Last Updated on August 5, 2023 by Kristin
You show up at the rental car office, exhausted from a long flight and ready to hit the road. To your surprise, the agent gives you an electric car. The problem is, you’ve never driven an electric vehicle before and aren’t sure you want to tackle the learning curve now. What are your options when you don’t want an electric rental car.
This scenario is becoming more common. The rental car industry has faced shortages in recent years — especially at busy airport locations. Meanwhile, many companies have been replenishing their fleets with EVs. Taken together, this often leads to renters having to choose between leaving the rental office empty-handed or driving off with a surprise EV.
If you had no intention of renting an EV, being offered one on the spot when you least expect it can be stressful. But before you cancel your reservation, check out these tips for negotiating with the rental car company first.
Do You Have to Accept a Rental EV?
If you don’t want to drive an electric vehicle, the first step is to determine whether all other car categories are truly sold out. It’s possible that the rental agent has a glut of EVs and is simply trying to match you with a “similar” car to the one you booked. If there are truly no gas-powered cars available, you’ll have to make a decision about whether to take the car or look elsewhere for a rental at the last minute.
Technically, it’s your choice whether to accept the EV, but this can feel like a take-it-or-leave-it quandry. Still, it pays to press for alternative solutions and only cancel the reservation as a last resort.
While car shortages are common, the rental company should make an effort to respect your reservation and help find a suitable vehicle. If they cannot offer you the type of car you booked, it’s perfectly reasonable to ask for an upgrade or extra perks to improve the situation.
Since it’s standard practice for rental car companies to offer a free upgrade when the vehicle type you rented is unavailable, ask the company to provide a different type of car.
If the agent offers you an upgrade with a fee, politely ask them to waive the charge as the onus is on the company to fix the problem at no extra cost to you.
If the rental car company cannot provide an upgrade or alternative vehicles, ask them to consider:
Wait for a vehicle: Ask whether a gas-powered vehicle will be available later in the day. If so, you could rent that car and receive compensation for your lost time.
Go to another office: Rental car offices usually have multiple locations in bigger metropolitan areas. Ask the agent to research available cars at nearby locations. A suitable vehicle might be only an Uber or cab ride away.
Make a reservation elsewhere: Ask the rental company to pay for a reservation with a competitor that has gas-powered vehicles available. This might work at a busy airport location.
Accept the car for compensation: Take the EV, but ask the company to provide a voucher toward a free rental next time and reimbursement for charging fees.
Ask for insurance coverage: Since EVs are typically categorized as high-value vehicles due to their high-tech components and engine, ask the rental company if they would cover the collision damage waiver (CDW) since you had not booked the EV.
There is a lesser-known option for renting a car that could lead to unexpectedly receiving an EV, as detailed in The Atlantic. The discount known as the Manager’s Special involves booking a mystery vehicle, which can often turn out to be an EV at Hertz and other rental car companies whose fleets contain huge volumes of electric cars.
For renters who are not bothered by the possibility of receiving an EV, the Manager’s Special could turn out to be a great deal. But if you specifically do not want an EV, it could be smart to avoid this mystery discount.