There's a Rental Car Shortage. Here's How to Work Around It.

Limited availability and higher prices are making it hard for travelers to find cars

The National Car Rental location at Miami International Airport in April 2021
The National Car Rental location at Miami International Airport in April 2021.
Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

You might have heard about a rental car shortage that’s leaving many travelers in the lurch, or causing them to pay high prices. It’s only getting worse as travel booms while cars are generally scarce because of a global chip shortage that has disrupted auto production.

According to AAA, travel is up 60 percent over a year ago, when most Americans were cooped up at home during the darkest days of the pandemic-caused shutdowns. Wherever you go, make sure there’s enough gasoline to power your adventure. A recent cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline left many locales along the eastern seaboard short on gasoline.

With people getting back on the road in droves, it may be a tough time to travel, but we reached out to several rental companies for insights, and Consumer Reports’ experts offer a few workarounds to help you navigate your way through that long-awaited vacation.

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Book early. Hertz, which has car rental locations all over the country, tells CR that the rental car shortage is likely to last through the busy summer travel months, and encourages travelers to book as far in advance as possible. Avis Budget Group, which owns two major car rental companies and Zipcar, a short-term car rental service designed for people who need a car only occasionally, has the same advice, stressing the importance of planning ahead for high-demand summer holidays and when visiting popular vacation destinations. Both companies say they are moving more of their cars to where people want them most.

Rent at a neighborhood location. Hertz says it has thousands of locations away from airports and suggests travelers try searching for cars at rental locations in towns and cities. These locations are likely to require an extra cab, Uber, or bus ride, but they could take you away from the throng waiting at the airport car rental counter.

Try independent rental car companies. Avis, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, and the other big car rental companies are the ones you’re likely to see at any airport, but there are usually a handful of smaller operations nearby that might be able to help. For example, a brief search for independent car rental agencies near Miami International Airport turned up no less than half a dozen options.

Rent somebody else’s car. Car-sharing platforms, such as Turo and DriveShare, allow individuals to rent their cars to others. Unlike most rental fleets, which typically offer a predictable assortment of Dodge Journeys and Hyundai Elantras, car shares have everything from Tesla and BMW sedans to sports cars, and even 50-year-old classic cars.

Drive your own car. You may want to fly someplace and rent a car when you arrive, but if your destination is close enough, taking your own car could alleviate transportation problems once you arrive where you’re headed. This may add time, but it could bring convenience and save money.

Find out if your accommodations include transportation. If you’re going to a hotel or resort, there’s a chance that an airport shuttle is available, if not included as part of your booking. Smaller operations also sometimes offer transportation to and from the airport. Check to see whether your Airbnb host, for example, will pick you up.

Use public transportation. The American Public Transportation Association reports that as of December (PDF), public transportation ridership was down more than 60 percent over the same time a year earlier. Although that number is undoubtedly climbing again as more people return to the workplace, relatively empty buses and trains could be a boon to travelers this summer as they scramble to get from the airport to various distant points of interest. Taking public transportation is usually easier if you pack lighter. With a little research, you could find a way to get around. The downside is that this might not be the most direct way to get where you’re going.

Take an Uber or a taxi. Ride-sharing services are available in most cities, and now it’s possible to schedule rides in advance. Taxis and car services are also available in most places. Lyft will allow riders to schedule a ride a week ahead of time, and Uber has an option to schedule a ride a month out. If you’re worried about the cost, consider using public transportation—airport trains and shuttles, commuter rail, and public buses—to get you closer to your destination, then get a ride-share or taxi the rest of the way.

Consider another destination. If everyone is going to Honolulu or Las Vegas, maybe it would be easier to visit Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, or the wilds of West Virginia. According to AAA, this year’s top travel destinations include Orlando, Fla.; Las Vegas; Honolulu; Anchorage, Alaska; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Nashville, Tenn.; and Denver and Colorado Springs, Colo. Those places are particularly likely to be crowded with other travelers during Memorial Day weekend. And if you haven’t seen the world’s second-largest ball of twine—in Cawker City, Kan.—you haven’t really lived. America is chock-full of such oddball roadside attractions, and they’re just begging to be seen.

Head shot of CR Autos Editor, Benjamin Preston

Benjamin Preston

My reporting has taken me everywhere from Baghdad, Iraq, to the Detroit auto show, along the U.S.-Mexico border and everywhere in between. If my travels have taught me anything, it's that stuff—consumer products—is at the center of daily life all over the world. That's why I'm so jazzed to be shining light on what works, what doesn't, and how people can enrich their lives by being smarter consumers. When I'm not reporting, I can usually be found at home with my family, at the beach surfing, or in my driveway, wrenching on my hot rod '74 Olds sedan.