Surviving the car rental apocalypse by stepping outside the box

34

A few weeks ago, we published a post highlighting what is being dubbed by some as a car rental apocalypse. Over the past few months, we have seen more and more reports from travelers about increasingly expensive rental rates and in some cases readers have arrived at a rental center only to find no available cars. While one reader posed the idea of renting a U-Haul – which may not be crazy in some situations – another reader gave a great tip for surviving the rental car crunch and getting the car you want: renting from dealerships.

The nightmare that inspired a helpful tip

What really put this situation on my radar was a situation faced by a member of our Frequent Miler Insiders group (this story originally led to a post about hotel guarantees here):

Flew into West Palm Beach. Confirmed res with National. Executive Elite status. Rental car shuttle driver at airport pulls up and says no cars whatsoever at Alamo, National or Enterprise. Leaves us at curbside only saying try tomorrow.
Call National. They offer to pay $100 max for Uber to/from hotel. Ok, angry but whatever. Take Uber to hotel.
IHG Holiday Inn Palm Beach Airport. Platinum Elite status. Confirmed res on Chase free night. Turned away. Oversold hotel. 15 people behind me all turned away as well. No compensation offered, no options given. All hotels within 5 miles full.
Midnight, with wife and two young children. No car. No hotel.

Stranded at midnight with no car, no hotel, no help and two kids. No thanks. In response to his post in our Facebook group, we received many more reports from members who had faced either empty rental lots and/or increasing prices, which led to the follow-up post about car rentals becoming the most expensive part of the trip in some cases.

In the comments on the post about the car rental apocalypse, one reader made a joke about showing up to the Andaz Maui in a U-Haul rental (and I said I’d do it! Those local van rentals are like twenty bucks a day plus mileage – aloha!). But for those looking for a more inconspicuous option, a keen reader named Mary gave a hot tip:

We just got back from Park City and had a wonderful experience renting a Subaru Ascent (8 seats + cargo) for $460 for 7 days directly from Nate Wade Subaru. The car was brand new – very easy after hours pickup – and when we dropped it off they gave us a courtesy ride back to SLC airport! HIGHLY recommend!

Wow, that sounded brilliant. Of *course* some car dealerships offer rentals: they may have customers whose cars are in for insurance-claim work and it makes sense that they would provide rentals (especially since the insurance company is footing the bill in some of those circumstances). Offering rentals might also be a way to let interested customers check out a vehicle for an extended time to help decide if they’d like to buy. It provides the dealership with an opportunity to snag a customer with good service and a nice car.

I was surprised to find that this isn’t only available at a dealership or two, but at many dealerships around the country (though still a very small percentage of dealers overall). Since dealerships don’t have as much visibility for their rental services as an on-airport rental agency, I wondered whether there may be less competition and more standardized (i.e. less variable) pricing since it likely isn’t a major revenue center for the dealership. Furthermore, I can’t imagine that you’d be turned away from a reservation empty-handed — in fact I would expect dealers to honor your exact model choice, which could make this a great way to rent exactly the type of vehicle you want.

A sample comparison

To do a rough example comparison, I decided to check out the city that started this off: Fort Lauderdale. Jon in Frequent Miler Insiders (who was stuck with no hotel and no car) had no car for days after arrival until finally borrowing one from a family member since he was unable to get one anywhere in the area. Could he have found something at a dealership? How would it have compared price-wise? I have no time machine to answer those questions for sure, but I wanted to take a look at a future date to get a rough comparison.

Thus I decided to look at the week from Friday, June 4th to Friday, June 11th and compare options.

The best prices from Autoslash for the cheapest car for that week were:

  • Easirent: $415.15 (Mini Car)
  • Budget: $496.36 (Compact Car)
  • Hertz: $508.01 (Compact Car)
  • Thrifty: $551.96 (Compact)
  • Fox: $557.13 (Economy)
  • Dollar: $559.15 (Inermediate)
  • Payless: $568.12 (Compact)
  • Ace: $593.69 (Economy)
  • Avis: $600.31 (Compact)
  • Alamo: $615.34 (Special Car. Note this means supplier’s choice on arrival).
  • Enterprise: $622.46 (Special Car. Note this means supplier’s choice on arrival)
  • Sixt: $651.29 (Economy)
  • National: $681.91 (Compact)
  • NextCar: $14,652.02 (Full-size SUV). Not. A. Typo.

Let’s eliminate the ridiculous NextCar price and say that the median price is $568.12. Incidentally, the mean price excluding the NextCar price is $570.84 – roughly the same.

