How to rent an electric car — everything you need to know
Are you considering renting a car the next time you go on vacation? Well don’t feel obliged to borrow a gas-guzzler for the duration of your stay as going electric is becoming an increasingly viable option.
Renting an electric car for a trip may not have all the same long-term benefits as buying your own EV, true, but there are still benefits. Like not paying for gasoline, or having more interior space. Rental companies are offering more and more electric options, so here’s how you can rent an electric car next time you go on vacation.
Which rental companies carry electric cars?
Electric cars are no longer the niche machines they once were. For that reason the majority of the big car rental firms in the United States have some kind of electrified fleet.
Hertz (opens in new tab) is the one that’s made the most noise about electric car rentals over the past several months, making a point of announcing the purchase of tens of thousands of Tesla and Polestar 2 cars. Hertz doesn’t make it particularly easy to filter for electric vehicles, though.
The company offers various “collections” to search through, including “The Green Collection.” However, the cars in that list don’t seem to include EVs, even when the full list does. Electric cars are marked as such, so keep an eye out for that green label.
Enterprise offers two classes of electric car, Intermediate (opens in new tab) and Luxury (opens in new tab). It doesn’t specify which cars are stocked, but Enterprise says you’ll get a Nissan Leaf “or similar.” In other words, a more casual electric car without extravagant features and likely not as much range. An example of a Luxury car is a Tesla Model S.
Enterprise subsidiaries National (opens in new tab) and Alamo (opens in new tab) also stock cars in those two categories, plus a third: Full Size Electric Elite. The example is a Polestar 2, so expect to get something more luxurious and feature-packed cars than a budget EV, but not quite as frivolous as the likes of a Model S.
Budget’s (opens in new tab) electric-only listings are “Full-Size Elite SUV,” which offers a Kia E-Niro or similar, and “Luxury” which promises something akin to a Tesla Model 3. Meanwhile Sixt (opens in new tab) offers something similar to the Volvo XC40 Recharge, which is another all-electric SUV.
Finally there’s Europcar (opens in new tab). It may not be one of the largest rental companies in the United States, but it still has a pretty strong presence abroad. And there are electric cars in the fleet; not many, but they are still available in some locations.
Which rental companies don’t have electric cars?
A surprisingly large number of car rental companies offer some form of EV rental, but there are still a few that do not.
From what we can see online, Avis, Dollar and Thrifty (the latter two of which are owned by Hertz) don’t offer the option to rent electric cars, which means you’ll have to go with someone else.
How do you search for an electric rental car?
Rental car companies don’t make a habit of telling you exactly what cars are available and where. You typically need to go through the search process and see what cars are actually available. Which is kind of a pain, to be honest, so thankfully there are comparison sites that will simplify the process.
There are plenty of sites that let you compare the cost of renting a car at any given time and place. A lot of them have also started offering an electric car filter to the results, so you can quickly see which companies have electric cars on offer — assuming any of them do.
Not all aggregation sites offer this filter, but there are plenty that do. Examples we found include Rental 24h, Kayak, Priceline, Skyscanner, RentalCars.com and AutoRentals.
It’s still worth remembering that electric cars are still in the minority, and they won’t be available at every single rental location. So we couldn’t even begin to guess at the odds of being able to find an available electric car at the time and place you want it. Your only real option is to check and hope for the best.
Are there other ways to rent electric cars?
Rent from a dealer: Car dealers may not be as conveniently located as rental companies, but some of them do have their own fleet of rental cars. And some of those dealers will have electric cars you can take out for a spin. Nissan is one such company (opens in new tab), and actively advertises the fact it will let you rent a Nissan Leaf. Toyota offers it too (opens in new tab), if you’d rather rent a hybrid.
Bear in mind that the same discovery caveats that apply to rental companies also apply to dealers. They’re not in the habit of advertising what they have, and the easiest way to check is to make an inquiry.
Use car-share companies: Much like AirBnB lets you stay in someone else’s home, in lieu of a hotel, there are car sharing services that will let you drive around in someone else’s car. You find someone willing to hand over their keys, pay a daily rate, and you’re good to go. It’s a handy solution if the big rental companies don’t have any electric stock.
The downside here is that car-sharing prices vary, and companies operate differently. Some only let members access listings, or only rent to paid subscribers. ZipCar (opens in new tab) is a prominent example, charging $8 a month (or $80 a year) plus however much you spend actually renting the cars.
Of course, some car-sharing services are free to browse, only charging when you actually book a car. Our favorite option is Turo (opens in new tab), which lets you search and browse cars freely and quickly — as you would any major rental site.
Things to consider before renting an EV
How will you charge it?
The most important thing to think about before you rent an electric car is the local charging infrastructure. After all, you will need to recharge at some point, even if you get a car with extra-long range.
Be sure to check out our guide on how to find an electric car charging stations, and figure out what the local charging situation is. While you’re at it read our other guide on how to find free electric car chargers, and save yourself money on getting around.
Teslas have their own charging hurdles
If you’re renting a Tesla in North America you’ll need to account for the fact Tesla uses its own charger type, and is mostly restricted to Tesla’s own Supercharger and Destination charger networks. Fortunately Tesla’s charging network is one of, if not the biggest, around, so there should be no shortage of options. Plus the car can tell you where to find them.
