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Rental car prices soar due to shortage, huge demand ahead of summer

To get an affordable price on a rental car, dealers say you may want to book before your plane ticket.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — With schools letting out and more people getting vaccinated, many may be planning to travel this summer.

If those plans include renting a car, you could be out of luck if you don't book early enough.

That's thanks to a rental car shortage nationwide.

"Everybody is now making rental car reservations before they make their plane reservations," said Donavon Miller, Southeast Director of Fox Rentals, which operates locations in the Midlands.

When COVID hit, and fewer people traveled, many of the major rental car companies began to sell off their fleets.

Now, more people are booking trips at the same time auto manufacturers are dealing with a microchip shortage for new cars.

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All of that has created a rental car shortage and pricier bookings for customers.

"Our big uptick has come from Enterprise being out of cars and not having rentals or Hertz or Avis or Budget," said Miller. "So when [consumers] can't go there, they're now coming to us and some of our normal customers are no longer getting vehicles just because they're already rented."

Miller says due to demand, his airport customers have tripled. 

With high demand and a dip in vehicle inventory, his company increased the daily rental rate by $10.

Taking a closer look at the average weekly rates for rental cars at big city airports across the Carolinas, Charleston is renting out cars for $712 for the week, Greenville's average is $510 and Charlotte has the lowest average price at $476 on the top 100 list.

For same-day bookings at CAE, for example, multiple companies are sold out if you need a vehicle rental for a couple of days. 

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There are some reports consumers are renting a U-Haul, which offers them a cheaper rate and a mode of transportation.

"We've had customers tell us that it was just better or easier for them to rent a vehicle and insure themselves that way than it was to go out and purchase a vehicle in this market because they didn't want to buy a car that wasn't technically worth as much as it was selling for just because of the uptick in the market and shortage of vehicles around the Midlands area," said Miller.

Trying to replenish a fleet poses another challenge, with new and used car prices skyrocketing

"We paid a total of $1,000 more for a brand new car than that same car a year or two older with 50,000 miles was going for at the auction," said Miller, who said vehicles typically on the auction block sold for $10,000 are now selling for $13,000 to $14,000. "You can drive all the way across the country at this point and 6 out of 7 dealers are a third stocked or a quarter stocked of the cars they normally have. That's new and used."

Thankfully, Miller said, business has been on the uptick for the majority of the pandemic.

Chris Hadley, President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Serving Central SC and Charleston, says this car shortage is a ripe situation for scammers to take advantage of consumers.

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With a rental car shortage and prices skyrocketing, scammers have began to move into the market of Rental Car Company...

Posted by The Better Business Bureau of The Midlands & Lowcountry on Monday, May 10, 2021

In an advisory on the BBB's Facebook page, they alerted the public about a new scam preying on rental car customers.

"The scammers are asking them to pay for the special deal they're gonna get for this car rental with a Visa card or an American Express gift card," said Hadley. "[Consumers have] paid these scammers, and most of the time it's been anywhere between $200 to $400."

Hadley says imposters pose as Avis, Hertz and Enterprise rental car companies. When consumers try to call the listed phone number back, Hadley says the line is busy.

In one report on the BBB's scam tracker, one consumer reported being asked for her driver's license information when booking her rental car.

"A young lady was advised that she needed to provide a copy of her driver's license," said Hadley. "Then a week later she got a letter from the employment division. Someone was trying to claim unemployment by using her driver's license information."

Here's how you can avoid falling for this rental car scam, according to the BBB:

  • Never share your driver's license information until you're at the rental car facility
  • If you find a coupon, call the business and make sure it's real
  • You will never have to pay for a rental with a prepaid gift card

News 19 reached out to all major car rental companies about the shortage.

Avis has given the only response within 24 hours. In a statement, they said: “As we return to a state of normalcy in a post-COVID-19 world, we expect larger fluctuations in market demand and customer rental patterns, such as those associated with vacation destinations, and are constantly adjusting our fleet to meet that demand.  We continue to receive new cars in every day and look forward to helping people experience their mobility needs in a safe and efficient way. We suggest renters book and prepay a reservation in advance on our websites, avis.com and budget.com, to reserve a car at the best prices available.”

Experts anticipate this rental car shortage to last through the summer.

"If you know you're going somewhere in August, I'd say go ahead and start shopping for a rental car," said Hadley.

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