The Pros and Cons of Your First EV Experience Being a Rental

Be prepared and watch out for sharp edges

I’m on vacation. As a freelance writer, what I’m really on is "vacation." A little less work than usual while in a different location.

Yesterday, to beat the other passengers on the plane, as soon as I got out of the airport, I rushed to the car rental location, leaving my wife to deal with the luggage. That’s a pro tip. One person deals with luggage the other gets the car. Go team Baldwin. 

A Tesla electric vehicle parked in front of a Hertz office.

Hertz

While I was able to get our vehicle quicker than most (another pro tip: use car rental company apps and sign up to be a preferred member, the line is shorter), it still took too long. I also ended up with a giant scratch on my arm from the shuttle, and even though the folks behind the desk were delightful, their computer system was not and kept logging them out. 

As I rolled away in my Kia Soul, I realized that people will navigate this gauntlet of tired passengers, frustrated employees, and weird contract negotiations to drive an EV from either Tesla or Polestar. It sounds like a great idea. But maybe, just maybe, not one that should be taken up by newbies. 

The Pros of EV Car Rental 

Picking up your vehicle is really just a small part of the entire car rental process. Well, hopefully, it’s a small part of your vacation, business trip, or whatever you need a car for. After that, it’s like a very long test drive. 

The best way to get people onboard with EVs is to let them drive EVs. So far, no one I know has come away after driving one, saying that they hate the instant torque and smoothness of the drive. But of course, 10-15 minutes behind the wheel isn’t the entirety of the EV experience. That’s where a rental comes in. 

Right now, you can rent a Tesla Model 3, the number one selling EV, from Hertz. It's available for loan in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Washington DC, Orlando, Miami, and Ft Lauderdale. 

Someone preparing to charge an EV at a charging station.

sinology / Getty Images

The rental agency going with Tesla first makes a lot of sense. The number one issue with EVs is range anxiety which is really charging anxiety. EVs are great, and for experienced EV owners, the act of charging on the go is something they learn to deal with. Yes, there are way more gas stations, but with a few apps and some planning, keeping an EV on the road isn’t that difficult.

Tesla’s charging experience is also head and shoulders above every other automaker. The company invested early in its Supercharger network. It built cross-country corridors and then just kept putting in charging locations. It also helps that the in-car navigation is deeply integrated into the vehicle's state of charge and those stations. While planning routes, the system automatically finds stations for the driver along the way. Charging is really Tesla’s killer app. 

Hertz didn’t stop with Tesla, though. The rental company has also signed a deal with Polestar. Polestar 2 sedans should start appearing in fleets by the end of the year in Europe and eventually in North America. While Polestar doesn’t have its own electric charging network, it does have Android Automotive, and a more EV-centric version of Google Maps baked into the infotainment system. Like Tesla, it will also show you charging points along your route. 

As a renter, you get a great EV that’s also smart enough to help a driver find charging locations reducing their stress levels. For current EV owners, it’s a nice way to continue to drive green when they’re not at home. For the EV curious, it’s a long-term introduction to the world of EV driving. It sounds perfect. But…

The Cons of Your First EV Experience Being a Rental

Remember when I told you I got a huge scratch on my arm while picking up our rental car? That really happened. I have about a six-inch slice running down my forearm. I’m a very patient person, and I just shrugged it off, but it’s a metaphor for the car rental experience. Especially right now. 

A good way to think of it is: getting gas is a thing you do; charging is a thing that happens while you do other things.

Everything is too expensive. At the beginning of the pandemic, rental agencies were in dire straits and started selling off their vehicles to stave off economic disaster. Then people started going back on vacation. The chip shortage and supply chain issues that have made it hard to buy a new car made it hard for rental companies to buy new cars. So prices skyrocketed. Or worse, people showed up with reservations for vehicles that didn’t exist. 

Renting a car is less fraught with the danger of ending up with a Uhaul than before. It’s still extremely expensive and very much an experience that requires all the patience in the world while the system slashes at you (sometimes literally) with one weird annoyance after another.

I was sixth in line at the rental counter, and it took about 30-45 minutes before I got my vehicle. Again, this was the preferred customer line. The fast-moving line. Seriously, sign up for car rental apps and accounts to rent vehicles. You’ll thank me later. 

The regular line kept getting longer, and customers who should have been happy because, woohoo vacation, were becoming frustrated. Maybe that’s not the best experience to link with your memory of driving your first EV. 

Then there’s the charging. The reality is most people charge their EVs at home overnight. Charging on the go is far easier than it used to be, but sometimes, it’s a pain. There are lines. The wait for EV charging can be annoying if you’re in a hurry to, oh, I don't know, catch a plane. 

My advice is just to charge it the entire time. While shopping, while at dinner, while hiking, plug it in anytime you see a charging station near something you want to do. EV owners do this instinctively, but if you’re new to electric vehicles, you might still be in the gas mindset where you wait to refuel. 

Two kids loading gear into the back of an electric SUV.

Maskot / Getty Images

A good way to think of it is: getting gas is a thing you do; charging is a thing that happens while you do other things. Oh, also, download all the charging apps. You’re going to need them. 

Or maybe just wait to rent an EV because vacation should be less stressful, not more. 

A Happy Medium

All that said, renting an EV is a great way to be excited about EVs if you’re prepared. One way is to rent one for a few days near your home or while visiting family or good friends. The people related to you will have to let you plug into their house at night. Bring them presents though if you do that. Electricity still costs money. 

But while you’re tooling around your hometown or rad place a friend or family member lives, you’ll be able to enjoy instant torque and a quiet, smooth ride over a few days. Hopefully, the rental agency pickup experience was seamless, or at least not enough to break your will with long wait times and busted computer systems. I’m pretty sure some of the people that were on my flight yesterday are still in line. 

So should your first EV experience be a rental? Sure, if you remember a few things. Renting any car is a pain, and everything is easier with good friends and family that let you plug in at night. 

Also, seriously get the rental apps and sign up for an account, so you’re in the shorter line. 

Want to know more about EVs? We have a whole section dedicated to electric vehicles!

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