You’d think the cost of renting an electric vehicle would be falling, with Tesla slashing the price of its cars by up to 20% last week. Not exactly.
The EV premium is alive and well. Electric car rentals still cost more than gas-powered vehicles, in my random sampling of prices. But there’s also a hidden cost of renting an EV that has shocked some travelers. It includes extras for charging the car or spending too much time at a charging station.
The extras add up, which makes an EV rental a luxury for many travelers. In fact, smart drivers are turning down the opportunity to rent an electric vehicle.
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What are car rental fees for EVs?
Joshua Folb did a double-take when Budget Car Rental recently sent him its updated terms. Buried deep in the fine print was a requirement that EVs have to be returned more than 70% charged or face a $35 fee. If it’s less than 10%, it’s $70.
“I wonder what the other car rental companies are doing,” said Folb, who works for a nonprofit organization in Arlington, Virginia.
Well, wonder no more. Avis, which owns Budget, has an identical policy. Hertz has a complicated set of EV fees that include charging, controversial “idle” fees and the costs of any damaged charging cable. Enterprise doesn’t have any EV charging fees, and Sixt actually rewards you for recharging your car with a voucher.
“When renting an EV, renters need to be aware of any additional charging fees that may be required post-rental,” said Erin Kemp, a consumer advocate for the car site Bumper.
Kemp has seen charging fees of $15 to $50 or more, depending on the rental company and the battery. He said car rental customers should think of it as a supercharged refueling fee.
Charging more for an EV and adding hidden fees is a bizarre business practice considering that car rental companies are trying to get more people to rent an EV.
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Drivers are revolted by these EV fees
Callum Russell rented a Nissan Ariya on a recent visit to California. He thought the daily rate of $50 was reasonable – but that was before the fees.
The company added fees of $35 for EV charging and $20 for an additional driver, and a representative told him that if he didn’t return the EV clean, he’d have to pay another fee.
“The charging fee was much more than if I had used a public charging port,” said Russell, who runs a site about EV charging.
Daniel Carr had a similar experience when he priced cars for a one-week rental.
“The car options that were electric were overpriced,” said Carr, who publishes an automotive blog. “I think they are taking advantage of the fact that it’s a new technology, and know that if you want to pick an EV over a gas-powered car, they can take advantage of your moral preference for using an EV.”
He went with a gas-powered car.
Richard Wong, a government worker from Washington, D.C., tried to rent an EV in San Francisco during the holidays. The price tag, after all the surcharges, came to more than $100 a day.
“I don’t know how they can justify the greater expense if we’re paying for the electricity, and they’re probably receiving government incentives like tax breaks or outright subsidies for buying electric vehicles,” he said.
Wong also went with a conventional vehicle.
How do you avoid high fees?
Scrap your assumptions about EVs before you rent one, experts say. You know, that they’re affordable, that there are no extra fees, and that all of the fees are clearly disclosed. The opposite is often true.
“Be sure to ask,” said Andrew Krulewitz, CEO of Zevvy, the electric vehicle leasing company.
► What’s the charging policy?
Every rental company seems to have a different policy on charging. Some will allow you to return the vehicle without a charge and won’t make you pay extra. Others will start charging a fee if you return the car with less than 70% charge on the battery, and they’ll punish you with even steeper fees if you go under 10%. “You may pay significantly above what it would cost to charge up the car,” Krulewitz said.
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► Are there any other fees?
Charging fees are not the only “gotchas.” Renters have reported other extras, like idle fees (for overstaying your welcome at a charging station).
► Can you recharge?
The problem with a recharging fee is that it’s often impractical to top off a vehicle before returning it, according to Phil Partridge, marketing manager for Rhino Car. “With a regular car, customers can pop into the nearest fuel station to the airport to top up at the expense of five to 10 minutes,” he said. “But the forward planning required to leave enough time to recharge the rental car – up to an hour or more – could add unwanted time and stress to the rental return, which is already a rather nervy affair to many.” And in some locations, a charging station may be limited. That’s something to think about before you rent an EV.
► These fees are ridiculous
If the idea behind adding EVs is to save the environment, then most car rental companies are going about it the wrong way.
They’re charging an EV premium – they should be offering a discount.
They’re adding fees for charging the battery – they should be offering vouchers for returning the vehicle with a full charge (like Sixt).
They’re adding hidden fees and extra expenses – they should be removing them.
So when I see reports of hundreds of Teslas sitting idle in Hertz parking lot, I’m not surprised. Some car rental companies see EVs as a profit opportunity, and they are hoping our conscience will push us to pay more and tolerate these junk fees so we can save the environment.
We may be worried about climate change, but we’re not that stupid.
Christopher Elliott is an author, consumer advocate, and journalist. He founded Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps solve consumer problems. He publishes Elliott Confidential, a travel newsletter, and the Elliott Report, a news site about customer service. If you need help with a consumer problem, you can reach him here or email him at email@example.com.