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. (Update: Tesla fixed this for the US market in September 2023 https://electrek.co/2023/09/19/tesla-builds-in-car-software-car-rental-hertzs/) 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…
Update May 2023, good experience with Turo.
The Turo rental in May worked well, the BMW i3 is quite fun to drive and had enough range for that trip. I’ll use Turo more going forward.
Update September 2023, bad experiences with Hertz.
The Hertz car choice and pricing is pretty good, but their booking process, online presence and app integration is un-usable, particularly for UK rentals. We had a short Tesla Model 3 rental in the USA in August, which went well, the car had basic autopilot turned on, which worked better than our experience in Portugal, but still relied on the keycard for everything. I did get surprised by the high recharge fee, this wasn’t explained to me before I rented, and it would have been much cheaper to have returned it full (over 80% seems to be what they want). In my opinion it’s much less work for them to plug in an electric car, which they are likely to do anyway, than to drive it to get gas, so it should be much cheaper to recharge.
Then I booked a series of Polestars for various locations in a trip to Europe. The Polestar 2 is a good size, drives well enough, and is priced much less than Teslas. The Hertz pickup process at Heathrow was very slow and unhelpful compared to previous experiences with Enterprise at Heathrow or Hertz elsewhere. Then we had a bit more hassle finding a charger that worked and getting the UK based provider MER to work with a US iPhone — their app won’t load, and their web app is clunky. In the end we got it going, charging at 50KW near where we are staying. I’ve got used to Tesla superchargers running at 150–250KW, but it was fast enough. Then we had an issue that made me want to extend the rental and my problems started…
The current rental doesn’t appear in the same Hertz app that I used to make the reservation. Future rentals also don’t appear on the home page under that heading, unless I visit my account page, where they sometimes do appear. The history of previous rentals does eventually appear. So in the same app, in different screens, it can’t decide what to show. However I can’t get the current rental to show at all, which is what I needed. It said I could simply extend my rental using the app, but even if I explicitly loaded the rental number into that page (which only exists on the printed rental docs) it recognised it then immediately reverted to a previous screen. The reservation number from the emails and clicking on the text messages about the car did not work. This is stupid, they should be able to look this up from the reservation number, and give a sensible error message if something isn’t right. So I tried to phone them, the US number worked but couldn’t deal with my UK rental. The only number they provide for Heathrow is an 0845 area code premium cost number. They charge by the minute to provide support… However my US based cell phone refused to connect to that number. Eventually I used my Dad’s land line, didn’t get a human to talk to and left them a message. I didn’t get a call back, so a few days later I tried again and got a human. He made the change and said that UK rentals can only be extended by phoning them, not via the app or the web site. I can’t find this information anywhere in the app, or on the hertz.com or hertz.co.uk web sites (which tell me I can “simply do this online”).
The rental return etc. was fine in the end. The Shell keyfob for charging didn’t work anywhere this time, including at a Shell station. However swiping a credit card on the charger did work for one of the random confusing charging station brands that I can’t remember. The Polestar is a nice large cheap electric car to rent, as long as you don’t have to get any support from Hertz.
For the next rental we needed in Edinburgh, I cancelled the Hertz Polestar and tried renting a Tesla Model Y from Sixt. Their web site and app are far better than Hertz (good job by their team and CTO Boyan Dimitrov, who I met recently), but their pickup process was pretty slow and manual compared to Enterprise. Like Hertz, their systems don’t really know about electric cars yet, there’s no mention in their online FAQ, and the staff don’t really know the electric car options well. Sixt tried to sell me a Tesla Supercharger subscription for about £30 that they said would give me unlimited recharges, but I was only renting for 3 days, and the hotel had a destination charger. The car was setup strangely, and hadn't been reset since the last driver, and it’s a pain to have to use the Tesla card every time rather than the Tesla app. Tesla need to fix their app and car software so that a time limited car rental can be hooked up to the app, and charging should be at the normal Tesla rates, the car could also know my setup preferences from the app. We have had a Model 3 for several years, and driving a Model Y is similar, but it has a much worse ride, and I didn’t enjoy driving it as much. No problem with the car, or dropping it off.
Next up, a Hertz Polestar in Italy. Sixt don’t have any electric cars for rent, so we’ll try it again. We’ve already seen plenty of electric cars and chargers around Rome. We’re going to drive to Pompeii.