Contrast the prices above with those available for the same week from Toyota of Hollywood, which is less than 8 miles from the airport. Note that these rates include unlimited complimentary miles but do not include taxes & fees (more on that below).

  • Corolla: $325
  • Camry: $360
  • Avalon: $375
  • RAV4: $399.99
  • Sequoia: $449.99
  • Tacoma: $475
  • Highlander: $499.99
  • Tundra: $600
  • 4Runner: $650
  • Sienna: $750

I found Toyota of Hollywood through Toyota’s website, which features a search page to find dealerships with rentals. The search results there indicate which dealerships offer rentals, whether they only rent for body shop / service customers or also to business/leisure travelers, and it includes links directly to online reservations for those dealers offering them.

Not noted above but later in the rental policies I was surprised to find that Toyota of Hollywood even offers an airport shuttle.

Unfortunately, the prices shown for the Toyota vehicles above are not inclusive of taxes and fees. For example, the $360 Camry above looked cheaper than anything available at the airport (by a large margin in most cases). However, there were some optional add-ons priced per day (I later found that not all Toyota dealerships add these fees…and some of the amounts weren’t consistent with the rental policies found at the end of the process):

  • Additional Driver: $10 (note that the policies link at the end say that this is $5. YMMV.)
  • CDW: $25
  • Out of state fee: $25
  • Under age driver: $10

The following charges were not optional (state tax and a $14 surcharge was added even at dealerships that didn’t have the above fees):

  • State Tax: $26.18
  • Surcharge: $14.00

It wasn’t clear whether the out of state fee applies if the driver is from out of state or if that applies if you will drive out of state. You do have the option whether or not to choose it. Here were the totals:

  • Without out of state fee: $400.18
  • With out of state fee: $575.18

Verdict: Toyota is either cheaper than all of the on-airport options or only a few dollars more than average. That’s not bad considering that Toyota is offering the ability to reserve a specific model.

Do other dealerships offer this service?

The above pricing from Nate Wade Subaru in Salt Lake City looks very fair if you know you want a specific model Subaru.

In short, yes. I found many random dealerships through repeated searches. I also found that a few brands offer web search tools to easily find participating dealers:

Dealerships from other brands also offer rentals. A found several Honda dealerships in different areas (like Earnhart Honda for instance) and some ford dealers like this one that offered rentals. In some areas, like Hawaii, I didn’t find any dealerships at all offering rentals. Still, this is something I would look for in the future if prices continue to be high across the board.

While I found that most Subaru and Toyota dealers listed very transparent pricing, I found that other dealers tended to list starting price ranges or required you to fill out a contact form for pricing. If you fill out contact information for a car dealer, I highly recommend giving a phone number other than your primary number. It might be worth setting up a free Google Voice number just for this purpose. Car dealers tend to call relentlessly. Even though you’re looking to rent rather than buy, I’d not provide my phone number to a car dealer without the expectation of receiving far more sales calls than I’d like.

Note that this may also be an option on international trips. I was surprised about Toyota dealerships offering this service in the US, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been: I saved a bunch of money renting from Toyota Rent A Car in Japan just a couple of years ago.

We picked up a one-way Toyota rental from the parking garage of a random office building in Tokyo and it worked out great.

Other non-traditional options

Turo.com

Considered to be the “Airbnb of car rentals, Turo.com allows car owners to rent out their personal vehicles (note that this is not available in all states). With Turo, you are renting a specific vehicle from an individual, so you’ll get exactly the car you choose and there are often a wide range of options in terms of make / model / year, from someone’s 2009 Sonata:

to fancier stuff:

I found vehicles to suit all tastes and budgets for my sample week in June and deals could be had that were far cheaper than airport rentals.

A potential trouble with Turo is that there is some risk of the host backing out (which could be totally legitimate – it’s not like they have a fleet of backup cars ready to go if their car ends up in the shop). The “no-backups” issue could also come into play if you’re unsatisfied with the car for some reason. On the other hand, I’ve heard from plenty of people who have been very happy with Turo and it looks like it could be a great way to save some money.

U-Haul cargo van

Some readers will think I’m crazy, but if you wind up at an airport with no car, don’t forget about U-Haul. Note that this won’t work if you have kids since their vehicles don’t have the additional seating you’d need, but U-Haul rents cargo vans and pickup trucks for “local” moves (i.e. you can’t rent these one-way but rather have to return to the place where you picked up). The nice thing is that in comparison to many of today’s rentals, the price is right if you don’t need to put on a lot of miles.

