
In newer diesels the “ran out of fuel, better call a tow truck” issue isn’t as bad. The engines have changed.
Our however van was not new. In fact odds were that the van and I were born in the same decade.
We did get to the petrol station, where the bowser ominously reminded us that we had maybe 5kms left in the tank. Good thing we weren’t in an unfamiliar area or anything and not at all at risk of getting lost with an empty fuel tank.
Thinking nothing else could possibly, possibly go wrong (spoiler alert: it did), we stopped at a supermarket in Sorell to collect enough junk food to binge eat our rental car problems into oblivion.
At this point we had only made it 12kms from the Wicked depot. It was 5pm. It was cold. It was raining.
And our van was leaking.
We noticed the mattresses were damp. Maybe they had gotten wet when we opened the door for the groceries? We mopped up the water. The mattresses got wet again. Deciding to test our theory, we poured water over the van door the water was coming from. Being fine upstanding Gen Y’s, we also decided to film it:
The depot being closed, and us not quite pleb enough to spend the first night of our holiday in a wet van, we opted to stay in a hotel that night.
I tried calling the Wicked hotline.
They told me to call their roadside assistance number.
I called their roadside assistance.
I was redirected to voicemail.
“Voicemail is full, unable to record your message”.
Still on day one of our “holiday” we made the decision to just go to bed and take the van back to the Hobart Wicked depot the next day. The following morning before leaving for the depot, helpful boyfriend decides on a whim to check the lights.
The lights, including the brake lights, did not work.
As aforementioned, my knowledge of cars is slim. But even I knew that a car with faulty brake lights is a sure-fire way to get yourself pulled over by police.
How was this not checked? When I asked if the interior of the car needed to be checked and Wicked told me no, I presumed it was because they’d already done so. This isn’t a superficial problem – it is illegal to drive with broken lights.
After praying that we wouldn’t get rear-ended and/or pulled over by police, we made it back to the depot. The mechanic sealed the leaking door seal with silicone filler (not recommended), but the real issue was the lights. Unable to fix them, we were told that the problem was not going to be resolved anytime soon, but they couldn’t give us a replacement vehicle. On my insistence staff member called head office to see what could be done.
An hour and a half later another mechanic finally got the lights working. They claimed the problem was interference from a screw that was used to attach the curtain rails to the van (note: our van did not actually have curtains like other Wicked vans we encountered. We had to stick up tourist maps for any sense of privacy).
We finally left the Wicked depot at 11am on the second day of our rental period. In all we lost a day and a half of the time we’d hired the van for.
I’d like to say that we had no problems with the van after leaving the depot but no. One day later we discovered the rear door latch was faulty, and wouldn’t close. This time I managed to get through to roadside assistance, and were advised to simply “jiggle it with a fork till it works”. Another hour wasted trying to fix the car.
A few days later, traveling on a sealed but weather damaged road, we realised how shot the suspension was. As I sat at the wheel bouncing violently, I thought about how the rental cost of the van probably exceeded the value of the van itself – Wicked was likely making 100% profit off their vehicles. The vans are undoubtedly popular in Tasmania; we saw a number of them on our anxious, the-car-could-breakdown-at-any-minute journey.
We then discovered, as a wallaby leapt in front of the van, that the horn didn’t work. So glad suicidal wildlife isn’t an issue in Tassie.
Our experience with Wicked Campers isn’t an isolated incident. Look online – a quick Google search reveals how many other customers have been sucked in by the company’s easy-going, youth=focused marketing scheme only to realise later how screwed they are.
Don’t hire from Wicked Campers. If you’re OK with potentially being assigned a vehicle that screams ‘I’m a tool” then power to you. I can’t make you realise how degrading some of Wicked’s slogans are. But even if you’re fine with misogynistic paint work, do you really want to waste your money on a van likely to break down or get you pulled over?
Spend your money elsewhere. Don’t hire from Wicked Campers.