A Memorial Day trip to hike and bike at Mississippi Palisades State Park seemed like an easy pandemic getaway — until Autumn Wolfer tried to book a rental car to drive there.
Including insurance, some rental car companies wanted as much as $900, she said.
So Wolfer, 43, of Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood, checked out Turo, a car-sharing company that lets people rent from individuals rather than companies like Hertz and Avis. Renting a 2020 Chevrolet Equinox from someone in Wicker Park cost just $250, she said.
“We’re paying $50 for the campsite. Paying $900 for the car just seemed kind of silly,” she said.
Rental car companies that sold hundreds of thousands of vehicles when the COVID-19 pandemic kept people home are now struggling to bring in enough new cars, leading to higher-than-usual prices and, in some destinations, limited options. For travelers, that means planning ahead or considering alternative options, from renting a stranger’s vehicle through a car-sharing service to driving a U-Haul.
“I think if you’re desperate enough, you’re going to try everything,” said Neil Abrams, president of car rental consulting firm Abrams Consulting Group.
When the pandemic hit and travelers canceled trips, rental car companies rushed to get rid of idle vehicles. Hertz, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last May, got rid of about 198,000 vehicles in the second half of 2020, according to the company’s annual report. Avis Budget Group said its fleet was about 31% smaller at the end of 2020 than the year before.
Just as travel started to bounce back this spring, semiconductor shortages affecting car manufacturers made it difficult for rental agencies to bring in enough cars to meet the new demand.
Avis Budget Group is getting new cars every day and can keep existing cars longer since they racked up fewer miles during the pandemic, but semiconductor shortages are having an impact, CEO Joseph Ferraro said during an earnings call Wednesday.
In the meantime, price increases have been “extraordinary,” Abrams said.