How do you rent a car in 2023? Here’s our ultimate guide.
If you want to rent a car in 2023, here’s a secret that’ll save you money: Keep your options open. Way open.
That’s the advice of car rental experts — and drivers who have already made travel plans for next year.
A recent survey of Enterprise car rental customers finds that 70% have rental plans for the near future, which includes the upcoming holiday travel season.
“As we look to the year ahead, we anticipate the strong demand for travel we saw this year will continue into 2023,” says Lisa Martini, a spokeswoman for Enterprise.
It was an interesting year for car rental customers, to put it nicely. As I noted in my guide to renting a car, a chip shortage and record demand pushed some car rental rates to $100 a day or more.
Yeah, that kind of interesting.
“2022 was a big year for rental cars, with shortages across the country,” Paul Jacobs, the general manager of Kayak North America, told me.
The car rental industry had a 62% decline in new vehicle registrations during the first nine months in 2022 compared to 2019, according to Tom Kennedy, CEO of SIXT USA.
“However, production has been improving, and vehicle availability to the rental industry is slowly improving as well,” he says.
I asked Jacobs from Kayak to take a look at advance rental car bookings. Jacobs says prices are down about 5% from a year ago, which is good news for renters. And demand has tapered off a little (it’s down about 3% from last year). You can track rental rates by setting up a price alert on a site like Kayak.
So how do you rent a car in 2023? Flexibility will be an important tool. So will advance planning skills and avoiding certain road hazards.
Staying flexible is one of the most important ways to successfully rent a car in 2023.
The key to a better rental in 2023 is having a B, C, and D.
“Provide flexible dates and branch pick-up locations in your search, if possible,” says Martini, the Enterprise spokeswoman. “It may help to increase your options.”
Car rental companies like Enterprise are helping customers cast a wide net. Enterprise.com has a feature that helps redirect customers to its other nearby options. That way, even if your preferred location shows no availability, you can still get a car if you don’t mind visiting a nearby location.
Interestingly, car rental companies are becoming more flexible, too. Audi on demand, which rents cars from Audi dealerships, recently introduced new flexible terms that let you rent a car for a few days, a week, or even a month.
“There are more possibilities than ever for customers to experience a vehicle,” says Sara Whiffen, vice president of strategy, mobility and retail operations for Audi of America.
For longer-term rentals, there are also companies like Autonomy, which offer monthly subscriptions for sought-after EVs, like the Tesla Model 3.
Pay attention to the card you’re using to rent a car, says Bob Bacheler, managing director or Flying Angels, a medical transportation provider. Bacheler is a frequent car renter and an observer of the shifting landscape of cards and their benefits.
“See if one of the credit cards you have in your wallet gives you status with a rental car company,” he advises. “Unfortunately, with so many people having status, the penalty you may face for not having status can make your rental experience less than pleasant.”
For the best car rental deals in 2023, don’t forget to book ahead.
Car rental experts say some things have changed for next year — and some things haven’t.
“We’re still recommending customers book a non-prepaid reservation as far in advance as possible, especially for peak travel periods or if they need a specialty vehicle,” says Mark Mannell, CEO of Carrentalsavers.com.
Mannell told me that prices have fallen and the shortages of 2022 have eased, “but there are still issues in certain locations and during peak periods.”
Prices for rental cars are coming down, and the market is slowly normalizing, according to Michael Stalf, managing director of My One Car, a German car rental company.
“There’s still a shortage of electric cars,” he says. “So my advice for travelers is not to insist on an electric car because these will be more expensive.”
A quick check of EV prices at major U.S. car rental companies shows EV rentals are priced 20% to 30% higher than gasoline-powered vehicles. That’s partly because they are in high demand and partly because they are so scarce, according to Stalf.
That was one of the big trends in 2022 — digitization. More car rental companies introduced kiosks and apps to streamline the rental process, which can save you lots of time.
“The car rental industry is rapidly adapting technology to all steps of the car rental experience, with a focus on streamlining,” says Frank Harrison, regional security director for the Americas at World Travel Protection.
Harrison, a frequent car renter, says his last car rental experience was fully automated. However, he asked an employee to inspect his car on return. (The return inspection is always a good idea.)
Some renters have discovered more deals at the last minute. I’m one of them. I rented a Jeep in Split, Croatia, a few months ago, and the last-minute rate was less than half the regular price (less than $100 for a long weekend).
“In the last part of this year, I’ve been able to get better rates by waiting until the last minute to rent a car, rather than reserving a car in advance,” says Kyle MacDonald, director of operations at Force by Mojio, a company that provides GPS fleet tracking services.
Best strategy: Book in advance and track your car rental rate online through a service like KAYAK or AutoSlash. As you get closer to your pickup date, check around to see if you can do better. And don’t forget to cancel your original reservation.
Maybe not, says Mark Mohr, a retired TV producer from Vancouver, Wash. He’s planning to travel to Kauai in May for his annual trip.
“We’ve probably been there fifteen times in the past thirty years, and I’ve always rented from Budget,” he says.
But this time, weekly rates are a little high. “It’s $809 for a full-size Toyota Camry, $573 for an Economy Ford Fiesta, and $913 for an intermediate SUV Mazda CX-5,” he says. “That seems like a significant price increase over the past three years.”
“A few island friends have told me about renting from Turo, which I understand is kind of like an Airbnb for cars,” he says. “It seems like a slightly more reasonable option.”
I rented from Turo on a recent visit to Hawaii and saved hundreds of dollars. It’s not quite a car rental company, but the savings are real.
Experts predict car rental rates will remain high in 2023. Anastasija Zubenko, head of the commercial department at car rental site DiscoverCars.com, says that in many ways it will feel like a repeat of 2022, according to their analysts.
“We predict that next year will be about the same — there will be some shortage, especially on islands and territories where it is harder to have new cars delivered,” she told me. “Rates in these places will remain quite high on average, as the demand will continue to be very high, as we predict that people will continue to travel often despite any potential recession.”
In other words, the strategies that landed you a reasonably priced rental car in 2022 will probably work next year — as long as you stay flexible.
How do you rent a car in 2023? Here’s our ultimate guide.