For example, just a few miles from the Fort Lauderdale Airport, I found a location that offers both cargo vans and pickup trucks for the standard $19.95 per day plus $0.79 per mile. Keep in mind that credit card rental insurance typically does not cover moving trucks, so even though the cargo van and pickup truck are more like “standard” cars than the big box trucks, your card may not cover you. I looked up a 7-day rental for the same set of June dates and either vehicle came to $139.65 + $0.79 per mile. Adding their collision damage waiver (which comes with a $150 deductible) was $140, so with insurance it would be a total of $284.65 plus $0.79/mi. If you’ll put on less than ~150 miles over the course of the week, you’ll come out ahead with the U-Haul over Toyota or the on-airport rates. I know that you’ll feel ridiculous pulling up to your swanky points hotel in a van or pickup plastered with U-Haul logos, but the pain is temporary and might beat having to take Ubers all week. Like I said at the top of this section, this technique won’t work with kids since both the cargo van and the pickup truck only have front seats. Years ago when I got into product resale and before I made a Craigslist trade for a pickup truck to haul stuff, I rented plenty of U-Haul vans. The quality of U-Haul rental shop varies wildly, but the vans themselves were fine in my experience.

Bottom line

Car rentals are becoming quite expensive in many markets and in some cases airport rental lots are unable to keep up with demand, selling out of cars and leaving some people stranded. A reader gave us a great tip to check car dealerships for rental vehicles and it looks like that could be a great option for locking in the specific model you’d like and in some cases you may even save money over booking through more mainstream options. Personally, I’d even consider renting a model before buying it in the future. This was an excellent reader tip that I’ll keep in my bag of tricks as travel picks back up.

0 0 votes
Post Rating

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

34 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Fred Bridge

Thanks for sharing an informative and helpful post!

[…] that may seem unusual but turn out to be a lifesaver for you is renting a U-Haul, as recommended by The Frequent Miler. U-Haul carries pickup trucks and cargo vans in its fleet so don’t dismiss this option as a […]

[…] that may seem unusual but turn out to be a lifesaver for you is renting a U-Haul, as recommended by The Frequent Miler. U-Haul carries pickup trucks and cargo vans in its fleet so don’t dismiss this option as a […]

[…] You know, can you imagine you finally venture out to travel somewhere and…can’t get a rental car after you had what you thought was a valid reservation? Lots of these car rental companies unloaded lots of cars to survive after the pandemic and now supply is so low and…get used to this for a while and, sadly, higher prices! Some ideas here: Surviving the car rental apocalypse by stepping outside the box. […]

Mfb123

The Uhaul idea is a good one (though they’ve never been known for their customer service) . I’d also recommend seeing if your auto insurance provider offers pre-negotiated rates.

Mike

I’ll throw out a couple of other tips. When I visit family in the Tampa area it is generally much cheaper to rent from a local rental branch, particularly Enterprise. Often the local branches aren’t even that far from the airports and you avoid airport surcharges.

Also, Enterprise Truck rents crew cab pickups. You will have to Uber/Lyft to get to them but the truck is big enough for 5 people.

Aloha808

I used Budget truck rental (meant for moving – like UHaul) in Las Vegas before when everything else was sold out. Ended up with a dually Dodge Ram… it was a lot of fun… and cheap!

Note: they’re a part of the regular Budget.

Last edited 1 year ago by Aloha808
Mike Benning

Wow, thanks Nick. This is some really helpful information, the kind that other blogs haven’t covered. More proof why this is my favorite travel and points blog!

PM1

This is brilliant Nick! I am taking a weeklong family vacation in a couple of weeks. Prices at Toyota dealerships are much cheaper than even going through Costco. Awesome!

Tino

I don’t buy the original story. You don’t get walked from a hotel where you have top status with no compensation. Either someone is fibbing or they are clueless.

Tino

Wow. I didn’t know IHG was such garbage. I’ve been walked several times by Hyatt in my life (as Diamond, which tells you how old I am) and they more than made up for it with compensation.

Laurel

I’m a Spire Elite and recently got walked from a hotel in Las Vegas….they finally did issue me some points after I threw a big fit about how unacceptable it is to walk a Spire.

ssss

Why are car rental prices so high?

Tino

There is no supply. At my closest airport (PIE), Hertz has shut down their facilities and zero cars have been available all week from the survivors.

ssss

Wow, I had no idea. Thanks

thomas

I rented a Uhaul truck in Molokai because rental cars were all gone. Save a lot of money to as standard Uhaul prices.

