Experiences renting electric cars from Hertz
Hertz recently started to rent electric cars, and we’ve tried them out a few times. Most people are used to renting cars, but renting electric cars is a fairly new thing, so I’m sharing to help encourage people to try it out and to hopefully smooth the way with some learning and feedback ideas.
We’re experienced electric car owners, and early adopters. We leased a Nissan Leaf 2011–2014, bought a 2010 Tesla Roadster in 2013, leased a Fiat 500e 2014–2017, and bought a Tesla Model 3 Performance in early 2020. We’ve also driven a friend’s 2015 Tesla Model S on some long trips.
Last summer (2022) we rented a car in the UK for a month from National/Enterprise, and got upgraded to an Audi A6 plug-in hybrid. It didn’t come with any charging cables, or charge activation cards, and I only managed to get it plugged in and charging once during our trip. Several times I found chargers that I couldn’t use without a physical charge card that had to be sent to a UK address in advance. There’s a mix of chargers with captive cables, and ones where you have to bring your own cable, in the UK.
Our first electric rental from Hertz was on a short trip to Honolulu in early 2023 to see some friends. We knew we weren’t going to do many miles, so had no range anxiety, but wanted the flexibility to drive around a bit. The Hertz site showed a picture of the Tesla Model 3 when I was booking, but when we turned up we got a Chevy Bolt. It was easy to figure out and drive, we used AirPlay to navigate, and the apartment complex we were staying in had a charger. Since then Chevy have said they will drop AirPlay in the future, but I think it’s a bad idea for the rental car market. Plugging in a phone make it far easier to manage a car that you don’t own. The Bolt seems like a good lower cost rental option, it feels more like a normal car, and reminded us of our Nissan Leaf.
Our second rental was in Portugal in April 2023 for ten days. There’s very good electric charging infrastructure in Portugal. We rented at Lisbon airport and drove to Sintra and Porto and back, so we wanted a good range. The booking guaranteed a Tesla Model 3, and it said it would be the long range version. I then got repetitive emails from Hertz every few days for weeks, trying to explain how to drive a Tesla. When we were picking it up at Lisbon Airport, the agent offered to switch to a Model Y, but we prefer the Model 3. When I asked, they also said it would be fully charged, we could return it empty (we wouldn’t be charged to refill), and that we should be able to get our phone’s Tesla apps to connect to it. When we got to the car itself we found it was a Model 3 Performance (maybe that’s why they tried to get us into a Model Y?) and was about 50% charged. After dropping off our bags and things at the hotel, I found a 50KW charging station, in a fairly remote place near Sintra, and topped the car up for an hour or so using the Shell Recharge card they provided. I think they said the card came with 20 Euros, and any extra charges would be on our bill at the end. It turns out this wasn’t really needed, but at the time I wanted to be sure we had a full battery for our drive to Porto.
We were given a card key, which is much less convenient than using the Tesla phone app, and there was no opportunity to add the car to our own Tesla apps on a temporary basis. This is the biggest thing that Tesla and Hertz need to fix in my opinion. The car itself was set in “chill mode” when we got it, which is probably a good idea for inexperienced drivers, but it was easy to setup the same as our own car in sport mode. The biggest annoyance is that it didn’t have autopilot enabled, and it felt really dumb compared to our own autopilot/FSD enabled car. It did have the basic cruise and lane control needed to follow the car in front, but this can’t handle curves well, and needed a lot more handholding than autopilot. I think Tesla should use the same autopilot/FSD code for cruise control and lane following, just disable the actual ability to change lanes and navigate unless people pay, it would be safer and would help sell the upgrade. Indicating to change lane had a delay before it disabled lane following and it had to be manually re-enabled once the maneuver was done, which was annoying.
We drove to Porto via the freeways, and the car picked a Tesla Supercharger site next to a hotel/restaurant where we had lunch and filled it up again at 150KW. There were enough Supercharger sites that we could have skipped the slow charge on the first day. When we got to Porto, the parking garage near the hotel had a row of 16KW charging stations that accepted the Shell Recharge card, and we left the car overnight before moving it to a normal parking spot.
We had a few excursions from Porto, and recharged again at the garage, then used a Supercharger on the way back to Lisbon to drop the car off. I was encouraged by the experience and would do it again.
Our next stop was Gatwick, for a few days in the UK, and we rented a car to return to Heathrow. The charge to do a different drop off for an electric car was prohibitive so had I rented a small standard car. When we got to the rental counter, they wanted to give us a Toyota Hybrid, and I mentioned that we’d just rented an electric at Lisbon. The agent asked if we wanted an electric instead, for the same price, and that the drop off charge would be the normal amount. So we got a Polestar 2. The initial drive-away took a bit longer as I figured out how to operate it, and it was about 75% charged. It’s a hatchback that’s a similar size to the Model 3, we had the base model, about half the power of the M3P but fast enough. The built in navigation and operation interface worked ok, but we used Apple Carplay to navigate most of the time. The Polestar 2 is a pretty good car, it had a bit more road noise than the Tesla Model 3, but was comfortable and drove well. It has cruise and lane following capability that worked well enough to use, but was worse than the Tesla, it responded more slowly and got confused more often. However indicating to change lane was better, it immediately stopped lane following then when the indicator was turned off it re-enabled it. I wish Tesla did it like that. We stopped for lunch and a visit to a museum, and found a BP charging station that didn’t take the Shell Recharge card, but I managed to get it to take a one-time credit card payment using my phone and the BP web app. It wasn’t great, but I was happy to get it to work. At our destination we found a parking lot with 16KW chargers that took Shell Recharge and filled the car up overnight. I tried to use the Shell Recharge app to find fast chargers and the UI was terrible. It always started out showing me charging stations in the USA. When I used the web app it was also terrible, and started out showing me stations in Amsterdam. It was really hard to find fast chargers along our route, and the car itself didn’t seem to have this built in. This compares poorly to Tesla’s Supercharger experience, or Chargepoint that I’ve used in the US, and Shell really need to invest in making their app and web site more usable.
We got all the way back to Heathrow a few days later without needing another charge and dropped the car off. Then I noticed a lot more Polestars and Teslas that had been returned, some getting charged, and a complete row of them ready to go, as shown in the first picture in this post. It’s clear that they have stocked up and have a lot of electric cars at Heathrow. However I’d suggest that if you want one, you try booking a regular car and see if they will give you a free upgrade on the spot, as that’s what they seem to have excess inventory of at the moment, in the UK at least.
In summary, I’m going to be booking electric rental cars as my default going forward. Hertz seem to be investing a lot, and I expect they will get their systems and apps figured out to make the experience smoother over time. I’ve also used Turo to book a BMW i3 for a trip to Denver in May, so that will be interesting…