And yet interest in renting them is on the rise – especially as gas prices continue to rise – and rental companies are responding accordingly. In October, Hertz announced it would buy 100,000 Teslas. There has also been a steady increase in EVs on peer-to-peer rental platform Turo; Albert James Mangahas, Turo’s chief data officer, says they went from hundreds in 2014 to more than 25,000 in 2021.
Hertz allows road-trippers to get reimbursement from Tesla rentals
With a road trip on my agenda this past weekend, I decided to rent an EV to Westchester, NY – about 600 miles round trip. When I got into it, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the cost or availability of rentals, how I’d find places to charge — it’s called “range anxiety” — or whether I’d be able to figure out Tesla software. This is what I learned.
First lesson: It’s not always easy to find an EV
In March I tried to find an EV rental company with the option to pick up in one city and drop off in another. I even enlisted the help of a travel consultant and went ahead anyway. None of the four companies she called had one available, and even if they did, they wouldn’t allow one-way rentals.
The Problem: “It’s still not common,” said Aaron Bragman, Detroit bureau chief at cars.com† While EV manufacturers want to sell to rental companies, there is a shortage of cars due to high buyer demand and supply chain issues.
That should get better over time. Ed Peper, US Vice President for General Motors Fleet, says EV manufacturers have a good reason for getting their cars to renters: exposure. “We are convinced that once consumers experience an EV for commercial or personal use, they are more likely to consider one,” Peper said in an email.
I did better over Memorial Day weekend with Hertz. It currently has the Tesla Model 3 sedan and Model Y mid-sized SUVs and will soon have Polestar 2 hatchbacks. Once Hertz had availability for my dates, I jumped on a reservation without doing much shopping; I felt burned from the moment I tried to book one in March. You could also search for Turo, or Companywhich offers options including the Tesla Model 3, Nissan Leaf and Polestar 2. Avis advertises Teslas and the Kia Niro EV.
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I chose the Model 3, which seats five adults and has a range of up to 260 miles, depending on how fast you go; higher speeds affect mileage. My three-day rent with insurance came in at about $523. It wasn’t much of a difference from a fuel-powered sedan—$420 with the same insurance—since gasoline would have cost nearly $100 for the trip. The only downside was that I could only get it from Dulles International Airport in Virginia, which is about an hour from my DC apartment.
I had gone through a few Frequently Asked Questions about Tesla from Hertz about what you need to know before driving a Tesla, such as how to turn the car on and off and how to use the charging port. But I wasn’t well versed in technology when I got the keys (I’m more of a fire-baptizing person; manuals are for emergencies).
“There will be a learning curve when you first come in,” Bragman had told me. “Eventually people get it.”
The learning curve quickly hit after I got the keys — or rather the key card — to my blue Model 3. I couldn’t open the door. I hovered the key card over parts of the car as I had seen online but had no success. I felt very much like a chimpanzee trying to get into a computer† When I started Googling “how to unlock a Tesla”, a Hertz employee showed up and showed me to tap the key card on the passenger door frame, under a camera I hadn’t noticed. And then I was on my own. The touchscreen instructed me to tap the rear console or cup holders with my key card and put the car into drive.
If you want to feel more confident before getting into your EV rental, Bragman recommends checking out tutorials from rental car companies or manufacturers. “And if you have any questions, ask the car rental people,” he says.
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Adapt to the technology
Where you would find a radio or a small screen on most cars, in a Tesla you will find a gigantic tablet with touchscreen. It’s the center of the automotive universe, where you can find charging stations, sync your smartphone, log into mobile apps like Spotify, control the temperature, see your battery level and how far you can drive, among other things.
Some of it was confusing to navigate, but the car has a handy voice control feature that works like Siri or Alexa. You hold down a button on the steering wheel and make your request. When it started to rain, I asked the car to turn on the windshield wipers, and I obliged.
It was reassuring to have my phone handy to track down other challenges I encountered along the way, like how to lock the car or find the hazard lights.
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There are different methods for charging EVs that range from very slow to very fast. You want to look up the details based on your EV.
There are several ways to find a charging station. For example AAAs TripTik has a search function for finding charging stations. Hotels.com has a amenities filter that allows users to find homes with on-site EV charging stations. Anyone can search online for Tesla’s 4,500-plus Destination Charging Locations — such as restaurants, hotels or resorts — where charging is usually free if you are a customer.
Tesla has a network from more than 30,000 Supercharger stations worldwide. The easiest way to find them is through the car’s Trip Planner, which calculates your route with Superchargers along the way. The tool shows the availability of stalls at each station; you cannot reserve a charging station in advance.
The Tesla Supercharger can get your battery up to 200 miles in about 15 minutes. Most stations charge a fee, which can depend on your electricity usage and plug-in time (some have peak and off-peak rates). If you charge your rental at a third-party station, you pay on the spot. At a Tesla station, Hertz will charge the credit card associated with your rental.
I paid about $30 in charging charges over four charges. If you want to know how much your trip will cost, you can make estimates here†
Before starting my drive, I plugged my destination into the car’s GPS, and it automatically picked up stations along my route. Thinking the car knew best, I accepted his first suggestion to drive to a charging station in Baltimore.
In retrospect I regretted the early detour. I had just started driving and the car was not at risk of running out of battery. There would be plenty of other stations more convenient than this one in a city.
I generally made two charging breaks in each direction from DC to New York – about 15 to 20 minutes per Supercharge.
Although I knew I could easily stop along the route, I still nagged about ‘range anxiety’.
The Tesla rental experience was largely straightforward. The car was intuitive enough to figure out, using the internet, and the charging infrastructure made it easy to find stations.
My best move was to talk to other Tesla owners before my trip. My brother-in-law warned me about the car’s ability to accelerate intensely and quickly. A friend’s parents just toured the country in their Tesla and had no problems charging. This advice gave me confidence for my first ride.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Aaron Gessner as the Detroit bureau chief of Cars.com. Aaron Bragman holds that title.