If you’re tired of high gas prices, here’s how to rent an electric (or hybrid) car
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If you’ve filled up recently, you don’t need me to tell you gas prices are high. And prices will only soar higher. In fact, the national average for a gallon of gas hit $3.30 this week. That’s the highest price per gallon in more than six years.
A shortage of gas delivery drivers and increased demand are all driving the price hike. On top of the high gas prices, there’s a major shortage of rental cars right now. That has many people looking for alternatives and specifically asking if you can rent an electric or even a hybrid car.
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The short answer is that you can, but it may end up costing you a lot more than you’d save in gas.
How hard is it to find an electric car right now?
It’s not fun trying to find any cars right now. That’s true of rental cars whether they are “green” or not. My colleague Andrew Kunesh wrote an in-depth article that covers the trend nicely. Essentially, many rental companies sold off inventory at the height of the pandemic. Now, the surge in demand is meeting a much lower supply of cars. It’s hard to buy cars, too — though many attribute that issue to the shortage of necessary parts on the assembly line.
Karen Schaler, the creator of Travel Therapy TV, says after trying for months to rent or lease an electric car in Arizona and finding none available, she ended up having to buy a hybrid from California. She had it shipped to her. She told me she was “still on a waiting list.” Schaler says unless you are in California, where they have had a head start on electric and hybrid car requirements, there’s just not a lot of available inventory out there.
At TPG, we spent a day trying to rent an electric car with very little success. In fact, we couldn’t find any from traditional rental car companies. You’ll have much better luck with car-sharing companies. In fact, I’ve discovered a new love called Turo.
Car-share with companies like Turo
Turo is your absolute best bet if you want a guaranteed electric (or, for that matter, even a hybrid) vehicle. The new-ish company allows you to rent regular consumers’ cars when they aren’t using them.
I signed up for the service (it’s an app like Uber) and searched my then-current location (Anchorage, Alaska). I found several cars available at the last minute and there were even a few green cars. I could rent a 2018 Toyota Prius for $149 a day. Looking ahead, there was a 2020 Tesla Model Y I could rent for $130 a day.
Obviously, there wasn’t a big selection of electric cars in Alaska, but a search in Los Angeles found a glut of e-cars available. They included a Tesla Model S for $320 a day, a Tesla Model X for $252 a day and a Toyota Prius Prime for $68 a day.
There was even a hydrogen-fueled 2017 Toyota Mirai for $112 a day, which included the hydrogen fuel.
I ended up renting a hybrid car in Maui, Hawaii, this summer. It was an awesome experience despite a few hiccups and I saved a bunch on gas getting 44 miles per gallon.
Travel writer Cory Moore told me via Twitter that he had such a good experience renting an electric car via Turo that he “ended up buying one.” Keep in mind his warning, however, that when you go to charge, it’s not always free. Moore said, “For what it’s worth, Supercharging a Tesla at highway speeds is nearly the same cost of $2.50–$2.75 gas.”
Matt Bennett actually rents out his Tesla in Missoula, Montana, on Turo. He said in our TPG Lounge on Facebook that “… it’s been insanely popular so far. I charge a premium for it and am very selective about who I rent to, but it’s been lucrative.”
Several readers in the Lounge mentioned they were too worried about finding charging spots to rent electric cars.
Kyle Gossman made perhaps the best point, however, when he said, “For the most part, the added cost of the rental is going to far exceed your gas savings.” Gossman rented his own Tesla out in 2018 and said, “Overall, owning electric cars carries significant advantages to me. We have not owned a gas car in over five years. But when traveling, I still rent gas cars because of the lower cost and flexibility.”
Rent an electric car from one of the big rental companies
If you want to rent an electric car from one of the big car rental agencies, you’re going to have your work cut out for you. We checked random summer 2021 dates in June and July using airport locations in major cities, including New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. We did find some hybrid models but totally struck out on fully electric cars. Very few car rental sites even mention electric cars (except for Sixt).
All except Thrifty at least claim to have options for hybrids, but between lack of availability and misleading category options, it’s difficult to actually book one. Budget was the only site that seemed to make it easy.
