Tight rental car supply

Renting any car right now is a bit tricky thanks to the rental car apocalypse. During the pandemic, rental companies faced a sudden and dramatic drop in reservations. As a result, many companies sold large portions of their fleets and canceled orders for new vehicles. While the travel industry is bouncing back, supply chain issues are still hampering vehicle manufacturing. Demand for rental cars still outstrips the rental car supply, meaning prices are still high. Fortunately, rental companies are rebuilding their fleets, and some companies are investing in electric vehicles.

Driving any unfamiliar vehicle has a bit of a learning curve, but getting behind the wheel of an EV when you’ve only ever driven gas cars can feel daunting. There are plenty of tutorials available for free online, and it’s not as different as you may fear. Hertz has a page dedicated to Tesla educational videos. Manufacturers are also eager for drivers to feel comfortable in their cars, so if you’re nervous, check out their videos and guides.

The first thing to know

The most important thing you’ll need to consider when you rent an EV is where and how you’ll charge it. Although there are around 50,000 electric charging stations in the US (and more on the way), they are not as ubiquitous as gas stations. Whether you’re renting an EV or you own one, it’s a good idea to plan a new route in advance so you don’t end up in a power desert. 

Map from AFDC.com showing all public chargers in the US

As a quick reminder, there are three levels of charging available for electric vehicles. 

  1. Level 1 (120V) charging uses the same familiar outlets you find in your home or garage and requires no extra equipment. The downside is that Level 1 charging is pretty slow, averaging about 5 miles per 1 hour of charging. 
  2. Level 2 (240V) charging is what you’ll usually find at an EV charging station. You can also install them in your home or garage, though they do require additional equipment. Level 2 charging is five times faster than Level 1, giving you an average of 25 miles per 1 hour of charging. 
  3. The fastest charging available, which most new EVs can use, is Level 3 DC Fast Charging. These chargers give you a whopping 100 to 200 miles per 30 minutes of charging. However, older EVs may not be equipped for DC charging, and it is a pricier option.  

The average EV range is a little over 200 miles, with newer models averaging about 250 miles. Some EVs are capable of going much farther, even 500 miles on a single charge. A DC Fast Charger could have you powered up and ready to go in the time it takes to grab a roadside lunch. Resources like PlugShare can help you map your travel route so you can let go of your range anxiety and enjoy the ride.

Where to rent an EV

All this charging info only matters if you can actually find and reserve an electric vehicle to rent. Many large rental companies advertise that they have EVs, but when it comes to booking them they are often unavailable. You’ll have to check your travel destination and try to book well in advance of your trip. You might have better luck with a car sharing service like Turo, which tends to have many EVs available. Smaller, local rental companies sometimes specialize in EV rentals, like Joulez in New York. Some dealerships will even let you rent their cars if you call them directly. EV availability is highly location specific, so you’ll have to check your area and hunt around for the best deal. A few aggregators, like Kayak, will let you filter your search by electric.

Filter to search for EVs on kayak.com
The Electric Vehicle filter option on Kayak

Many large rental companies have separate pages dedicated to their electric vehicle options. Hertz will let you choose between their Tesla models or the Polestar 2 (though, again, availability is highly location specific). Enterprise has separate pages for intermediate electric cars (like the Nissan Leaf) and luxury electric cars (like Teslas). Many rental car websites have sections dedicated to the different types of vehicles available in their fleet or filters allowing you to search for EVs. The stock is often more limited than one might hope. For example, Sixt seems to offer only one type of EV in their US fleet, the Volvo XC40 Recharge.

Searching for electric vehicle rentals on sixt.com

The best bet for finding the specific type of car you wish to test drive seems to be Turo. The car sharing service lets you browse the models available in your area and won’t force you into a different vehicle with the availability caveats many of the larger rental companies use. Turo’s prices are competitive with the big companies and you can check the ratings of your specific host and read a detailed description of the exact vehicle you’ll be renting.

A final idea is to find electric vehicle affinity groups in your area, such as Drive Electric or Electric Vehicle Association, and see if they are hosting and ride and drive events. These can be great opportunities to get the feel of a car, even if you can't exactly take it for the day.

Ultimately, test driving an electric vehicle might be worth the hassle of tracking one down. It will give you the opportunity to try out charging stations, see how the car handles on the road and in different weather conditions, and give you a chance to enjoy the quiet ride. Plan ahead, map your route, and book as far in advance as possible. It might take a bit of work to track down the car you want, but you’ll thank yourself for the effort when you get behind the wheel.