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Have you struggled to find a rental car? You’re not alone

Compact rental cars are hard to come by. Instead mid-size and higher seem to be the only cars available on lots. (Photo: Ian Stewart/VPM News)

It was a true Monday morning; for the most part, what could go wrong did. After taking my wife to work and both my kids to school because of the bus driver shortage, I took our car into the dealer for the ugly sound the gears were making.

There, I learned the shop’s mechanics are backed up until late October, but I can leave the car — our only car — on the slim chance they could take a look. 

After a number of attempts to rent a car online, I was starting to worry. Finally, I landed a mid-size, run-of-the-mill sedan — compacts were sold out. 

The lack of rental cars has been a problem since the pandemic began, says Morgan Dean of AAA.

“People need to understand that it's a very different world from pre pandemic, when it goes to getting a rental car right now,” Deans says. “Rental car companies are really dealing with a shortage, high demand and a shortage of vehicles.”

Dean says rental companies sold most of their inventory to help them stay afloat during the pandemic. And now, because of a computer chip shortage, companies are having a hard time restocking.

Prices should be on their way down though, Dean says.

“Once we hit Labor Day, we typically see that drop in demand for travel,” Deans says. “But that is not universal.” 

Dean says in many tourist destinations, such as in Florida or Hawaii, prices may still be high.

Some travelers got creative when looking for rental cars over the summer. Many drivers rented U-Haul trucks to get to weddings or to other places, according to a Washington Post article .

A letter sent to me from a U-Haul spokesman said in part: “We have not granted interviews on this subject beyond the local interviews our U-Haul Company of Hawaii president has done, as we are not a rental car company and attempt to keep our focus on the DIY residential movers who make up our primary customer base.”

In that interview, the president of the Hawaiian division says this: 

“We do know this trend is happening to varying degrees where there are rental car shortages and price hikes, as U-Haul in-town vehicles are affordable and available at 23,000-plus rental locations. Across many markets in our network, we have seen a considerable uptick in pickup truck and cargo van rentals. However, we traditionally see an uptick in demand for this equipment during the summer and early fall months, when many residential moves occur.”

Dean says beware — people should start booking immediately for their holiday travel. 

“Go ahead and book it and go ahead and pay fully for it at that point,” Dean says. “It's better if you get there and you're the person that's fully paid for the vehicle versus the guy that's kind of paid a little bit of a fee, but hasn't finished paying for it, that might give you a little bit better chance of getting one.”

I’m in the second week of waiting for my car to get fixed, hoping it gets fixed soon. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go take my kids to soccer practice — in my rental car. 


Ian M. Stewart is the transportation reporter and fill-in anchor for VPM News.