Will the Toyota recall affect your next car rental?

Toyota‘s massive recall due to faulty accelerator pedals is trickling down into car-rental companies. How does the recall affect your next rental?

I checked in with some of the major players to see how they’re handling the recall, now estimated at more than 9 million worldwide.

Avis Budget: About 20,000 cars have been grounded due to the recall. “Our fleet is 7 percent smaller today, but we are receiving weekly deliveries of new vehicles from the purchase agreements we made months ago with our suppliers,” Avis Budget spokesperson John Barrows told me via e-mail. “So we expect to be able to fulfill all demand for any rental occasion while we await guidance from Toyota regarding the handling of the recalled vehicles.”

Dollar Thrifty: The recall represents less than 1.5 percent of the overall Dollar Thrifty fleet. “We have currently grounded the vehicles and are working with Toyota on inspection of the vehicles and a proper resolution of the issue. We do not have any significant Toyotas on order,” Scott Thompson, president and CEO of Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group, said in a written statement.

Zipcar: Toyota’s recall affects about 5 percent of the Zipcar fleet. The car-sharing company isn’t taking new reservations on any recalled vehicles, which include the 2009 and 2010 Toyota Matrix. If you already have a reservation on a Toyota Matrix, Zipcar will move you to a different car and compensate you for any rate difference. If you’d rather bail, any cancellation fees will be waived. For questions about upcoming reservations, call Member Services at 866/494-7227.

The silver lining: Many car-rental companies, such as Avis, Budget, Dollar, and Thrifty, only let you reserve a certain vehicle class (compact/economy, mid-size, full-size). Since you weren’t able to specify a make/model to begin with, at least you won’t have to deal with re-booking because the car you wanted is suddenly unavailable.

In general, car-rental companies had already been shrinking its fleets, which was resulting in higher prices. We’ll keep an eye on how this will affect pricing now that the supply is even smaller. I’ll also update once I hear back from Hertz, Enterprise, Alamo, and National.

Budget and Avis ban smoking in rental cars

First you couldn’t smoke on planes. Then trains banned smoking. Now, you can’t smoke in rental cars, at least, not if you rent from Avis or Budget. As of October 1, all cars in both rental companies’ fleets will be non-smoking.

Avis and Budget say the policy came about in response to the needs of renters, citing a non-smoking car as the most-popular rental request. Cars that have been smoked in also require additional cleaning and are out of service longer, costing the companies more money. A spokesman for the Avis Budget Group says they expect some smokers to be upset with the new rules and to take their business elsewhere, but that they think overall the new plan will attract more customers than it will lose.

Avis and Budget will be the first major rental car companies to ban smoking entirely (others offer “non-smoking” cars but many don’t guarantee them), though they are only instituting the ban among their North American fleet, not worldwide. Each car will undergo an inspection upon return and renters who have smoked in the vehicle will be charged a cleaning fee of up to $250.


Budget Travel: Three steps to a cheaper car rental

Three main components go into any vacation package: Hotel, Airplane and Vehicle bookings. Once you can get around and have a place to sleep, activities and food can just fall into place as the days roll in.

Here at Gadling we’re covering all of the niches of vacation bookings in our Budget series. Earlier in the week was plane tickets. Later, will be hotel bookings. Today’s focus? Getting a good deal on your car rental.

It’s not as difficult as you think. The same booking engines (Kayak, Expedia etc.) used to find your bargain basement airplane tickets can be used to find cars as well. But with car rentals, the strategy is a bit different. Most of the time, airfare prices that are quoted from a search engine are fares that you’re stuck with until the bitter end. With car rentals, that’s the point from which you start.

From that marker, you optimize you booking in three ways:

  1. Join the club
  2. Get a coupon
  3. Be Flexible!

We’ll start with Joining the Club.
Like most hotel, airline and credit card brands, car rental companies will do anything they can to hook you into their product. By making you believe that you’re loved, you’re more likely to stick around, identify with them and feel better about yourself. Happiness is money.

National‘s Emerald program, for example, means absolutely nothing. Anyone off the street can join, get the card and walk to the Emerald Aisle when booking, it just takes time to follow the right links, sign up for service and fill in the forms.

