SALT LAKE CITY — If you have made plans to travel this summer, you have likely heard about the nationwide rental car shortage. Low supply and high demand have made car rental prices jaw-droppingly high this summer.
Here in Salt Lake, for instance, we found a midsize SUV renting out for $225 a day at the end of July. How do you avoid wrecking your wallet?
"The prices on rental cars right now is unlike anything we've ever seen," said Scott Keyes of Scott's Cheap Flights. He told us what is happening on the ground stems from a fascinating convergence of events. Battered by the pandemic, rental car companies sold off hundreds of thousands of cars to stay in business. Now that we are hitting the road again, they can't buy cars fast enough.
"They're facing another shortage, which is the semiconductor chip shortage," Keyes explained. "There's this global demand for semiconductor chips which are standard now in most cars."
Translation: The car rental shortage is not going away anytime soon.
What can you do?
First, book as early as possible. Keyes said you will see better rates and better availability.
"You'll actually be able to make sure you reserve a car rather than risking there not being any cars left if you wait until a couple days before your trip to make your car rental arrangements," he said.
He even recommended reserving a car now even if your travel plans have not yet been set in stone.
"The reservations tend to be free to cancel. So, there's no risk in just reserving the car now and then knowing you can cancel it later," Keyes said.
Next: Instead of picking up your rental at the airport, look for a location somewhere else in the destination city.
"Usually within three or four miles there are a dozen other locations where you can rent cars from," suggested Keyes. "You can always just take a taxi or take an Uber to one of those when you land."
The KSL Investigators crunched numbers for top U.S. destinations for the first week of August. In each case, the daily rate on a midsize SUV was lower outside the airport. In Honolulu's case, it is 15% cheaper. In the Big Apple, the gap grew to a 17% difference and in Vegas, we found going off-airport for the rental would save 42% off the rental's daily rate.
Other options for a cheaper car rental abound.
Costco, if you are a member. Rental broker AutoSlash.com. Or there are carsharing services where you can rent someone's personal car. We are talking Zipcar, Getaround or Turo.
"You often see a lot better rates through Turo than through the rental agencies," Keyes said.
A lesser-known option is dealerships. Car dealers like Toyota, Ford, Subaru, Kia and Chevrolet do offer rentals in some locations.
"They have a fleet of cars that they actually make available to rent at a pretty reasonable daily rate," said Keyes. "$30, $40, $50 bucks a day. In normal times folks are just renting because they want to test out that new Subaru for a week and see how they like it. But (now), it's a good opportunity to be able to get a much more affordable rental for your vacation."
Because of this frenzy right now, there is a distinct possibility a rental agency might run out of cars — even reserved ones. So, your best bet is to book your arrival for early to mid-morning and have a backup plan in your pocket just so you don't get stuck without wheels.