For road trip–loving travelers with sustainability in mind, the rental car industry’s recent green face-lift is welcome news. While tracking down electric vehicles—or EVs—from a major rental car company was once a near impossibility, the industry’s newfound embrace of battery-powered cars is now poised to revolutionize the on-the-road experience.
According to a 2023 report by market analysis company Market Research Future, the EV rental market size is expected to triple in growth by 2032. Experts say the rental car industry trend reflects America’s broader societal shift toward electric cars.
“EV growth is here to stay, so we will see more EVs in all parts of our automotive experience,” including rentals, says Mark Schirmer, a spokesperson for automotive services organization Cox Automotive.
For many EV drivers, their motivation is the environment—and rightfully so, says Joel Levin, executive director of nonprofit EV advocacy group Plug In America. “In terms of the environmental benefit of it, it’s quite large,” he shares. Going electric can cut carbon emissions, lessening impacts on climate change and local air quality as a result.
Apart from easing travelers’ environmental conscience and affording them a front-row seat to emerging technology, EVs can mean significant savings on gas, too. Levin says that while the costs of charging can vary widely by network, location, vehicle model, and type of charger used—ranging from free hookups to pricier “DC fast” chargers—renters can expect EV charging to consistently cost less than gas.
Electrify America, one of the nation’s largest charging networks, tells AFAR that an average charging session that takes an EV from 10 percent to 80 percent charge—the recommended charging cap—would fall in the range of $17 to $20 (for nonmembers).
According to a 2023 Associated Press poll, about 40 percent of U.S. consumers are likely to consider an EV for their next car purchase. And experts say an EV rental may be their entrée into the driver’s seat, for a try-before-you-buy experience.
“Renting is a great way to test-drive an EV and experience all they have to offer,” says Laura Smith, executive vice president of global and customer experience at Hertz.
With plenty of developments underway, here’s everything you need to know about renting an EV right now.
Where to rent an electric vehicle
Despite an evolving marketplace, EV rental inventory remains relatively scarce. Luckily, an increasing number of car rental aggregator websites, such as Kayak, RentalCars, and Priceline, now feature filters for EV-specific results to help make them easier to find, aside from visiting the car rental agencies’ websites directly.
And major car rental companies are investing in and growing their EV inventory. Here’s what they’re doing.
Leading the (literal) charge, car rental giant Hertz has entered purchase agreements for a wide-ranging portfolio of more than 300,000 EVs since 2021, including Teslas, Polestars, and GMs, which are available in the United States, Europe, and Australia/New Zealand. In the USA, travelers can rent the vehicles at more than 1,600 locations in 44 states, with Hertz anticipating that it will rent out nearly 2 million EVs this year—five times more than in 2022. In all, EVs are projected to make up a quarter of the company’s global fleet by the end of 2024, a number that stands at 10 percent currently.
Hertz has also established more than 2,700 U.S. charging stations, including at airports (like Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, San Francisco International Airport, and Orlando International Airport) and neighborhood locations. More are coming as part of the company’s partnerships with energy companies like BP, which alone has plans to invest $1 billion in EV chargers across the United States by 2030.
According to Hertz, consumer demand has been strong for its EV rentals since initially announcing its plans to purchase Teslas in November 2021. Searching random summer 2023 dates, we easily tracked down Tesla Model 3s in Los Angeles, with sample weekly rental rates from $391 before taxes—only about $13 more than its standard sedans. In Miami, a week’s summer rental was also a cinch to book, at $261 before taxes.
Meanwhile, Enterprise Holdings (behind the Enterprise Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental, and Alamo Rent a Car brands) is also bolstering its fleet’s EV offerings, which already include thousands of EVs throughout the USA, Canada, and Europe from manufacturers Tesla, Nissan, Hyundai, Kia, Renault, and Polestar (a Volvo spin-off).
“We’re fully embracing the transition to electrification and are committed to doing so in a thoughtful way,” Lisa Martini, spokesperson for Enterprise Holdings, tells AFAR. The company has not released specifics about volume, locations, or timeline for its EVs, stating only that the roll-out strategy is contingent on expanding power and charging viability.
Martini notes that the company’s EV inventory is largely concentrated in West Coast locations, where she says “demand and infrastructure currently support their usage.”
