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How to rent an electric car

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My experience with electric vehicles is the same as most Americans: I know they exist, but I’ve never owned or even driven one.

They’re an anomaly on the road here, accounting for less than 1% of the country’s 250 million cars, SUVs, vans and pickup trucks in 2021, according to Reuters. And last year, electric vehicles made up only about 3% of all cars and trucks sold in the United States.

And yet, interest in renting them is growing — especially as gas prices continue to soar — and rental companies are responding accordingly. In October, Hertz announced that it was buying 100,000 Teslas. There has also been a steady increase in the number of electric vehicles on the peer-to-peer rental platform Turo; Albert James Mangahas, chief data officer at Turo, says they have grown from hundreds in 2014 to over 25,000 in 2021.

With Hertz, road-trippers can get a charge on Tesla rentals

With a road trip on my agenda this past weekend, I decided to rent an electric vehicle in Westchester, NY – about 600 miles round trip. Going into it, I didn’t know what to expect in terms of the cost or availability of rentals, how I would find places to charge – it’s called “range anxiety” – or if I could understand the Tesla software. That’s what I learned.

First lesson: it is not always easy to find an EV

In March, I tried unsuccessfully to find an electric vehicle rental with the ability to pick up in one city and drop off in another. I even enlisted the help of a travel consultant and still wrote off. None of the four companies she called had any available, and even if they did, they wouldn’t allow one-way rentals.

The problem: “It’s not mainstream yet,” says Aaron Gessner, Detroit bureau chief at Even though EV makers want to sell to rental companies, there is a shortage of cars due to high buyer demand and supply chain issues.

This should improve over time. Ed Peper, U.S. vice president of General Motors Fleet, says EV makers have a good reason to offer their cars to renters: exposure. “We are confident that once consumers learn about an electric vehicle for business or personal use, they will be more likely to consider one,” Peper said in an email.

I did better on Memorial Day weekend with Hertz. It currently has the Tesla Model 3 sedan and Model Y midsize SUVs and will soon have Polestar 2 sedans. Once Hertz had availability for my dates, I jumped on a reservation without shopping around too much; I have felt burnt out since trying to book one in March. You can also try searching Turo or Enterprise, which has options like 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 impact mileage. My three day rental with insurance came to about $523. That wasn’t a big difference compared to a gas-powered sedan—$420 with the same insurance—considering gas for the trip would have cost nearly $100. 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 some of Hertz’s Tesla FAQs on what you need to know before driving a Tesla, like how to turn the car on and off and how to use the charging port. But I wasn’t tech savvy when I got the keys (I’m more of a fire baptized type; manuals are for emergencies).

“There will be a learning curve when you first enter,” Gessner had told me. “Finally, people understand.”

It was a steep learning curve after getting the keys – or rather the key card – to my blue Model 3. I couldn’t open the door. I swiped the key card over parts of the car as I had seen online, but was unsuccessful. I felt like a chimpanzee trying to get into a computer. As I started to google “how to unlock a Tesla”, a Hertz employee appeared and showed me tapping the key card on the passenger door frame, under a camera I didn’t have. noticed. And then I was all alone. The touchscreen instructed me to tap my key card on the console behind or in the cup holders and start the car.

If you want to feel more confident before embarking on your EV rental, Gessner recommends watching tutorials from rental car companies or manufacturers. “And if you have any questions, ask the people who rent cars,” he says.

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Adapt to technology

Where you’d find a radio or a small screen in most cars, you’ll find a giant touchpad in a Tesla. It’s the hub of the car universe, where you can search for charging stations, sync your smartphone, connect to mobile apps like Spotify, check the temperature, see your battery level and check the distance that you can browse, among other functions.

Some of that was confusing to navigate, but the car has a useful voice command 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 wipers, and it agreed.

It was comforting to have my phone handy to research 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 of charging EVs ranging from very slow to very fast. You will want to research the details based on your EV.

There are several ways to find a charging station. For example, AAA’s TripTik has a search function to find charging stations. has an amenity filter that allows users to find properties with on-site electric vehicle charging stations. Anyone can search online for Tesla’s more than 4,500 destination charging locations, such as restaurants, hotels or resorts, where charging is usually free if you are a customer.

Tesla has a network of over 30,000 Supercharger stations around the world. The easiest way to find them is to use the car’s trip planner, which calculates your route with superchargers along the way. The tool displays stall availability at each station; you cannot reserve a charging station in advance.

The Tesla Supercharger can take your battery up to 200 miles in about 15 minutes. Most stations charge a fee, which can depend on your electricity usage and connection time (some have peak and off-peak rates). If you bill your rental at a third-party station, you pay on the spot. With a Tesla station, Hertz charges the credit card associated with your rental.

I paid about $30 in billing fees over four charges. If you want to know how much your trip will cost, you can calculate estimates here.

Before starting my journey, I plugged my destination into the car’s GPS, and it automatically picked up the stations along my route. Believing the car knew better, I accepted his first suggestion to drive to a charging station in Baltimore.

Looking back, I regretted the early detour. I had just started my journey and the car was in no danger of running out of battery. There would be plenty of other more convenient stations than this in a city.

All in all, I took two charging breaks each way from DC to NYC – about 15-20 minutes per Supercharge.

Even though I knew I could stop easily along the way, “distance anxiety” nagged at me.

Tesla’s rental experience was largely straightforward. The car was intuitive enough to understand, with the help of the internet, and the charging infrastructure made it easy to find stations.

My best decision was to talk to other Tesla owners before my trip. My brother-in-law warned me about the car’s ability to accelerate intensely, quickly. A friend’s parents just traveled across the country in their Tesla and had no issues with charging. This tip gave me confidence for my first ride.