Nov 20, 2023 - Business

Renting an electric car for the holidays? Here's what to know

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Thousands of travelers could find themselves behind the wheel of a rented electric vehicle (EV) for the first time this holiday season — whether they chose to rent one or not.

Why it matters: Companies like Hertz and Avis have beefed up their EV fleets and are offering them at substantial discounts over traditional models.

  • Even if you bypassed the EV offerings for a traditional sedan or SUV when booking your reservation, you might get to the rental counter and find out all they have left are EVs.
  • Be aware: if you opt for Hertz's cheaper "mystery" rental, don't be surprised if it turns out to be an EV.

Be smart: Renting an electric car can be a great way to try before you buy.

  • But if you're not prepared, your trip could turn into an unexpectedly stressful experience. Here's what you need to know:

Get familiar with the car before leaving the rental lot. Ask questions; rental agents don't often provide much instruction.

  • EVs are quirky — some don't require a key fob, for instance. Instead they're activated by a "key" that looks like a credit card and can be stored in the center console. It's easy to forget. If you leave it in the car, someone could get in and drive away.
  • There's no start/stop button in a Tesla (and certain other EVs). Just shift into drive and go. When you arrive, put it in park and walk away.
  • Even figuring out how to open the doors on an EV can be tricky.

Know your rental's driving range and consider the potential impact of weather where you're going.

  • EV drivers are often surprised to find out how much their battery range is compromised by cold temperatures.
  • My road trip from Florida to Michigan was almost ruined because our EV's driving range shrank dramatically as we headed into wintry weather.

Explore charging options ahead of time.

  • Some — but not all — cars' navigation systems will suggest charging locations along your route. But you can prepare early by downloading Tesla's app or other route-planning apps, like A Better Route Planner, PlugShare or Chargeway.
  • Enter a destination and the type of car, and the app will suggest where to charge along the route. It'll also predict the car's battery level and advise how long it will take to recharge at each stop.
  • Keep in mind that your charging speed may vary based on your car and the charger you're using.

Put the major charging network apps on your phone and set up billing ahead of time.

  • While you can use a credit card at many networks, the touchscreens and card readers can be glitchy. It's a lot easier to initiate charging from your phone.
  • You can always delete the apps after your trip is over.
  • Of note: EVgo and Hertz last week announced a joint promotion to offer one year of special charging rates to Hertz renters.

Some hotels have chargers, but call ahead to verify.

  • They're typically the slowest Level 2 chargers, and if another guest is plugged in overnight, you could be out of luck.

The big question: Do you have to bring an EV back fully charged?

  • With Hertz's "Skip the Recharge" option, you pay nothing if you bring the car back at the same charge level it had at pickup. Or, Hertz will recharge it for a $35 fee ($25 for Gold Plus Rewards members).

The bottom line: Like all drivers, EV renters have a lot to learn about going electric. All it takes is a little homework.

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