Good Luck Getting Rental Cars This Summer

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
good luck getting rental cars this summer

As you might have noticed, or heard from us, rental agencies have been hoovering up new and used vehicles to offset the 2020 selloff that stemmed from everyone mysteriously canceling their travel plans that year. Returning to normal, which is something anyone who didn’t assume the world was ending could have predicted, has resulted in increased pricing for vehicles — regardless of whether you’re renting or buying.

Rental companies typically try to play the vehicle market like the rest of use stocks or (if you’re hip) crypto. Buy low, sell high. But 2021 has created a perfect storm of increased demand coming after a long stretch of nothing and an auto industry that doesn’t seem to be capable of building cars thanks to all sorts of component shortages. But it’s no sweat for the big rental agencies because they’re now able to charge just about whatever they want. They’re keeping vehicles in their fleets longer, making more money off them, and selling them back at elevated prices.

Your author frequently relies on rental cars to avoid putting additional miles on his security blanket/gas guzzler and it worked a treat when firms were charging double-digit prices for a car that was ultimately going to see another 800 extra miles placed on the odometer in a 24-hour period. But the current reality is a glut of high-millage cars in less-than-ideal condition that may not even be on the lot when you arrive at the rental desk.

What can be done? Well, reserving a vehicle well in advance of your trip is never a bad idea. But shopping around will likely be more helpful. You might find certain agencies with terms that work for milling around town but become prohibitively expensive if you plan on taking them out of state. Depending on where you’re going, the inverse might be true. We recommend comparing all the big-name firms and then considering something like ZipCar or peer-to-peer car-sharing apps like Turo or GetAround at your final destination. Some drivers in areas where rental vehicles are in short supply have even found themselves avoiding plump fees by just renting smaller trucks from U-Haul. Just be sure to keep the number of miles you’ll be covering in the front of your mind so you can do the math.

Renting away from airports can also save you money, as they typically yield lower rates. You’re likewise more likely to have a vehicle waiting for you if you’re part of a loyalty program or book something that’s a little nicer than the Manager’s Special. They’re typically more willing to cut you a sweeter deal if something goes wrong, too.

But there’s little that can be done about the core issues that are creating the problem.

According to Cox Automotive, via Automotive News, the typical mileage for rental risk units was 82,800 miles in April. That represents a 62 percent increase from the same time in 2020. Meanwhile, the average price for agency-owned vehicles sold at auction was up 32 percent in April compared with the same time a year earlier and up 7 percent from the previous month. This trend is all but guaranteed to continue throughout the summer.

Hertz, which almost died last year, is currently reporting its inventory is below 300,000. That’s down 42 compared to 2019, with most other agencies noting similar (though usually smaller) sizing disparities between their pre and post-pandemic fleets. Don’t forget, demand for rental vehicles dropped by around 90 percent in the first month of the pandemic, and those same companies were worried they might not survive to enjoy 2021.

When will things begin to stabilize? Probably when demand drops and it becomes less lucrative for agencies to keep hoarding cars and renting at such high prices. But that doesn’t just mean when the vacationing months are over. Rental groups want to recoup last year’s losses and the automotive industry will also need to figure out its supply chain issues to help match the rising demand.

[Image: IJzendoorn/Shutterstock]

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4 of 23 comments
  • Lou_BC "Owners of affected Wrangles" Does a missing "r" cancel an extra stud?
  • Slavuta One can put a secret breaker that will disable the starter or spark plug supply. Even disabling headlights or all lights will bring more trouble to thieves than they wish for. With no brake lights, someone will hit from behind, they will leave fingerprints inside. Or if they steal at night, they will have to drive with no lights. Any of these things definitely will bring attention.I remember people removing rotor from under distributor cup.
  • Slavuta Government Motors + Government big tech + government + Federal police = fascist surveillance state. USSR surveillance pales...
  • Johnster Another quibble, this time about the contextualization of the Thunderbird and Cougar, and their relationship to the prestigious Continental Mark. (I know. It's confusing.) The Thunderbird/Mark IV platform introduced for the 1971 model year was apparently derived from the mid-sized Torino/Montego platform (also introduced for the 1971 model year), but should probably be considered different from it.As we all know, the Cougar shared its platform with the Ford Mustang up through the 1973 model year, moving to the mid-sized Torino/Montego platform for the 1974 model year. This platform was also shared with the failed Ford Gran Torino Elite, (introduced in February of 1974, the "Gran Torino" part of the name was dropped for the 1975 and 1976 model years).The Thunderbird/Mark series duo's separation occurred with the 1977 model year when the Thunderbird was downsized to share a platform with the LTD II/Cougar. The 1977 model year saw Mercury drop the "Montego" name and adopt the "Cougar" name for all of their mid-sized cars, including plain 2-doors, 4-doors and and 4-door station wagons. Meanwhile, the Cougar PLC was sold as the "Cougar XR-7." The Cougar wagon was dropped for the 1978 model year (arguably replaced by the new Zephyr wagon) while the (plain) 2-door and 4-door models remained in production for the 1978 and 1979 model years. It was a major prestige blow for the Thunderbird. Underneath, the Thunderbird and Cougar XR-7 for 1977 were warmed-over versions of the failed Ford Elite (1974-1976), while the Mark V was a warmed-over version of the previous Mark IV.
  • Stuart de Baker This is depressing, and I don't own one of these.