Being a member, however, affords discounts. Coupon codes for Emerald members float around the internet freely, and by being in the “club” you’re entitled to these rates.

The same applies for basic membership in many other rental agencies — sign up for basic service and you’ll immediately see the benefit. Furthermore, you get the added bonus of getting through the line at the counter faster (or often bypassing it) and earning points, so it’s a win-win situation.

Get a Coupon

The internet is RIFE with coupon codes for car rentals. If you want a good place to start, check the repository at flyertalk.com, where coupons should be filed under each specific agency.

As a word of waning, remember that different policies and insurance coverage come with each contract code or coupon. You might get a great deal by renting under the Missouri Alligator Hunters contract ID, for example, but after you get into that fender bender, you also might find out that all insurance is waived. Just make sure you read the fine print and know what you’re getting yourself into.

That said, many a coupon code that we have found online have resulted in huge (40-50% discounts) over the rack search engine rate. Never, ever book without a coupon.

Be Flexible

Being flexible in pickup time, location and vehicle has its benefits, but some days, your favorite car company just doesn’t offer the best price on your itinerary. It’s difficult breaking free from your preferred carrier when you’ve worked so hard to earn that “granite status” that gets you the free windshield wash fluid, but you have to remember: most car rental agencies are charging you way too much to begin with. If they can’t offer a competitive rate, you can’t let their perks sway you. Join the competitor’s rewards program, do the research and book the cheapest fare. Hey, you might like the vehicle that you get to drive.


The nice thing about vehicle rentals is that getting a good deal is less time dependent than in working with airplane tickets. There is almost a higher supply than demand for cars, so usually a near term rental isn’t much more expensive than a reservation that you make three months out. Airplane seats, conversely, often sell out.

So take your time. Book your airplane tickets first, hotel second and spend a while shopping around for car rentals. Get the perfect convergence of membership rewards and coupon codes lined up, and you just might drive away with a bargain.

How to rent three cars and get a free plane ticket on Delta

Got some free time over the next three weeks? Delta just launched a promo offering 9,999 miles for each rental with one of their auto partners Avis or Budget. Each qualifying rental gets you the miles, regardless of how long you keep the vehicle, as long as you book with Delta’s Car Search tool. You have until the end of the month to rent and you need to sign up to become a SkyMiles member first.

Sure, you may not be traveling three times in the next month, but do you need to? If you can get three car rentals cheap enough, the time and money invested in getting a car at the airport for 24 hours can easily be less than a domestic ticket that you could book with miles.

Rental car fees vary wildly across geographical boundaries, but almost every airport in the country has either an Avis or a Budget rental car location. And many of those rural locations have plenty of inventory (at damn good prices) available for the rest of July.

Here in Detroit, a car rental over a weekend night on Budget is about 55$. Times three is 165$ for 29,997 miles or an award ticket. In Kalamazoo, a more rural airport near where my parents live, it’s 24$. That’s 72$ for a flight.

Sure, you have to factor in what you’re going to DO with the car and what you’re going to do with YOUR car while you have the rental. You could always just take it home or to a parking lot and park it. Or park it on the lawn of the rental company.

But it’s not a bad way to rack up a few frequent flyer miles to use for future adventure on Delta Airlines.

What could you do with 25k miles or a domestic award ticket? You could fly from your freezing hometown in New Hampshire down to Phoenix next January to get some sun and play some golf while your coworkers freeze. You could fly to Colorado to get some kick ass skiing in next May. You could pay for your girlfriend to come visit you next time you’re in San Diego on business.

Sound like a good use for your 74$ invested this month?

Hybrids for Rent

The big auto rental companies are catching on to the hybrid craze. Toyota Priuses are coming to rental car fleets near you.

Hertz has a “Green Collection” of low-emissions and/or fuel efficient cars, such as the Subaru Outback and Ford Fusion. And coming very soon: 3,400 new Priuses. New York City is getting 100 of them. Rental rates start at $50 for these cars.

Plus, Hertz is donating $1 from the rentals to the National Park Foundation (up to a max of $1m).

Avis starts this week with their own fleet of 1,000 Priuses, in locations along the West Coast. (Ask for car group “XG.”)