Adapters do exist to let you plug a Tesla into the AC J1772 charger, and Tesla sells one of its own for $50. But you’re probably not going to buy one to use with a rental car, so this all hinges on whether the company supplies them or not. Hertz claims to include an adapter with each rental, while others only mention including a mobile adapter, which lets you plug into ordinary wall sockets.
It’s also worth asking how charging payments will be processed — since Tesla’s chargers automatically bill charging costs to the owner’s account. Hertz is the only one (opens in new tab) that seems to make this abundantly clear, noting that charging costs will be passed onto the credit card they have on file with no additional fees.
How much charge does an EV need when you return it?
Anyone that’s rented a car before knows you have to return it with a full tank of gas — or at least more than you set off with. Otherwise, you pay some outrageous fees. Electric cars don’t necessarily have that problem, which is a good thing. Especially since recharging past 80% can be a very time-consuming process.
But you have to find out how much charge the car needs before you take it back. Unfortunately, most rental companies aren’t very forthcoming about this. Hertz only asks for a 10% charge (opens in new tab), which is more than doable. But for everyone else you’re going to need to call customer service beforehand or ask when you return the car.
How much driving will you do?
Some rental companies have different classes of electric car, and you need to decide which one is right for you. A Nissan Leaf-equivalent will cost you less, but you’ll end up with lower range than, say, a Tesla. Making your choice will all depend on how much driving you actually plan on doing and what the cost difference is.
If you’re going on a road trip, then the longer the range the better. Otherwise you’ll be stopping to recharge all the time, and that’s really not fun. Likewise if you’re only going short distances, with plenty of opportunity to recharge in between drives, then there may be no justification in paying extra for a long-range vehicle
What are the benefits of renting an electric car?
The main benefit of renting an electric vehicle when you’re away is that you’re not beholden to the local gas prices. The prices may have been going down in recent weeks, but the average is still pretty high — $4.27 a gallon as of July 28 (opens in new tab). Electricity is a lot cheaper by comparison, and you’ll save money getting around.
Electric cars also don’t have big, bulky engines. That means you get more interior space compared to similarly sized gas-powered cars. As a result there’s more room for you and your family, as well as ample trunk space for all your luggage. Some electric cars, like Teslas, also have a smaller trunk under the hood for smaller items.
Some EVs even let you have the A/C on when you’re not in the car, and without using up a crazy amount of power in the process. For example, Tesla has ‘Dog Mode’ that keeps the interior nice and cool — even if a dog isn’t there — while others let you set up pre-conditioning to make sure the cabin is a comfortable temperature on your return. A gas-powered car would need to be left idling which, on top of being a security hazard, would cost a fortune in wasted gas.
For those who don’t drive an electric car at home, renting an EV can function as a non-committal way to see what they’re all about. Dealership test drives are fleeting, at best, but renting for a few days or weeks means you get to grips with the car without having to risk paying tens of thousands of dollars on a car you might hate.
For existing EV owners it means you don’t have to readjust to driving a gas-powered car. Plus you may be able to check out all the hi-tech features your own car doesn’t have — like Autopilot.
What are the cons to renting an electric car?
The main issue with renting an EV is the charging situation, or more specifically the time investment. At home, the majority of electric car charging is done overnight, but if you’re staying in a hotel or Airbnb that might not be an option. Chargers aren’t hard to find, but they do take time to fill up a car’s battery — even at the highest voltage. Gasoline, while pricey and polluting, still only takes a few minutes to pump.
The other problem is the cost factor. If you’re on a budget and need to rent the cheapest car possible, then an electric car might prove too expensive — especially if it’s a Tesla. Then again rental services that offer cheaper electric cars maybe be more within your budget.
Renting a Nissan Leaf from Enterprise at JFK Airport in late August costs $526.71 a week — the second-lowest weekly rate. That rate is the same price you’d pay to rent a Toyota Corolla and $7 more than the cost of renting a Mitsubishi Mirage or Nissan Versa. More expensive options range from $535.28 a week (Nissan Kicks) all the way up to $964.77 a week (Chrysler Pacifica).
However, it’s worth noting that the Leaf’s range can be as low as 149 miles, which would explain why it’s at the cheaper end of the spectrum.
Renting a Tesla Model Y in Orlando from Hertz at the same time costs $565.84, while the cheapest gas car (Volkswagen Jetta) is $490.11 — a difference of $75.73. The most expensive car on offer at this time is the GMC Yukon for $1,420.88. So even the premium electric cars aren’t extortionately overpriced.
Should you rent an EV for your next vacation?
Answering the question of whether you should rent an electric car on your next vacation is only something you can answer.
There are a great many advantages to renting an EV, but they all hinge on whether running an EV for the duration of your vacation is both possible and practical. After all, you can’t rent an electric car if none are available, nor should you attempt it if there’s no way for you to recharge.
But if you do have the opportunity to rent an electric car that fits in with your vacation plans, then you should go right ahead. Not only will you not have to worry about the price of gas, you’ll have the opportunity to drive something you may not have at home. Or if you do, then you’ll be ready to go without much of a learning curve of adjusting to a new car.