If you’re planning to take a road trip in the US or Australia over the next few months, you’ve probably heard something about the pandemic-induced rental car shortages. Here are some alternatives to car rental and workarounds that will help you get on the road.
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Problem: Rental Car Shortage
During the COVID-19 pandemic, travel came to a near standstill and rental car companies sold off portions of their fleets as a cost-cutting measure. For example, Avis Budget Group reported that it sold off 250,000 vehicles globally. Unfortunately, companies like Hertz were still forced to file for bankruptcy in 2020.
As vaccinations are rolled out and restrictions ease, more people are travelling again. As many try to avoid air travel, public transport and crowded urban spaces, travellers are taking to the road in private vehicles – owned and rented.
As a result, popular tourist locations are experiencing a shortage of rental cars. This is pushing prices much, much higher. Those with bookings may still wait hours for a car or not get one at all. Furthermore, successful renters have reported that they are receiving older cars with more mileage and not as clean as they are used to.
Adding to the problem is a stall in new car manufacturing due to a shortage of semiconductor chips available – also a result of the pandemic – which is set to continue well into 2022.
But you didn’t come here for problems, you came for solutions and I have some rental car alternatives that might work for you.
Solutions: Alternatives to rental cars
Rent from a car dealership
In the US, some dealerships rent out their fleet. Ring around dealerships in your destination and ask if they have a rental car program as they may not advertise. Some examples of those that do have rental programs:
Find out if your hotel offers shuttles or private transfers to/from the airport. Some hotels also offer bikes or cars that you can use or rent during your stay. These might just get you past the rental car shortage hurdle.
Book a tour
I know, we prefer to explore independently too. It is a time of compromises I’m afraid. Booking a tour that includes transport may be a better and more affordable way around spiking rental car prices. Also, tour operators would really appreciate your support at this time.
Have you tried car sharing as a rental car alternative? Since we moved to Seattle we have been using Gigcar to get around on the odd weekend excursion. Download the app, provide your details including a payment method and photo of your drivers license, and within 24-hours you could be approved and ready to drive. For more on how it works, see specifics on different car-sharing providers below.
Car sharing is a great option if you are visiting an urban environment and won’t be using a car all day every day during your stay e.g. Say you’re visiting Seattle and you want to make a day trip to Mt Rainier. Open the app, find a car closest to you and book it. You can even get GIG and Zipcar to/from the airport in some cities.
GIG Car Share – San Francisco and Bay Area, Sacramento and Seattle.
Zipcar – Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington DC and more.
Flexicar (owned by Hertz) – Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth
GoGet – Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane
Peer-to-peer car sharing
Other versions of car sharing are programs such as Getaround (USA), CarNextDoor (Australia) and Turo (USA, Canada and UK) which are best described as “Airbnb for cars”. These apps connect you with private car owners who are willing to rent their vehicle. The biggest disadvantage to this system is that you must collect the vehicle at its home location, which may require an extra taxi or Uber ride.
Avail is another peer-to-peer carsharing app operating in select locations in the US and run by Allstate, which means there are added insurance benefits to using Avail over similar platforms. Furthermore, Avail combines the services of a more traditional rental company by inspecting and cleaning vehicles.
For those taking a road trip, renting an RV may be the solution to both your car rental and accommodation in one. Just as there is peer-to-peer sharing of cars, there is for RV’s as well. Enter Outdoorsy. They estimate over 17 million RVs are estimated to sit unused in North America, 350 days a year! Listings on Outdoorsy (and similarly US platform RV Share) include Airstreams, fifth wheelers, Class A, B, and C RVs, motorhomes and more. You will find a more modest selection to choose from in Australia and Canada.
If you prefer to go with a traditional rental rather than peer-to-peer, try Cruise America (also Cruise Canada) in North America and Britz campervan hire in Australia. Maui and Road Bear have both sides of the Pacific covered, whichever mighty road trip-loving nation you are from.
Tips for renting a car
If you have no choice but to rent here are a few tips to increase your chances of success:
- Plan ahead. As far ahead as you possibly can. Check rental car availability before booking the rest of your trip.
- Budget for the cost of a more expensive rental car.
- Try a longer rental period – sometimes a weekly rate is lower than a weekend. There are usually no penalties for returning a car early, but check the conditions.
- Pay upfront.
- Use rental companies where you have status. You might be a Hertz Gold Plus Member or a National Emerald Club member with benefits – anecdotal reports say that people with status are having more luck getting cars.
- Be prepared to wait for a vehicle and allow enough time to do so. In some cases people are waiting hours or having the car delivered to their hotel after their arrival.
- Carry disinfectant wipes to give your car interior a quick clean when you start your rental.
- Above all, be patient and kind. These are trying times for all of us and it’s not over yet.
Peace, love & inspiring travel,