The COVID-19 pandemic forced rental agencies to sell a majority of their unused inventory to offset the costs of little to no business. Now that the travel industry has recovered, there’s a high demand for a limited supply of rental cars.
The average price to rent a car rose by 50% mid-summer 2021 and still have not gotten much better. In circumstances such as this one, the internet is the first place many turn to find deals or alternative solutions. Unfortunately, what you find online may lead to more headaches.
Peer-to-Peer Car Sharing Services – Damage and Insurance Issues
When rental agencies have no inventory, an increasingly common solution is to rent from private owners through car-sharing apps. Unfortunately, there are a few issues consumers seem to keep running into with this specific option.
Turo, the popular car-sharing app, for example, has received an influx of complaints. Consumers are reporting surprise fees once they return the vehicle - most often because of damage – which may or may not have been inflicted by the renter. The company does ask renters to take photographs before and after the transaction, however, consumers are still experiencing issues even after providing documentation.
New competitors are hitting the market with claims of addressing the more common reservations consumers have about peer-to-peer sharing services – mainly insurance issues and difficult car owners.
Third-Party Travel Apps – The Middle Man
It’s tempting to book your rental using a third-party website, but those sites come with risks, especially when demand is high.
Third-party apps are designed to scan the internet for the best deals on all things travel. The problem is that they may not always have the most up-to-date inventory. Consumers have reported rental car reservations not being honored once they arrive in person, despite having already paid in advance.
Whether it’s a processing issue or having to book a new reservation somewhere else, you might have to give up more money on top of what you’ve already spent.
Great. So now what?
The bottom line: Anyone with travel plans is going to have to clear a few hurdles. The best advice is to plan ahead and book as soon as possible. Here are some tips for securing a reservation:
- Research and compare companies. Before booking a car rental, look up the company on BBB.org to get a sense of how they operate. You can check to see if there are any major consumer alerts, low business ratings, or patterns of complaints. Most importantly, you can get a feel for how the business responds to any of those complaints. Are they flexible? Or do they stick to a strict policy? How responsive are they?
- Go straight to the source. Third-party travel apps scan internet deals for you. Once you find a deal you like, check directly with the rental agency and investigate what the price difference will be. It may be better to pay a little more than taking on any added risk.
- Unconventional car rentals you may not be aware of. Ready to think outside of the box? There are plenty of places most people wouldn’t look to for renting a car.
- Leverage your Costco membership.
- Check with your local dealership. Many dealerships offer rentals to customers looking to buy their next vehicle. Think of it as an extended test drive.
- Home improvement stores offer rentals, mainly pick-up trucks. The plus is that it’s a set rate instead of an inflated one.
- Rent a car by the hour. You may have to adjust your plans so that you aren’t heavily relying on a car. Look into airport shuttles to transport you to the hotel, and then rent a car by the hour if you absolutely need it. Rates for hourly rentals tend to be lower. Plus, in some instances, you aren’t expected to pay for gas.
Additional Car Rental Tips
- Consider location. Renting from an airport-based rental facility may be more expensive than an off-airport location. Also, many rentals have an extra drop-off fee if you are returning the vehicle to a different location than where you picked it up.
- Inspect the vehicle. Thoroughly inspect your rental car before you drive away. Note any damage such as scratches or dents in the body; stains or tears in the interior; cracks in the windshield or other windows, etc. If you see any damage or defect, make the company representative aware of it immediately so that it’s noted on the car condition form. Take pictures of the damage or make a video and describe the damage as you record. Also, check to see that the mileage is the same as what is recorded on your rental agreement.
- Returning the vehicle. Before leaving the vehicle, be sure that the check-in attendant inspects the car’s body in your presence and that you agree on any damage. Get a final print-out of the charges that will be made on your credit card and check your statement later to make sure there are no unexpected charges. Whenever possible, avoid dropping off your vehicle outside of normal operating hours and leaving the keys in a dropbox. It’s hard to dispute damage charges if you are not there when the vehicle is inspected.