Rental car crunch How to keep the vehicle shortage and rising rates from putting the brakes on your summer plans? Book now (and don’t be too picky), experts advise

An ongoing rental car shortage — accompanied by summer price spikes — means if you want to book a ride, you should do it now, experts say.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/03/2022 (251 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

An ongoing rental car shortage — accompanied by summer price spikes — means if you want to book a ride, you should do it now, experts say.

“It’s kind of hit or miss,” said Nicole Saindon.

Saindon regularly orders rental cars at Winnipeg Richardson International Airport for her employer, a concrete contractor whose staff visit job sites in northern Manitoba, among other areas.

“Last week I tried to rent (a vehicle) and they literally had nothing. I couldn’t find anything,” Saindon said.

She booked a vehicle on Tuesday through National Car Rental, where her company has a corporate discount. Normally, she might try for an SUV. Now, she’s not picky.

“Last week I tried to rent (a vehicle) and they literally had nothing. I couldn’t find anything.” – Nicole Saindon

“I’m just trying to get whatever I can,” she said.

The rental car shortage isn’t new to Saindon. Last summer, she went to Victoria, B.C. and couldn’t find wheels, she said.

“It definitely… pays to book in advance, because at least you have the chance of getting something,” she said.

Strain on the industry isn’t expected to ease this summer. On Wednesday, Enterprise’s website showed no availability of vehicles out of Charlottetown’s airport for all of July and most of August. The website had a similar lack of stock in Vancouver’s airport and St. John’s, N.L.

JAMES A. FINLEY / ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE Strain on the industry isn’t expected to ease this summer. On Wednesday, Enterprise’s website showed no availability of vehicles out of Charlottetown’s airport for all of July and most of August.

“Like the rest of the industry — Enterprise Holdings’ brands (Enterprise, National and Alamo) continue to see increased demand for vehicles to support travel across Canada,” a spokesperson for Enterprise Holdings wrote in a statement.

“We anticipate demand will continue to increase into early spring and summer.”

Vans, pick-up trucks, convertibles and SUVs are popular, the spokesperson said. Reserving a vehicle as early as possible is “critical,” they added.

“Already into December, we’re seeing reservations coming through,” said Susan Postma, a regional manager at CAA Manitoba.

The travel company has noticed “pockets of availability” when helping clients rent vehicles, she said. Trip planning is on the rise, she added.

Peak season — June, July and August — is currently the hardest for renting.

“My recommendation would be to certainly reserve now,” Postma said. “You can always look closer to departure for other opportunities, whether it be pricing or type of vehicle.”

“My recommendation would be to certainly reserve now. You can always look closer to departure for other opportunities, whether it be pricing or type of vehicle.” – Susan Postma, CAA Manitoba

Rental costs are climbing. For example, a full-size car from Hertz, for pickup at Winnipeg Richardson International Airport on Wednesday, was approximately $782.25 for a week. The same vehicle at the same location was an estimated $1,357.32 for July 11 to 18, if booked and paid for Wednesday. The total bumped to approximately $1,428.27 if paid later.

“Reserve your vehicle as soon as possible to lock in pricing, because it’s likely going to go up,” said Craig Hirota, the vice-president of government relations and member services for the Associated Canadian Car Rental Operators.

The shortage of rental cars is relative to consumer demand, Hirota said. Rental car brands began to experience the squeeze last April: parts of Canada began to relax public health restrictions and folks started travelling more, but companies had already sold off much of their fleets.

“(The vehicles) were sitting unrented, and (businesses) needed the cash,” Hirota said of when COVID-19 first hit.

DREAMSTIME / TNS FILES A full-size car from Hertz, for pickup at Winnipeg Richardson International Airport on Wednesday, was approximately $782.25 for a week.

Since last April, there hasn’t been much selling of vehicles, aside from those that have aged out of their useful lives, he said.

“The industry, pretty much North America wide, has been trying to rebuild their fleets.”

However, supply chain issues have stalled progress. Vehicle manufacturers are backlogged, and they’re largely shipping their stock to retailers, Hirota said.

“They really cut back on fleet sales, which makes it even more challenging for our industry,” he said. “(We’re) buying cars when we can.”

Some branches are purchasing low mileage used vehicles to fill the gaps, he added. The industry won’t return to normal until auto manufacturers are back to regular production levels, “plus the added time taken to rebuild new vehicle inventory,” Hirota said.

Summer likely won’t see regular rental car fleet levels.

The increasing price of gas shouldn’t affect rental costs because customers pay for their own fuel, Hirota said.

“We haven’t seen any reduced demand yet due to gas prices,” he said.

Winnipeg Airports Authority has noticed more appetite for rental cars as passenger traffic busies, according to Tyler MacAfee, the WAA’s vice-president of communications and government relations.

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS A mostly empty rental car garage is photographed at the Winnipeg airport.

“With a busy summer travel season expected, we are working with the rental car agencies to ensure they can keep up with growing demand,” he wrote in an email.

Manitoba Public Insurance has recorded a decrease in customers needing rental cars, despite a steep rise in winter collisions, said media spokesman Brian Smiley.

“There’s a bit of an asterisk there,” he said. “You may have people who don’t have the auto loss-of-use policy and they’ll just make arrangements to get a rental of their own.”

There were roughly 35,000 collisions between January and mid-March this year, Smiley said. The same time last year elicited around 20,000 accidents.

MPI received about 21,000 rental car invoices for last April to this February, compared to roughly 23,000 from April 2020 to February 2021.

gabrielle.piche@winnipegfreepress.com

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Cars available at the rental lot at James Richardson International Airport.
Gabrielle Piché

Gabrielle Piché
Reporter

Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.

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