Every March thousands of college students head south in search of the ultimate party. It's spring break — when they can finally take a breather from the grind and pressures of studying and taking exams, and just let loose.

But since spring break rituals are sometimes soaked in alcohol, does targeting these young revelers make good business sense for car rental operators? The answer is yes, according to operators in spring break meccas like Fort Lauderdale, Fla., as long as employees adhere to risk management guidelines. Car rental insurance providers, however, advise operators to proceed with caution and to consult their carrier for risk management advice.

Unfortunately, most operators based in key spring break destinations have one or two stories that illustrate what can go wrong when risk management is too lax.

What Can Happen When Your Guard Is Down

Jesse Coria, an Avis rental agent in South Padre Island, Texas, recalls vividly a spring break rental gone awry. "Last year there was a group that came from San Antonio," Coria says. "They rented the car in San Antonio but decided to drive down to South Padre Island. I guess they were having a little too much fun. By the time they got here, I believe they had switched the car twice."

South Padre Island, a popular destination for spring break, lies just south of San Antonio. The renters were under the age of 25, the normal Avis age requirement. Because it was a corporate account, the age requirement was waived. On their weekend break the young renters decided to join spring break madness.

"When they got here, they decided to drive on the beach with our rental car, which is totally against our policies," Coria recounts. "They got stuck on the beach. A four-wheel drive vehicle tried to pull them out, and the rear tire almost blew out. They tied down the car from the wrong place, I guess. The back tire, the whole axle was almost pulled out so they decided to drive back here to get a car exchange. But they didn't make it here. The police had already called a tow truck because they weren't going to let them drive like that."

The car was impounded. Because the South Padre location shares its cars with surrounding Avis locations, the customers showed up demanding a new car. Coria called the San Antonio branch and against his better judgment, another car was issued to the renters to get them home.

Coria says he believes the situation should have been avoided. "Someone could have asked if the car was going to a place where partying was going on — especially during that season. The car was supposed to be used only for business purposes."

Communication Helps Limit Risk

Communication between the rental agent and the customer provides both with valuable information to make the experience a positive one. Kelly Worthington, rental manager at California Baja Rent-A-Car in San Diego, Calif., has rarely seen vehicles returned damaged during spring break, although it is one of the company’s busiest seasons.

"I think we’ve been pretty lucky because we've educated them [the customers] more before they’ve left," comments Worthington, who has been in the auto rental business for eight years.