As of press time, on the Enterprise site, there wasn’t any EV rental availability for random summer dates out of L.A., though there were Nissan Leafs out of San Francisco (from $694/week before taxes). National or Alamo had Nissan Leafs available at comparable rates to Enterprise but, again, only out of San Francisco (not L.A.).
Avis Budget Group
While Avis Budget Group—which owns Avis Car Rental and Budget Rent A Car—has been less forthcoming about its EV plans (the company declined to comment for this story), it has quietly added rental options for Tesla Model 3s and Chevy Bolts to its website. It also has entered a charging infrastructure partnership with EverCharge to allow for more fleet electrification, at select airports.
Outside of traditional rental car companies, another key player is Turo, an Airbnb-like platform that provides a peer-to-peer car sharing rental space with a mix of EV, hybrid, and standard vehicles. In AFAR’s searches, this was the best bet to secure an electric vehicle in the largest number of markets, at competitive prices to boot: A wide span of EVs for summer weekly rentals in markets were available all over the country, including Austin (from $162/week, including taxes), NYC ($463), Chicago ($315), Miami ($222), and L.A. ($286).
What travelers considering an EV rental should know
Keep in mind your EV’s mileage range
A concern for many prospective EV renters is the prospect of running out of power on the road—a fear so prevalent that it even has a name: range anxiety.
When it’s time to power up, Cox Automotive’s Schirmer says that given the scarcity of EV charging options in some places, charging is more complicated than filling up the tank at a local gas station. While the median range for an EV is about 230 miles per full charge, EV mileage calculations are dynamic and can shift based on such variables as incline, acceleration, and temperatures.
Understand the different tiers and types of charging stations
Keep in mind that not all EV charging stations are created equal: There are three different tiers of EV chargers, ranging from the slowest Level 1, midrange Level 2, to ultrafast Level 3 chargers. The latter can deliver substantial, if not full, charges in roughly half an hour—insiders say these are the ones renters should track down when not planning to linger for meal breaks or to explore nearby shops or attractions while charging up.
Know where—and how—to find a charging station
When planning an EV road trip, one pro tip is to book hotels with charging stations available to guests. Major chains like Marriott and Hilton offer the amenity, while travel booking sites like Expedia and Booking.com provide a filter that allows users to search for hotels with the feature.
Of course, all of that charge-hunting can kill some of the open-road spontaneity that many road-trippers thrive on, forcing drivers to plan itineraries around charging access. “Charging infrastructure is robust around population centers, along popular travel corridors, and in tourist destinations,” explains Dan Wheeler, a representative of EV driver app PlugShare.
Still, charging stations are far from ubiquitous. In general, Joel Levin of Plug In America advises first-time EV road-trippers to look West. “The West Coast is better,” he says. “California, Washington, and Oregon have all put a lot of effort into EV charging.”
While California has the most EV chargers in the nation (with a goal of having 250,000 chargers by 2025), states like Colorado, Oregon, and Arizona have designated scenic driving routes that are specifically equipped for electric vehicles.
Charging infrastructure is getting better, slowly, in part thanks to public charging companies like ChargePoint (with nearly 34,000 charging locations across almost all states and Canada), EVgo (with 850-plus stations throughout the country), and Electrify America (800 stations in 46 states). Plus, there’s more to come: The 2021 federal infrastructure deal has earmarked $7.5 billion for developing a nationwide network of a half-million EV charging stations by 2030.
Keep an eye out for costs and fees
Finally, keep in mind the prices of charging stations themselves, which usually charge by the kilowatt-hour (kWh). They vary depending on the charger provider and the level of the charger. Another point is compatibility: While all commercially available EVs in the United States can use Level 1 and Level 2 charging stations, some electric vehicles don’t have DC fast charging abilities. And though non-Teslas can normally charge at Tesla stations with an adapter, not all of its Supercharger stations can work with non-Teslas.
Fees may be applied to EV rentals that are returned only partially charged—similar to how some car rental companies will impose additional refueling fees on standard car rentals if they’re not returned with a full tank of gas. Policies vary by rental agency so be sure to ask: At Hertz, for instance, a fee of $35 applies if the car is returned with less than 70 percent charge; it goes up to $60 if it’s below 10 percent. Enterprise doesn’t tack on any charging fees.
This article originally appeared online in February 2022; it was most recently updated on July 7, 2023, to include current information.