By on April 26, 2021

With car rentals crippled through 2020 as society collectively stopped traveling in response to the pandemic, businesses entered 2021 with the perfect excuse to charge exorbitant fees to lend out some of the cheapest vehicles on the market. Cities have it particularly bad as rental firms find themselves with a surplus of locals wanting to escape and not enough vehicles to serve them. Daily rates now surpass three figures in metropolitan areas and can balloon by hundreds more if a customer wants to return the vehicle out of state (depending on the agency).

However, Hawaii is where things start to get really weird. The islands are reportedly in such short supply of rental cars that tourists are borrowing U-Hauls, where the biggest concerns of mileage and finding a parking space pale in comparison to the upfront cost of something more typical of vacationing families.  

According to Hawaii News Now, via Carsoops,  the cheapest rental car on Maui in March was a Toyota Camry which cost $722 per day. Convertibles were alleged to set you back hundreds more. But we couldn’t verify that for April since they’ve become impossible to find. While you can bring rates down by booking in advance, those hoping to find a vehicle for less than $200 a day will need to reserve a car roughly a full month in advance or just walk in and hope they get lucky.

By contrast, U-Hauls (cargo van or pickup truck) can be obtained for as little as $19.95 plus $0.89 per mile driven. But some vacationers reportedly spent more on box trucks when nothing else was available in March. It’s definitely one of the sadder life hacks we’ve come across. But it could save you a bundle if the alternative is spending almost a grand per day for a car you don’t even like driving.

From Hawaii News Now:

“The uptick from tourism, the uptick from companies opening back up, from the economy restarting — everybody seems to need a vehicle,” said U-Haul Marketing President Kaleo Alau.

Alau said Hawaii U-Haul facilities are the busiest they’ve been in years.

“Most of the time they’re saying that they can’t get a vehicle from any of the rental spots. They’re all sold out,” Alau said.

We’ve little sympathy for the rental firms here. Hertz was just one of a handful of companies that had to file for bankruptcy in 2020 and dumped their surplus vehicles in a desperate bid to remain solvent. But competitors weren’t interested in taking the risk of buying up a bunch of cheap vehicles just because they might someday see their customers return. Instead, agencies played a similarly conservative game and waited to see who among them could best endure the financial drought. While the lapse in supply might make it seem like they’ve missed an opportunity, they appear to be making up for it with the kind of pricing our older readers might reference as “highway robbery.”

We’re doubtful prices will come down anywhere close to what we saw a few months ago. Most rental agencies were fairly conservative in the number of fleet vehicles they thought they might need going into 2021 and the automotive industry is dealing with supply chain issues that are creating rolling work stoppages. Resupplying rental fleets is going to take some time and companies might not be all that interested when they can charge ludicrous prices in just about every region. We’ll be crossing our fingers for your summer vacation plans, whether you manage to snag the rental you wanted or have to stuff your family into the back of a Ford Transit wearing the U-Haul livery.

[Image: Ken Wolter/Shutterstock]

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8 Comments on “Rental Car Demand Pushes Hawaiian Tourists Toward U-Haul...”

  • avatar

    Sounds like a bonanza for Uber and Lyft there too…

  • avatar

    Amazing what people will do when they’re desperate?

    • 0 avatar

      Desperate? I drive a RCLB truck every day – I’d happily drive a nice new one on vacation. Since the islands aren’t very large, it would be tough to rack up too much mileage charge. Even if a Mitsubishi Mirage is $99/day from Avis, the RCLB or cargo van from U-Haul seems like the better bargain.

  • avatar

    Dealers in Phoenix told me they have stopped selling their cars and have put them on Turo. The exact mechanics of this were not explained, but it seems they have paper t-tags there so its probably not difficult to register them under the dealership without having to provide a physical plate. I myself was fortunate to even get a rental (from Turo, agencies screwed me). I was also told the line at Thrifty on Friday at SkyHarbor was an hour long.

  • avatar

    Commenting from Maui, this has been the big issue for the last month. Tourism came back way faster than anyone prepared for. 1,000s of work-from-home folks came and bought all the housing stock and all the used cars. And now we have tons of tourists. We still haven’t ended any mask or social distancing rules, but tourists don’t care. Lots of locals are renting their extra vehicles out for cash.

    The thing I don’t like is how rental car companies are price gouging.

    What I like very much is that this keeps the tourists in the resorts. The resorts were built on “appropriated” land with the promise that tourists would be kept out of certain areas. That NEVER happened. None of the local government has put any restriction on tourism for the last three decades and our island is in way worse shape than it was when I moved here 15 years ago.

    When the lockdown happened we started seeing a rebound in fish and aquatic life that had been declining for years. Now they are all dying again. And all our waterfall hikes and scenic places are being instagrammed to death after only a month, litter everywhere, and people going on private property they have no right to enter. The ONLY thing keeping this place from being completely destroyed in all this pent up demand is the fact that about 1/3 of the people visiting here can’t get a car. Until a long-term solution is found, rental companies can keep their cars few and their prices high so we can buy some time to cope with this.

    And the the story is missing some important intel about why rental car companies sold. Here, at least, they were forced to sell because they left thousands of vehicles in big fields for as much as 8 months. The vehicles were parked in the sun and salt air and just rotted, while rats and mice ate up the wiring and interiors. Around here cars that aren’t driven eventually CAN’T be driven.

  • avatar

    We visited family on the Big Island last month. The last time we were there was pre-covid. Rental cars rates were high, especially for 4×4’s. That was the only type of vehicle that seemed in short supply.
    Scopkins, I agree with a lot of what you said. At least Hawaii (Big Island) has more space than Maui so we can get away from these people.

  • avatar

    Just received my second vaccine. Attempting to use up some airline credits before they expire with a trip to Ft Lauderdale. It’s amazing what the airlines are charging for seats that used to go for $175 to $250 roundtrip coach pre COVID.

    Also surprised at the quoted rental car rates on Expedia. Normally pay $30 to $45 per day, depending on type of car. Now quoting $75 to $85 per day for the weekend prior to the Memorial Day weekend. Even the offsite agencies are quoting big bucks. WOW!!! No fun!!

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