Photo by Carolyn Fortuna | CleanTechnica

It’s Another EV Rental Car Nightmare

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“100% electric. All fun,” the banner reads across the Avis rental website. What the banner doesn’t tell you is that you need to be independent and resourceful and ready to learn as you go when you rent a Tesla Model 3 or a Chevy Bolt from Avis. If those attributes don’t readily describe you, be ready for a EV rental car nightmare.

That was the experience of my neighbor, Carter, and, while it makes a good story, living through it for them was variously stressful, mystifying, and frustrating.

It was also an entre into an entirely new class of cars that was smoothed by the kindness of strangers.

I live in Florida. Even though I’m a full-time resident, my community is a place where snowbirds come and go several times over the course of the year to enjoy their vacation homes. During various visits, friends and I had talked to Carter about how much fun, efficient, and eco-friendly it is to drive an EV. For this month’s quick trip, Carter had decided to fly into Palm Beach International Airport and rent an EV. The off-season stay provided a nice opportunity for Carter to have an opportunity to see what battery-electric transportation was like personally, since they wouldn’t be driving their own car down from the north.

I recognized the sultry gray Model 3 with its distinctive lines immediately as it pulled up to my lobby. “Carter!” I smiled as I eased into the front seat. “Is this a Model 3? Did you buy a Tesla?”

“Not exactly,” Carter replied. “It’s a rental. From Avis. And I have some questions for you.”

The Rental Experience Revisited

The customer service rep at the rental car desk had assured Carter that driving the Model 3 was self-explanatory, that everything they needed to know was available on the touchscreen. What the rep neglected to say was that the Key Card was only one part of the process to get the car underway. “It’s easy to start the car after you know the steps to take,” Carter acknowledged during our conversation. After a couple of visits back to the rep’s desk, Carter knew where to place the Key Card on the center console (it houses an RFID transmitter that reads key fobs and key cards). Then Carter figured out how to pair the car with their iPhone.

The 75-minute trip north on I-95 driving an EV was finally underway.

The zippy acceleration and responsive steering made the I-95 jaunt fun. Then again, seeing the exit ahead for our community brought a sigh of relief to Carter after a long day of travel. But then the touchscreen flashed a warning that indicated the Model 3 had only 20 miles of charge left and that Carter needed to pull into the Wawa ahead to charge.

The Avis Terms and Conditions on their website reads:

“3) BATTERY CHARGING LEVELS AT VEHICLE CHECK OUT: Avis will rent the EV with at least a 70% charge on the battery.” 

Hmm. Somebody in the rental car lot forgot to read the company’s fine print. A 70-mile trip from the airport meant the car had no more than 40% charge upon departure, and probably less.

Carter hadn’t received any instructions on charging from the rental car rep, and so was trying to figure it out by trial-and-error at the Wawa. Luckily, a nearby Tesla driver saw the situation unfolding. A tutorial from this generous Tesla driver gave Carter most of the info necessary for charging for the rest of their trip. They slouched down in the driver’s seat, watching the touchscreen indicate increasingly higher levels of charge, feeling stuck in limbo while they waited for it to finish.

“But — do I get free charging at Wawa?” Carter asked me. I was uncertain how to answer this question at first. My mind raced through scenarios: early Teslas received free Supercharging. Hertz had purchased fleets of Tesla, but I couldn’t recall any deal about free charging. And this was Avis, anyway.

“Did you leave a credit card with Avis?” I asked. Yes, definitely, Carter responded. I explained that, in all likelihood, their charging was similar to mine in my Model Y — a credit card associated with my Tesla account would have deducted the Supercharging fee.

Later on, a close reading of the Avis Terms and Conditions outlines:

8) UNIQUE TESLA TERMS: If you rented a Tesla EV, you will be able to access Tesla Superchargers, subject to availability, to recharge Tesla vehicles provided, however any charging fee or idle fee, expense and/or costs to access and utilize the Tesla Supercharges are charged to Avis and will be billed back to you at cost plus a 2.3% administrative fee.

So, no, Carter, no free charging. In fact, it looks like you’ll be paying an administrative fee just so that Avis allows you to use the Supercharger.

“Is there a way I can use the touchscreen to figure out how many kWh I’ve used since my last charge?” Carter asked.

I admitted that it’s somewhere in the layers of the touchscreen but that I didn’t feel comfortable playing with the touchscreen while we were driving. I usually use voice commands to locate information on the Model Y. The Tesla website later on gave the answer.

“Trip information displays on the touchscreen in the cards area on the car status display, or when you touch Controls > Trips. For the current trip, you can display distance, duration and average energy usage. You can also show distance and total and average energy used since your last charge and for additional trips.”

“Are you asking because you want to figure if you’re saving money in comparison to a gas-powered car?” I wondered.

“Yeah, I’m curious,” Carter answered.

“You’re saving about half the amount,” I assured them. I also mentioned that, when I go to the marina area for the farmer’s market or a show at the theater, I always park in the city garage so that I can grab some free electrons at the utility company sponsored chargers. When I unplug, I get a reading that tells me how many kWh I’ve used.

“Free chargers in the city garage?” Carter repeated with a thin line of amazement in their voice. “I’ve been driving a lot since I’ve arrived, and I’ve been back up to the Wawa off the highway about 4 times.” I explained where the chargers were located in the garage. (I realized after the fact that Carter couldn’t use the city garage chargers unless Avis had provided an adapter, which seemed unlikely.)

By this time, we were at the restaurant. Carter slowed the Model 3 and put it into reverse. The touchscreen showed the large diagram of parking spaces and lines to follow back into the free space. Carter did so with ease.

“Are you glad you rented an all-electric car?” I asked, not sure of the response I’d hear.

“Yeah, I am. I love cars. This is really fun to drive,” Carter admitted.

This EV Rental Car Nightmare Is Not an Isolated Incident

Potentially, renting EVs has a lot of good outcomes:

  • More public awareness of EVs.
  • Decreased resistance to EVs.
  • More EV chargers available to the driving public.
  • More used EVs coming to market in the future.
  • Less tailpipe pollution in the air over the US.

Yet Carter’s you’re-on-your-own renting an EV experience isn’t rare. More and more media reports indicate that customers who are trying out EVs through renting them are coming away discouraged or disgruntled.

Possibly it is similar to the ennui that legacy automakers are feeling about transitioning to EVs in general — why train staff when the momentum won’t be here for years yet?

I give Carter a lot of credit for taking on the challenge of learning how to drive an EV on-the-go. I suspect Carter will become an emissary for EV rentals, advising others to read up ahead of time on what is involved in driving and charging an EV.

We in the EV world teach each other, making ourselves available to fill in the gaps of knowledge about the gift of driving an EV. It’s really a wonderful community.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack:

Carolyn Fortuna has 1359 posts and counting. See all posts by Carolyn Fortuna