[…] Rental cars can hit $600/day in the top leisure markets. If you can’t find a car rental at a decent price consider renting from a car dealership […]

rich

I will warn anyone to be careful of renting at PHX. I was at the airport in late March and early April and the line for the rental car shuttle was VERY long. I’m not talking dozens of people but easily 100+. Looked like a line during busy season at Disney.

Greg The Frequent Miler

That’s true. We were there last weekend and had to walk past an infinitely long line. But we went past that to National and it was business as usual picking up a car from the emerald executive lane. No wait. Afterwards I cancelled my backup Avis reservation

Geoff

As Chairman’s Club Gold I think Hertz “guarantees” a car and allows shipping the line to pick out a car in the class reserved. Assuming status is honored. In this case, status might be a huge help. Guess I’ll find out in June.

God

My god a decent story

vittorio

Are credit cards insurance covering dealer’s rental? I read they do not cover Turo for example

Justin T

Silvercar is great too. Almost exclusively pickup/drop at dealerships now.

dan

unless an amex offer is available that helps lower the cost, silvercar’s is expensive even with a disc code; a 3-day rental after a 20% disc is quoted about $320 in early May

Last edited 1 year ago by dan
Vince

I suppose pick up and drop off times may be an issue with dealerships, be mindful of that

Vince

Have not checked but I am guessing dealers will not be open when I land 11:30 PM at JFK (National closes at that time!) or with my 7 AM departure a week later. I am going to check out options though. Getting stuck would be terrible

Retired Gambler

FYI – I went to Las Vegas last week and rented a car (which I usually don’t do) since I had read about the shortage of ride share drivers and associated long waits. I’m National Executive Emerald club. When I got to the rental facility first of all there was a line several hundred people long snaking through the facility. Guy at National told me that was for Dollar (glad I don’t rent with them). I went to the Executive Emerald club area and there were no cars but, instead, a line of 20-30 people. I got in line and found out it was first come/first served for both Emerald club and Executive Emerald club so my additional status meant nothing. However, cars were coming and within 30 minutes I had one (RAV4 which was fine since I saw everything from pickups to minivans come in and people typically took whatever was offered).

I’ve already booked cars for my planned trips in May, June and August (all w National) so hopefully the supply/demand issue is resolved or at least they have cars to honor my reservations.

LarryInNYC

I was super-excited to read Mary’s comment in the original post about renting from Subaru dealerships. My family car is over 190,000 miles and we’re looking to replace it — with a Subaru. I thought renting from them for a weekend would be a great way to try out different models for trips where our current car might not be reliable enough.

I found two Subaru dealers near me participating in this program. One (in Queens, NYC) listed a rate of $350 a day for every model. The other had prices from $40 to $60 a day depending on the model you selected.

I made a booking through the website for a Crosstrek, one of the models we’re considering. Although it looked like a confirmed booking I think it functioned more as an email form submission because the next day I got a personal email from someone at the dealership stating that they don’t have any Crosstreks in their “rental fleet” at the moment and would I consider an Outback (the other model we’re looking at). I accepted that and, fortunately, thought to mention that we’d be driving the car from New Jersey to North Carolina. The next day I got another email stating that they were “very sorry to have to disappoint you” but their rental cars had to stay within 100 miles of the dealership. I’m pretty sure this wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the “automated” booking process.

We have a camping trip coming up the weekend after next that will probably qualify as “within 100 miles” of the dealership, so I’ll give it another go then. For last week’s rental we actually got a decent rate and neighborhood Hertz location just over the bridge.

I don’t know if other brands, or even just other dealerships, are more automated but I wouldn’t consider any reservation to be “real” until you’ve spoken to the “rental person” at the dealership and disclosed your actual use of the car.

LarryInNYC

The impression I got is that (at this dealership at least) it’s a throw-back to pre-computer days. They have some number of late model “pre-owned” cars that they consider available for rental (maybe because no salesperson has put down a marker that they have a prospective buyer) and it’s all managed manually by a single individual at the dealership. In my case, the email I got had a cc: to another person at the dealership, so I’m guessing a junior-ish person runs the rental program and is cc-ing to the used car sales manager to manage availability.

It’s still a great program, but not a substitute for traditional car rentals in all situations.

Colabus

Nick;

Good thing to know, even without the rental shortage. I frequently go to SLC for skiing and renting an AWD SUV at Hertz is crazy expensive, even with a CDP. I’ll keep this mind for next year. This “hack” will work in major metro areas, however, not sure car rental from a dealer is available in places like Vail, Bozeman, MT, or Steamboat Springs.