Most companies list midsize hybrid as its own category on the “car types” page, but then when you try to click through to reserve one, it just shows all midsize cars with no way to make sure it’s a hybrid.
Alamo claims to have hybrids (see link), but I did several searches for random summer dates in a few major cities (New York, Philly, Dallas, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle), and there’s nothing available. I’m unsure if it’s because of the type of car or because of the general rental shortage.
Alamo even has an electric landing page, but “no availability” is the order of the day.
Yes, Avis offers several hybrid models, including the Toyota Prius hybrid, the Hyundai Sonata hybrid and the Lexus GS 410H F Sport. Again, availability is tough. I did find a Toyota Prius hybrid in San Francisco in June, but it also says “or similar” when you go to book it, so you aren’t guaranteed to get a hybrid. Prices were similar to non-hybrid models. There were no electric cars at Avis either.
Budget offers several hybrid models, and I was able to find them available at airports in most of the major cities mentioned above (except Los Angeles and New York) on random summer dates.
The Dollar page I’ve linked lists “Mid-Size 2- or 4-door, Hybrid Air” as a category, promising a “Ford Fusion Hybrid (or similar).” However, when you click through and do dummy searches, it offers cars that fall into the midsize category but aren’t hybrids.
When you go back to edit the parameters, the car type drop-down doesn’t list the midsize hybrid category as an option at all, so I’m not sure there’s a way to guarantee you’d get a hybrid, especially if you book online. (I also found other random pages, including one for Montreal, that listed Priuses as options, so it might just depend on where you’re renting the car.)
Hertz also has a landing page for both electric and hybrid models. Unfortunately, they were hard to book here, too, even though Hertz has been bragging about adding electric vehicles since at least 2010.
When I try to make a reservation through the hybrid landing page, it takes me to a page to select a car type. None of the types listed are hybrids.
Sixt has a dedicated page for electric cars showing a fleet of electric vehicles like the BMW I3 and the BMW I8, but again we couldn’t find those cars actually available anywhere we looked.
Nope. I can’t find anything about electric or hybrid on its website at all.
Rent via Lyft
The cool thing about it? Lyft has a ton of environmentally friendly options including 2019 Hyundai Ioniqs. Those cars get an average of 58 miles to the gallon.
My colleague Andrew Kunesh wrote the complete guide here.
What about renting from a car dealer?
You can rent cars from car dealerships, which is something most of us at TPG hadn’t ever heard of until this wild year of the car rental apocalypse. It’s not always straightforward, however, so keep that in mind in general, but even more so when it comes to electric cars.
For example, you can rent a car from a Toyota dealer, and there is even a website set up just for that. I found 10 dealers in the California Bay Area alone where you could rent a Prius.
You will need to contact the dealer directly to set up a rental.
You could do something even crazier and buy or lease a new electric car for a week and then return it to the dealer. Don’t laugh; Tesla actually allowed this for a while.
Beware insurance issues
Be aware, too, of insurance when renting electric or hybrid cars. Some policies may not cover high-end cars like fancy Teslas or BMWs.
Most Turo lenders sell insurance separately on the site. It can be confusing, so do your research. Most Turo rentals I’ve seen come with Liberty Mutual insurance arranged “through Turo Insurance Agency.”
My colleague Chris Dong took a closer look at the coverage you get via Chase when you rent a car using their cards. The Chase Sapphire credit cards usually offer a primary collision damage waiver if you pay for your rental with your card. And while Dong says there’s nothing specifically against covering electric cars in the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred Card benefits guides, there is a difference with “high-value motor vehicles.”
For example, The Chase Sapphire Preferred specifically doesn’t cover “high-value motor vehicles,” and Chase includes Teslas in the examples.
Our best piece of advice is to contact the credit card issuer if it’s not your run-of-the-mill rental to make sure it’s covered.
Additional reporting by Chris Dong, Ashley Kosciolek and Andrew Kunesh.
Featured photo by Sheila Fitzgerald/Shutterstock.
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