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Satisfaction with rental car companies drops sharply, survey finds

Experts have traced the problems to a shortage of both cars and staff

Woman holding rental car keys
Photo (c) Sirinarth Mekvorawuth EyeEm - Getty Images
Consumers renting cars at North American airports in the last year have reported significantly lower customer satisfaction, according to J.D. Power.

The company’s 2021 North America Rental Car Satisfaction Study traces many of the issues to the pandemic. A shortage of cars allowed rental agencies to hike rates by an average of 58% between August 2020, and August 2021.

The average customer-cited price-per-day rental fee rose to $90.40 this summer. During the 12 months of the study, overall customer satisfaction fell by 11 points on a 1,000-point scale.

“Rental car companies have been facing significant challenges, both in terms of vehicle supply and staffing, and a combination of rising costs and long lines at the airport is having a negative effect on customer satisfaction,” said Michael Taylor, travel intelligence lead at J.D. Power. 

Enterprise leads the pack

According to the study, Enterprise had the highest rating among consumers during the 12 months in the survey, achieving a score of 861. The company is only rated 3.5 out of 5 stars by ConsumerAffairs reviewers, but Ronald, of Del Ray Beach, Fla., tells us that he recently had a great experience when he rented a vehicle.

“The manager was extremely friendly helpful and accommodating,” Ronald wrote in a ConsumerAffairs review. “The car was immaculate and fun to drive.”

But an analysis of ConsumerAffairs reviews of rental car companies found that an increasing number of consumers’ reviews of all the leading rental agencies included complaints about vehicles that were dirty and had bad odors. That could be attributed to both the car shortage and a lack of staff, with companies pressured to quickly return vehicles to service.

Car shortage causes frustration

Tonnix, of Virginia Beach, Va., said they were negatively impacted by the car shortage when they arrived at a Budget Rent A Car counter to pick up a car for a trip. 

“Got to the airport around 8 pm only to be told no car and no hope of getting any,” Tonnix told ConsumerAffairs. “Waited all night and had to take another uber home after much exhaustion and frustration.”

J.D. Power says the rising cost of renting a car is also contributing to declining satisfaction. When rates go up, consumers understandably expect more.

“The fact that the average price per day for vehicle rental is now above $90 sounds almost hard to believe, but I’ve seen instances in which a subcompact—booked a month in advance—cost $140 a day,” Taylor said.

Taylor says even when consumers are aware of the challenges facing the various car rental agencies, their personal experiences outweigh those considerations and the result is an unhappy customer.

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