4 Secrets to Score Better Deals on Rental Cars, Gas, and Road Trips

Renting a car this year may pose some extra challenges. Here’s how best to navigate them.

Illustration showing a rental car packed full of people
Photo: Illustration by Tiago Galo

In the past few years, the road trip has become an American favorite again. Driving is the most popular form of travel, according to the American Automobile Association, but rising gas prices may change how many travelers plan their journeys. These tips will help.

Secure a Rental Car ASAP

With the onset of the pandemic, companies whittled down their idling fleets, only to run into supply-chain issues that kept them from expanding once travelers returned. Last year's shortage is expected to continue through 2022 and will be most acute in Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, and Wyoming. In Alaska, rates start above $200 a day, and at Glacier Park International Airport in Montana, daily rentals are approaching $400. Reserve a car well in advance of your trip, and set an alert through a discount tracker like AutoSlash so you can rebook if the price drops.

Try Car Sharing

The rental-car shortage has been a boon for sharing platforms, which enable users to borrow cars for intervals as short as 30 minutes. Turo, a person-to-person service that works similarly to Airbnb, saw year-over-year revenue more than triple in the first nine months of 2021. More than 160,000 vehicles are available in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. A search in Denver turned up a Toyota Sienna for $47 a day and a Maserati for $180. The downside of car sharing is that, unlike with other rentals, you can't drive point-to-point, so you'll need to return it to the location where you picked it up.

Find Cheap Gas

Each year, the cost of fuel peaks in late summer as demand increases, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. After hitting an all-time national high in June, gas prices have dipped slightly in July and August; the EIA forecasts that fuel will stay above $4 a gallon through September. To find affordable places to fill up your tank, download an app like GasBuddy, which maps gas stations with current prices and offers a payment card for discounts. You can also search "gas" on Google Maps to see area stations and prices. Ditto the driving-directions app Waze, which color-codes prices in red for high, yellow for average, and green for low.

Consider an EV

Climate change and high gas prices are pushing more consumers to try electric vehicles. Though EVs are scarce at rental agencies, Hertz has Tesla 3s at seven airport locations, including Los Angeles, Miami, and Dulles, in Washington, D.C. In San Francisco, a Hertz Tesla was recently $219 a day compared with $145 for a standard sedan. Turo is another option with EVs comprising roughly 7 percent of its fleet — that's about 11,000 cars.

Tesla has a proprietary network of charging stations and a navigation system that can also recommend charging stops. Non-Teslas share a universal plug compatible with public charging stations (Teslas have adapters for them). Apps, including PlugShare and ChargeHub EV Map, will map your route and show places to plug in along the way. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that a direct-current fast charger (DCFC) will add 180 to 240 miles to a car battery in an hour, while a slower Level 2 charger adds 10 to 20 miles in the same amount of time.

Replenishing your battery overnight will maximize your time on the road. Fortunately, more hotel brands are offering charging amenities, including Hilton and Marriott. The most charging stations in the country can be found in California along Highway 99, which runs through the Central Valley to the wine region of Lodi. But other states are investing in the infrastructure, too. Colorado has electrified eight of its scenic byways, including several through the Rocky Mountains, while Oregon has six, including one themed around covered bridges.

A version of this story originally appeared in the July 2022 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline "On the Road Again."

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