Electric vehicle renters must understand their challenging issues to eliminate unfortunate surprises and delayed road travel.
If you think that when you reserve a rental Electric Vehicle (EV) it’s the same as renting a gasoline-fueled car, you’re mistaken. Thinking like that may bring you unfortunate surprises.
Make no mistake about it. Renting an EV has some challenging issues that are wholly different from renting a gasoline-powered car, and you must take them into account when renting an EV.
Electric vehicle renters should carefully consider the EV issues before reserving one.
Hertz, Avis, and other rental car companies are adding more and more EVs to their fleets daily. For many travelers, renting an EV is an attractive way to journey sustainably. Other travelers think they’re more fun to drive. Are they worth renting for your next long road trip or shorter trip spent in a regional area? If you’re thinking of a rental EV, you should ask yourself that question, even if you drive an EV at home.
I have eight issues for electric vehicle renters to consider before renting an EV.
A few are the same as for gasoline cars, but most are specific to EVs.
Hidden EV rental fees, like “idle” fees, are important to know so they can be avoided or minimized. Know what the total cost of rental will be.
The base rental fee is just the start. There are fees for EVs that might not be obvious. For gasoline cars, rental car companies require the gas tank to be complete when you return the car to the company. EV rentals have a similar requirement.
Budget Car Rental requires that returned EVs be brought back with a minimum charge of 70 percent or they’ll charge a $35 charging fee. Some rental car companies require the minimum charge to be 75 percent and charge fees that start at $35 but go higher at some companies.
A fee that isn’t obvious is the “idle” fee. Once your EV is charged, you’re expected to unplug it and park your car away from the chargers to charge another EV. You must unplug and move your EV away from the charger. Otherwise, you’re billed for “idle” time at the charger, during which your EV isn’t actively charging. It’s a reasonable idea, but there’s no grace period after charging too often to give you time to disconnect and move. “Idle” fees can run from $1.00–$1.50 per minute. That’s $60–$90 per hour if you accidentally fall asleep and are late to move your EV from the charger.
Electric vehicle renters should check the rental contract carefully for other add-on fees, such as a second-driver fee and other fees used for gasoline-powered rental cars.
If you’re going to rent an EV and have never driven one before, test drive one at home so you understand how to drive it.
If you don’t drive an EV regularly, you need to learn about the specific EV you’ll be renting, not just EVs. You need to know how to turn it on, lock it, use the door handles, charge it at different types of charging stations, what charge adapters it has, etc. If you’ve never driven an EV, I strongly suggest you take a test drive to know how it feels. It’s very different than gasoline-powered cars. For example, in “drive,” EV cars don’t coast when you back off the accelerator pedal. They slow down due to regenerative braking.
Photograph or video the outside and inside of your rental: For both gasoline-powered cars and EVs, document their condition when you pick it up, inside and out, and then do it again when you drop it off. Unfortunately, rental car companies charge for phantom damage too often. Photographic and video proof can stop the company in its tracks. Ensure the photos are GPS tagged to prove they were made at the rental car lot. Along with the photos’ time stamps, that will make your proof stronger.
Some EVs don’t come with spare tires or donuts. Before leaving the rental car lot, clearly understand what to do if you get a flat tire or need service.
I always remind gasoline-powered car renters to ensure their car has a spare tire or “donut” spare, plus jack, but some EVs don’t come with spares, including Teslas. If your rental doesn’t come with a spare, you must find out what you need to do in case of a flat. Likely, they’ll offer a service that will come to your location and either tow you to where the tire can be fixed or replaced, fix it on the spot, or give you a spare wheel/tire until you can get the original tire replaced or repaired.
Calling to get service on your rental: Typically, you’ll get a toll-free number to call to get service. That’s great if you’re traveling domestically, but if you’re traveling internationally, make sure you get a local number to call, as typically, toll-free numbers don’t work on cell phones outside your home nation or national region.
If you have a long trip to the airport for a flight, build in charging time to ensure your EV will have the minimum required charge when you turn it in. Or be prepared to pay a fee to the rental company.
When you pick up your EV, if the battery isn’t fully charged and you have a long drive ahead, you have a critical decision to make. You’ll have to decide if you have time to charge the EV along the way, assuming there are convenient charging stations along your route, or you should ask for another fully charged car. I usually ask for another vehicle, mainly if it’s below my charge when I return it. (Yes, rental car companies don’t fulfill their charge obligation periodically.)
If returning your EV before a flight, leave enough time to charge the vehicle to the required charge percentage. You won’t miss your flight if the drive is long enough to take your charge below the required percentage. Otherwise, be ready to pay the charge fee unless you paid it in advance when renting the EV.
Not all charging stations are equal, and some don’t work.
Going to a charging station isn’t the same as going to a gas station. You may need to set up an online account to use the station. Some will take credit cards directly or Apple or Google Pay. Others are Level 2 and will take quite a while to get more than a small charge, while others are Level 3 or SuperChargers and will charge quickly. Yet other charging station locations listed on maps or the Internet aren’t installed, and some are broken. You’ve got to have plans and backup plans for charging.
Credit card-based insurance:
Some credit cards provide primary or secondary car insurance for collision and theft (no liability coverage) for rental cars when you charge the car rental fee (a small fee required on some cards). You need to check with your credit card company if you plan to use the insurance, as some exclude EVs from their rental car insurance.
If you weren’t familiar with the challenges of renting an EV for travel, you’re beginning to learn them now. Planning and EV knowledge is essential. Unless you’re willing to prepare, skip the EV and use a gasoline-powered rental car.
After many years working in corporate America as a chemical engineer, executive and eventually CFO of a multinational manufacturer, Ned founded a tech consulting company and later restarted NSL Photography, his photography business. Before entering the corporate world, Ned worked as a Public Health Engineer for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. As a well known corporate, travel and wildlife photographer, Ned travels the world writing about travel and photography, as well as running photography workshops, seminars and photowalks. Visit Ned’s Photography Blog and Galleries.