Can’t find a car rental? Here are 7 secrets that may help
It seems like there has been a perpetual rental car shortage here in the U.S., at least for the past couple of years. And although high gas prices have created another logistical hurdle for drivers, some travelers are still opting for road travel over going by air.
Just a year ago, TPG labeled the situation a rental car shortage apocalypse.
While it's true there are many challenges, it is possible to get a rental vehicle for your summer vacation. Here are seven tips to help you do it.
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The state of U.S. car rentals
To start, let's back up a bit and remind ourselves how we got to this point. When travel abruptly halted at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many rental car companies were forced to sell large portions of their fleets and stop ordering vehicles when demand dropped as much as 90% in the earliest days of the pandemic.
As travel slowly began rebounding, rental car companies struggled to keep up with the pace. Their challenges were exacerbated by a global supply chain shortage of key car parts, including microchips, that slowed new car production overall.
As rental car companies work to address their inventory issues, here are some things you can do to increase the odds you’ll have something to drive the next time you need to rent a car.
First of all, book your car rental as far in advance as possible.
Having an advance reservation will almost certainly increase your likelihood of driving away with a car compared to walk-up customers. You can also lock in your rate before it rises — and you can often rebook without penalty if rates drop.
Familiarize yourself with AutoSlash, which allows you to track and monitor your reservation for a price drop and will automatically rebook you at the lower rate.
It also is a good idea to call the rental car company before you arrive and double-check on the status of your reservation.
Use your car rental membership status
Even before the current car rental shortage, one of the perks of being part of a car rental membership program is saving time by avoiding the pick-up line at some of the more popular rental locations.
Even better, you don’t need to have elite status to be able to skip the rental car counter and select among the available cars in your eligible aisle with certain programs, including Alamo Insiders and Budget Fastbreak.
There also are certain credit cards that confer automatic elite status with rental car programs.
While rental car elite status doesn’t guarantee you a car if vehicle inventory is depleted at the time of your scheduled pick-up, but it can help — especially if the cars that are available are the ones set aside in a preferred area for elite members.
Check for off-airport locations
Booking a rental car for pick-up at an airport location is usually the easiest solution. Get off the plane, take a quick shuttle and — voila — you’re at the rental counter.
While airport locations are popular and convenient, they may sell out of cars faster than off-airport locations. If you are having trouble finding affordable or available cars at the airport location, check other nearby locations in that town.
Although these storefronts often have more limited hours, they also often have lower fees. Assuming the transportation from the airport to the off-airport location doesn’t set you back too much, you'll likely save some money this way.
Related: How to never pay full price for a rental car
Try a local car dealership
So far, we’ve walked through some of the easy solutions. But what if you tried all of the above and you’re still stuck with no car?
One option is to try and rent a car through a local car dealer. Although not all car dealers offer rentals to the general public, I can confirm that Toyota, Nissan and Ford have dealerships in South Florida and around the country where you can rent a car right off the lot.
To book a rental car with a dealer, you’ll either have to call the dealer directly or see if you can make a reservation online. As a bonus, this approach provides the unique opportunity to test drive your potential future car while securing transportation at the same time.
Silvercar, which has an auto dealership connection, is worth its own callout as it makes the rental process pretty simple online.
While Silvercar used to be available at airport locations, it now operates a network of 25 Audi dealerships around the country in cities such as Denver, Houston, Miami, New York, Las Vegas and more. Prices vary based on location and dates but currently start as low as $70 per day for an Audi A4 and increase from there on higher demand days or for larger vehicles.
There are options to have your Audi delivered and picked up for an additional fee.
Consider ride-hailing services
If there simply aren’t any cars available, or if your plans don’t really require moving around much, consider using a ride-hailing service, such as Uber or Lyft, to get you from point A to point B instead. You can split the cost of transportation with any travel partners and not worry about paying extravagant rental car rates.
Alternatively, you can look into booking a rental car through Lyft to see how its prices compare to traditional car rental companies. For example, you can book a Lyft rental in mid-August in Fort Lauderdale starting at $150/day.
Related: Best cards for Lyft and Uber
Another tip is to check with your hotel to see if it offers airport pickup. If you’re staying at a rental property like one secured through Airbnb, check with your host to see if they have any transportation recommendations. Your host might even have a car you can borrow.
Other transportation options
Some who have struggled to find a rental car through traditional rental agencies have also tried reserving a car through Turo, a popular car-sharing service, or Kyte, a rental car startup that allows users to pick up and drop off their rental car almost wherever and whenever across 13 U.S. cities.
Another option could be renting a U-Haul, something recommended by the Frequent Miler. U-Haul has pickup trucks and cargo vans in its fleet — not just larger box trucks.
Currently, rates start at $19.95 per day (plus the cost per mile) to rent a U-Haul truck in South Florida. Sure, it's unconventional — but it could be helpful when you find yourself in a jam at the rental car counter.
With a shortage of car rentals across the country and spiking demand among travelers this summer, renting a car continues to be an expensive and challenging task in popular leisure locations. Hopefully, your next car rental experience will be as uneventful as a beige, mid-sized sedan — but if it isn’t, keep this list of tricks in your back pocket.
Additional reporting by Caroline Tanner.