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What You Need to Know About Renting a Vehicle in California

Safety measures continue during the state’s reopening as summer demand for vehicles soars

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Now that California’s statewide pandemic restrictions have been lifted and summer travel season is in full swing, you may be wondering what to expect when renting a vehicle for your Golden State getaway. While the current rental market poses a few challenges, vehicle rental agencies continue to ensure a safe and manageable environment for both customers and employees.

The first priority, of course, is making the process safe. “Expanding on our ‘Complete Clean Pledge,’ we are also a member of the Clorox Safer Today Alliance in collaboration with Cleveland Clinic and the CDC Foundation,” notes Lisa Martini, communications director at Enterprise Holdings, owner of Enterprise Rent-A-CarNational Car Rental, and Alamo Rent-A-Car. As part of the program, customers will find an individually packaged Clorox wipe in every rental vehicle, with tips for how to disinfect surfaces for extra peace of mind.

Employees working in branch locations will wear face coverings if they are not fully vaccinated, and the company will continue offering curbside rentals to help customers get quickly on their way with minimal contact.

Similar safety practices remain in place at other major rental companies, including Hertz Global Holdings (parent company of Hertz Car RentalDollar Car Rental, and Thrifty Car Rental) and the Avis Budget Group, owner of Avis and Budget Rent a Car.

With vehicles in especially high demand this summer, rental agencies recommend that travelers book well in advance.

“Markets known for sunny climates, national parks, and outdoor activities are seeing higher consumer demand,” according to an Avis Budget Group representative. “We continue to receive new cars every day and look forward to helping people experience their mobility needs in a safe and efficient way.”

To secure a vehicle at the best possible price, Budget recommends prepaying for a reservation on the agency’s website.

Enterprise companies are also seeing a spike in rentals, which is expected to continue throughout the summer. “Providing flexible travel dates and branch pick-up locations in your search may help increase your options,” Martini says. “Enterprise.com has also added a feature that redirects customers to other nearby options during the online reservation process if their selected rental office is showing no vehicle availability.”

With demand for vehicles soaring, here are more tips on how to ensure the best possible rental car experience:

Book early. Vehicles are selling out in popular locations, so it’s wise to reserve your vehicle as early as you can, and to prepay. You’ll get a better price, and many companies are offering free changes and cancellations for prepaid rentals.

Branch out. Can’t find a rental at the airport? Check neighborhood offices in nearby cities and towns. It may be well worth the taxi fare to pick up a car a short distance from the terminal.

Be open to different vehicle categories. You might find more availability—and that pricing is not so different as you may think—for hybrid or electric models, or even luxury or exotic models, from revved-up Ferraris to rugged Range Rovers. Consider giving yourself a novelty boost by renting a car that’s better than the one you drive every day. You might save on gas, too.

Skip the line. Sign up in advance for the rental agency’s preferred customer program and get access to VIP perks such as skipping the line at the rental counter and early check-ins via the company’s mobile app.

Work those memberships. If you’re a AAA, AARP, or Costco member, check the organizations’ travel websites for offers. Some credit card companies will automatically upgrade clients to VIP status with vehicle rental companies, which can generate tremendous added value.

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