By on May 17, 2021

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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23 Comments on “Good Luck Getting Rental Cars This Summer...”

  • avatar

    I keep reading this but I was recently in Philly, Denver, and Seattle and at least AVIS was swimming in cars, they barely had space to park them all.

  • avatar

    “Rental companies typical try to play the vehicle market like the rest of use stocks or (if you’re hip) crypto. Buy low, sell high.”

    Uh, isn’t that the profit model for all businesses?

    I’m glad I’m not planning on renting anything this summer, though.

  • avatar

    We always have to rent a few cars for our Rocky Mountain family gatherings. Fortunately my relatives are aware and have already secured reservations at more or less reasonable prices. We’ll be driving from Seattle so I don’t have to worry about it.

    • 0 avatar
      CKNSLS Sierra SLT


      Just an FYI. There have been wide spread reports of vehicles not being there at pickup time even with a reservation.

      • 0 avatar

        LOL. I’m just imagining my BIL (who can be gruff and cranky to outsiders) and his three kids, including the petulant 15-year-old and the 8-year-old who perpetually acts like he’s on Red Bull, sitting on the curb at SLC airport waiting for something big enough to fit them all to return to the lot. Thanks for the laugh.

        • 0 avatar

          After 10 minutes of furious typing and staring, the rental car clerk manages to scrounge up a Kia Forte with a dent on the driver’s side door. Once your BIL’s blood pressure hits might cause a stroke territory, and after 10 more minutes of furious typing and staring (and maybe a call), a Nissan Versa was just dropped off and can be had right away if “you don’t mind an odd smell.”
          At that point, what remained of sanity and calmness slides away like the north face of Mt. St. Helens in 1980 and what emerges resembles some demonic creature from the last few pages of a Stephen King novel.

          …speaking from experience… ;-)

          • 0 avatar

            This is a man whose garage has a Silverado and a Denali XL in it and who invariably rents either Suburbans or Expedition Maxes. The idea of a Versa is just flat hilarious.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I’ve been a long time satisfied Hertz gold club member but if I need to rent something this summer and there’s an issue I might give Turo a go and rent something out of the ordinary.

  • avatar

    That is the screw up of epic proportions similar to domestics cancelling development and production of all sedans. Usually the reality catches up with you.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Well I’m already over 75 rental days this year and I’ve had zero issues getting a car. I will say the cars have been higher mileage up to my last one which was a 5000 mile Highlander (I took it to avoid the high mileage POS Armada they keep foisting on me).

  • avatar

    There’s always public transit….

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I take public transit when I go into the office and I have taken public transit when I have traveled to Chicago and Atlanta on business. Much less hassle and less expensive but you do need to travel light.

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