Due to the coronavirus pandemic, California has imposed a regional stay-at-home order that bans non-essential travel throughout the state except in a region north of Sonoma County. Governor Gavin Newsom said he was “pulling the emergency brake” with this announcement, which restricts hotel stays for leisure travel, bans the sale of food or beverage for indoor consumption, and significantly curtails other business and recreational activity in affected areas. You can find out more about the restrictions and where they are in place here.
For more guidance, here is a collection of California’s local and regional tourism offices.
With the easing up of travel restrictions that were in place across the country last spring, many Americans are planning excursions, from family road trips to fly-in vacations. If you’ve been dreaming of a California getaway, you may be wondering what to expect when renting a vehicle at your Golden State destination. As with other service-related businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic has inspired some significant changes in the way rental car companies operate in order to keep customers and employees safe.
“We have always been committed to maintaining the highest standards of cleanliness, but we understand now more than ever that customers should feel confident that their vehicle is clean and sanitized,” says Lisa Martini, communications director at Enterprise Holdings, owner of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental, and Alamo Rent-A-Car.
To ensure proper cleaning and sanitation, Enterprise followed guidance from the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the U.S. Travel Association to create its “Complete Clean Pledge.” The program includes strict sanitation protocols for more than 20 high-touch surfaces, from key fobs to rearview mirrors. It also trains employees in enhanced cleaning procedures for vehicles, shuttles, and branch locations.
The company has added curbside pick-up, as well as delivery options at some neighborhood locations to help minimize foot traffic at rental offices. Travelers visiting rental branches will notice that all employees are wearing face coverings and that plexiglass shields have been installed at the counters to separate customers and employees.
Similarly stringent sanitation practices and safety protocols, as well as minimal-touch or touchless rental procedures, have also been adopted at other major rental companies, including Hertz Global Holdings (parent company of Hertz Car Rental, Dollar Car Rental, and Thrifty Car Rental) and the Avis Budget Group, owner of Avis and Budget Rent a Car.
“We believe car rental is one of the cleanest and safest forms of transportation because it puts customers in control of their own environment,” says Catie Valzania, public relations account executive for the Avis Budget Group. “We will continue to look to the CDC, along with state and local guidelines, in our ongoing efforts to optimize the cleanliness of our facilities and vehicles, while working to keep our employees and customers safe.”
Get the Latest Info
To learn more about individual rental car companies’ pandemic-related protocols and safety practices, check out the major providers’ COVID-19 response pages for information and updates: Alamo, Avis, Budget, Enterprise, Hertz, National, Thrifty. While you’re visiting, jump over to the companies’ home pages to find out about discounts and deals.
Whether you’re planning to hunker down in one spot or drive through several California regions during your visit, it’s helpful to get the latest updates on local shelter-in-place regulations. Visit California’s Responsible Travel Hub is an essential trip-planning resource, and be sure to check in with your destination’s official COVID-19 pages for updated regional information.
Also, while there are no official restrictions on public restrooms, many businesses—including some gas stations and fast food restaurants—have closed their restrooms out of an abundance of caution. If you are embarking on a long road trip, consult the California Rest Areas map as part of your advance planning.
Safe Rental Tips
Here are some steps you can take to ensure a safe and smooth car rental experience in California.
Check cancelation policies: Most major rental companies are offering free changes and cancellations during the pandemic, even for pre-paid rentals, but it’s wise to check before you book. Third-party websites may have their own rules, so read the fine print before you commit.
Stick to Your Circle: According to health experts, exposure to droplets from an infected person poses the greatest risk for contracting COVID-19. In tight spaces such as cars and SUVs, make sure you’re traveling with people in your immediate circle, such as family members or close friends.
Skip the Line: Many car rental companies are now offering touchless check-ins for online reservations, so customers can skip the line at the counter. You may need to sign up in advance for a free rewards program to access this service, but it will save you time in the long run and limit your contact with other customers.
BYO Wipes: Rental car companies are going above and beyond to make sure their vehicles are thoroughly sanitized. However, if you’d like some extra peace of mind, bring some disinfecting wipes along for the ride. When doing DIY wipe-downs, focus on high-touch surfaces like the steering wheel, interior door handles, and the rearview mirror. It’s also smart to keep hand sanitizer in the vehicle for stops along the way.
(NOTE: As of November 21, be advised that California has a limited stay-at-home order in place, through December 21, for counties in the strictest tier of the state’s reopening roadmap. Under this order, most nonessential activity is prohibited between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.)