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Renting an Electric Vehicle 101

What you need to know before your next road trip

spinner image a man disconnects the charging cable from an electric car
Courtesy of Hertz

As the days get longer and warmer, you might be dreaming of a summer road trip. Driving is a great way to see the country, and if you want to be climate-conscious, you might want to rent an electric vehicle (EV). An EV uses an electric motor instead of an internal combustion engine. It’s powered by a large battery pack (no gas!) that needs to be recharged. 

In addition to saving at the pump, EVs are more environmentally friendly than regular cars: EVs have no tailpipe emissions and reduce air pollution, and they don’t use fossil-based fluids such as motor oil or other toxic chemicals, which can end up in the environment. 

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“Renting an EV is a great way to experience this new technology in a way that allows you to see what it’s like without having to buy one,” says Greg Bannon, director of automotive engineering and industry relations at the American Automobile Association (AAA).

If you’re considering an EV for your next vacation, here’s what you need to know before you hit the road. 

Renting and charging an EV

Bannon says more car rental companies are incorporating EVs into their fleets, so finding one is much easier than it was a few years ago — and they’re priced to encourage consumers to give them a try. Major rental companies, including Hertz, Enterprise and Avis, offer EVs. Turo, which is like Vrbo for cars, also offers EVs across the country. 

Hertz, which has the largest EV fleet in North America, forecasts renting nearly 2 million EVs this year — five times the number of rentals in 2022 — and aims to have one-quarter of its fleet electric by the end of 2024. “Our electric vehicles are priced about the same as other cars in our fleet that are of a similar make, model and class,” says Laura Smith, executive vice president of global sales and customer experience for Hertz.

If you’re going to rent an EV, you need to decide whether to get a Tesla, the biggest seller of EVs (which has its own charging network), or another brand such as Polestar, Nissan LEAF and BMW (and use a public network). 

Aside from Tesla, the largest DC (direct current) open charging network in the United States is Electrify America. DC chargers (also known as level 3), often found along the highway, are the fastest type and can charge an EV to 80 percent in 20 minutes to an hour. 

How you pay depends on where you charge your car. With Hertz, if you charge at a Tesla station, the fees are charged to the credit card you used to rent the car. If you are at a third-party charging station, you swipe a credit or debit card at the station. 

Level 2 charging stations can charge an empty battery electric vehicle (BEV) in four to 10 hours and are usually found at hotel chains and restaurants. Rates vary, and some hotels include charging in the price of your room. 

Tesla’s network has more than 40,000 charging stations across the U.S. The company is in the process of opening part of its network to all EV brands and plans to open 3,500 superchargers and 4,000 level 2 stalls by the end of 2024.

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“Teslas are very easy to take on a road trip,” says Mike Linden, senior engineering manager at the travel industry website Skift, who has driven roughly 10,000 miles on six cross-country road trips in a Tesla. “You put your destination in the car, and it tells you how to get there, including where to stop to charge.” Though other EVs do that, Linden says you’re relying on third-party infrastructure, which may not be as reliable.

Car rental companies have various fees related to charging, including a fee if the car is not returned charged to a certain percentage (much like the requirement to return traditional cars with a full tank of gas). These fees can add up fast, so be sure to read your contract carefully and ask questions before you drive away.

Learning to drive (again)

EVs are different from regular cars, so you should take time to familiarize yourself with the vehicle before you get on the road. Ask the car attendant for a tutorial before you depart the rental company. EVs have instant acceleration and regenerative braking, which means the car slows down the instant you take your foot off the gas pedal. This allows for one-pedal driving in some models, but drivers always have the option to use the traditional two-pedal driving method.

Some models, including Teslas, have a key card instead of a key or push start. Teslas are noted for the large computer screen next to the steering wheel. 

“If you get into [the car] and you see that it does not have a single knob or button and instead you’re presented with a computer screen, that might be kind of off-putting to a lot of drivers,” Bannon says. For this reason, he says, people who aren’t comfortable with technology may want to stick to regular cars.

How far can you go?

Depending on the make and model of the car, an EV can generally travel 200 to 300 miles on a full charge; however, the range will depend on the outside temperature. 

Bannon explains that EVs use more power in extreme temperatures. “Electric vehicles prefer to be in temperatures that you and I are comfortable in, so around 75 degrees is kind of the sweet spot,” Bannon says. 

This is because a lot of energy is used to keep the battery warm or cool. (AAA research found that EVs can lose 41 percent of their range when the temperature drops to 20 degrees.)

Whatever type of EV you rent, you’ll want to plan your trip carefully, including for contingencies with various charging options on your route. If you’re running low on your charge, the vehicle will warn you. If you run out of charge completely, the rental company’s roadside assistance or AAA can tow you to the nearest charger or may have a portable charger to get you on your way. Be sure to ask about this when you rent the car.

​“It's very important to understand your route and the availability of charging along that route and understand the distances that you might be able to actually go, not what’s advertised as the range,” Bannon says. 

The perks

Aside from helping the environment, there are other benefits to driving an EV on vacation. Charging stations are often in prime parking spaces at highway rest areas, malls and other locations, and some states allow EVs to drive in the high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, regardless of the number of passengers. You can also get more space: Some models have a front trunk ­— a frunk — because there is no engine. Wallet-wise, EV renters spend about half the cost of gas, depending on rental agreement and location, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. 

EV newbie Cindy Vallino recently went on a road trip around Boston in an EV and said the biggest perk for her was being environmentally friendly. “If we have the opportunity to be more green, I’m all for it.”

For Linden, the biggest perk is what’s missing: the sound of the engine. ​

“It’s so quiet, you can hear the wind.”

Electric Vehicle (EV) Road Trips

Here are three options that make it easy to vacation in an EV. ​

 

You’re never more than 50 miles from a charging station along the famous Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) and Route 5 in California. You’re more likely to have more EV models to choose from when renting from a major airport in San Francisco, Los Angeles or San Diego. The Hilton Garden Inn San Diego Old Town has EV charging stations and is near Balboa Park and Fashion Valley Mall.

 

The Natchez Trace Parkway, which winds 444 miles in Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee, offers scenic country views, hiking trails, waterfalls and Native American historic sites. Plus, more than 80 percent of the chargers along the route are free. The recently renovated SpringHill Suites in Ridgeland, Mississippi, offers EV charging stations.

 

Route 66 is a favorite of EV road-trippers: The 2,500-mile route between Chicago and Santa Monica has a growing list of charging stations and funky places to stay. Check out the Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, New Mexico, a 1939 landmark decorated in vintage style. Next door to the property are three complimentary charging stations (two are for Teslas).    

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