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Car rental companies, along with the entire travel industry, have had to quickly adapt to a changing landscape as demand for travel dipped in response to the novel coronavirus.
Now, as many states continue phased reopening and Americans consider safe fall travel, more people are likely to turn to road trips as a result of concerns over air travel. Beyond standard cars, people are even renting RVs and camper vans to hit the road.
Like hotels, rental car companies such as Enterprise, Alamo, National, Avis, and Budget have all announced new measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, and are stepping up their cleaning and sanitization procedures. Our experts weighed in on the overall safety of such rental car policies and agreed that a well-sanitized vehicle is much less of a danger than being around infected humans. Strict checklists, new cleaning products, curbside and contactless pick-up, and the thorough cleaning and disinfecting of each vehicle when returned by a customer or transported by employees are all part of new levels of service designed to assuage concerns regarding COVID-19.
As well as the familiar industry leaders, there is also a new generation of peer-to-peer car rental companies, where customers rent vehicles from approved ‘hosts,’ much as you might book an Airbnb.
Turo and Getaround are among the leading names in this market. “We’re seeing people book cars to run errands and to get to and from work if they’re essential workers who aren’t comfortable using public transportation,” says Christin DiScipio of peer-to-peer car rental company Turo. “We’re seeing people book cars to use as an extension of their home office.”
DiScipio reports that while demand has diminished in the short term, peer-to-peer companies such as Turo have commercial agility that will work in their favor going forward.
Additionally, as forward planning becomes less predictable, many companies have updated their cancellation policies. Customers should check policies very carefully before signing any rental agreement, and it’s also worth considering taking out a specific travel insurance policy that would cover some of the costs in case of unforeseen changes.
Enterprise, Alamo, and National are reportedly extending their existing no-fee cancellation policy to include customers with direct pre-paid rentals. At Hertz, young renter fees are being waived and the minimum age lowered from 20- to 18 -years-old to help college students and young drivers. Additionally, customers with pre-paid Hertz rentals booked prior to March 13 can cancel for no fee and transfer their balance toward a future booking within 24 months.
These new procedures and policies all factored into our list of top car rental companies for 2020. We also researched dozens of car rental companies across categories and consulted reviews on third-party sites such as Priceline.com, Kayak.com, Expedia.com, and Rentalcars.com. We considered price points, the number of nationwide locations (airport and otherwise), and impressive customer service satisfaction levels based on the 2019 customer satisfaction report by survey company JD Power, which gathered responses from over 12,000 business and leisure travelers who rented a vehicle.
Price quotes are taken from the company’s own websites and are based on a one-week rental of a medium-sized vehicle (or ‘standard’ car, for example, a Volkswagen Jetta or similar) by a driver over 25, picking up midweek from a regional airport, with unlimited mileage. All quotes were for bookings made two months in advance without any extras.
Keep reading to see why we chose these companies, review sample price quotes and the kind of services they offer, plus updated hygiene and cancellation policies, and what you should know about each of our picks.