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How to navigate rental car shortages, rising gas prices on your next trip

Car rental agencies in Helsinki Airport
Alexander_Photo/iStock

(NEW YORK) — The rapid rebound in leisure travel is fueling a nationwide rental car shortage and price hikes at the pump.

If you’re planning on hitting the road this summer, here’s what experts say you can do to avoid any potential speed bumps:

Don’t wait to rent a car

At the height of the pandemic, rental car companies sold off half of their fleets, and when demand came roaring back they had trouble getting their hands on new cars due to the semiconductor shortage.

“We are in the heart of the car rental apocalypse right now,” Jonathan Weinberg, founder and CEO of AutoSlash.com, said. “And I’d love to say that we’re going to see it get better sometime soon, but it doesn’t look like it.”

He explained rental car locations in destinations like Hawaii, Alaska or anywhere near the national parks are completely sold out of cars right now. And if you can find a car, the rates are two to three times the normal rate.

Travel booking app Hopper said demand for rental cars is up 495% since January, and rental car prices are up 95% from the start of the year.

Given all the challenges, Weinberg recommended travelers start planning now if they need to rent a car anytime this summer, and certainly if they want to get away for Labor Day.

“We recommend people check pricing for rental cars before they book their airfare and hotels,” he said.

Avoid trying to book a rental car during peak travel times

If you are still working remotely or have flexible travel dates, AAA spokesperson Ellen Edmund said you are more likely to find a rental car.

“You might have more luck booking a car on the weekdays versus the weekends,” she said. “It’s just a little more planning this year.”

She also recommended working with a travel agent who can tell you what weeks might have a little lower travel volume.

“If you’re flexible with your dates, and you can consider different times, it will go a really long way in helping,” Edmund said.

Consider renting a U-Haul or van

Some travelers have turned to renting U-Hauls or vans given the rental car shortage.

“The times call for being creative,” Weinberg said.

Car rental company Hertz has a lot of cargo vans available, which they are giving customers a sizable discount on compared to traditional rental cars.

The only downside to consider is these vans only have two seats, and they are very large, so they might not be the best option if you are relying on city parking at your destination.

Look into peer-to-peer renting platforms like Turo

If there are no available cars at traditional rental car companies, or the prices are too high, you can try platforms like Turo that allow you to rent cars straight from the vehicle’s owner.

Many travelers in Hawaii have told ABC News that Turo was the only way they could get a car for a reasonable price.

But Weinberg urges potential renters to be cautious.

“We’ve heard some horror stories,” he said. “People being left high and dry who had reservations then at the last minute the host cancels on them because they realize that they can get more money from someone else.”

Budget for higher gas prices

Early on in the pandemic, national gas prices were sitting at around $2 per gallon on average for regular, but earlier this week they reached $3.17, according to AAA.

“What’s really driving this is higher demand as we see people hitting the roads for summer vacation,” Edmund told ABC News. “We are seeing demand at some of the highest rates in a few years.”

AAA expects gas prices to remain at around $3 throughout the summer, which is the highest rate they have seen in a “few years.”

“We’ve seen travelers offset these costs with cheaper activities once they reach their destination or packing food instead of eating out as much,” she said.

Consider planning a trip to a city that has public transportation or ride-share options

If the cost of a rental car and gas is daunting, you can consider traveling to a destination like New York City or Washington, D.C., that has a variety of public transportation options.

Most trains and buses are running their pre-pandemic schedules, but masks are required until September.

You can also try calculating how much ride-share apps like Uber or Lyft would cost if you used them during your trip instead of renting a car. Depending on how much you leave your hotel, or the distance of your activities, it might be cheaper.

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