Car rentals are a necessary part of vacation for most of us. We usually approach the rental lot with the idea we’ll get a white sedan with a few dings and dents — in other words, something boring. But with only about 1 percent of the U.S. population owning all-electric vehicles, that next vacation car rental could be a chance to drive electric and see what the buzz is all about.
Hertz made waves in the fall of 2021 when it announced it would add 100,000 Teslas to its nationwide fleet. Aside from driving the value of the Tesla company above $1 trillion, the deal means Hertz renters can specifically ask for and get a Tesla Model Y (a mid-sized SUV) or one of two models of the Telsa Model 3 (a sedan), including the long-range version. Hertz began the program by renting Teslas in 24 airport markets, with the promise of more cities and additional neighborhood locations to come. And the company guarantees you get the Tesla of your choice once reserved.
The other major rental companies offer a murkier picture when it comes to reserving and then actually getting a Tesla or other all-electric vehicle. Enterprise, the largest car rental company in the U.S., rents electric cars through its “Exotic Car Collection” division. The company has exotics locations in most of its major airport locations. The process of renting electric there is similar to your standard rental. You ask for a “Luxury Elite Electric” car and Enterprise will give you something that fits the bill. It does not, however, promise you a specific model of Tesla or other electric car. Competitor Avis handles its electric rentals the same way. Both companies pledge to add more electric cars to their fleets but cite supply as a major factor for the slow rollout.
If a Tesla rental for your next vacation is what you have in mind, let’s explore how the experience works at Hertz, what it might cost, and how you’ll have to prepare to drive differently than you would with a traditional gasoline rental. We’ll look at renting in two popular vacation markets: Los Angeles and Miami.
To put our electric rentals to the test, the LA trip will feature a lot of in-town driving visiting local tourist attractions, while the Florida trip will include some over-the-road side trips. We’ll choose Teslas for both locations.
1. Ease Of Reservation
Renting a Tesla from Hertz in Los Angeles is easy. Setting up a one-week LA rental on the Hertz website, you’re presented with the choice of three Tesla models right at the top of the page: Tesla Model 3 Standard Range, Tesla Model 3 Long Range, and Tesla Model Y. The site puts the Model 3 Standard Range up front as its suggestion, but you can also easily click on either of the other two if you like. For this hypothetical rental, we’ll choose the Model 3 Standard Range as suggested.
Since Hertz uses the same website for reservations nationwide, the interface for the Miami rental is basically the same, though it does not suggest one particular model up top. Once again, we have our choice of Hertz’s three Tesla Models. To keep the comparison as close as possible. We’ll once again choose the Model 3 Standard Range.
2. Rental Price
Rental car prices can vary widely at different times of the year. We looked at typical summertime rates in the two sample markets.
The first thing you’ll notice about your LA rental is the higher price. Whether you go for the pay-up-front price or pay at the time of rental, average rates for the Telsa Model 3 Standard Range run about $40 more for the week (including taxes and fees) than the medium elite sedan class, probably the closest car type for comparison. If your preferred rental car runs in the luxury range, there’s not much of a price hit to rent the Tesla. But if you like to rent the cheapest car on the site and hope for an instant upgrade when you arrive, the cost difference might scare you. Hertz’s cheapest class of car, “Economy,” runs about $275 less per week than the Tesla rental we chose.
The difference in typical rental prices in Miami is smaller. Renting the Model 3 Standard Range for a week costs only about $10 more than the medium elite sedan if you pay in advance, and is basically the same if you pay at the time of rental. If you’re that economy renter, the Tesla here costs about $100 more than the cheapest class of car on the lot.
The real difference in price here is when you compare it to Los Angeles. The weeklong Miami rental for the periods we checked was about two-thirds the cost of renting a Tesla for a week in Los Angeles. That difference drops as the weather gets colder and Florida rental prices rise.
3. Charger Availability
Tesla drivers love to boast about the manufacturer’s vast network of Superchargers: Tesla-specific charging stations that fuel the cars faster than a typical electric charger found in retail parking lots. Superchargers come with different charging capacities ranging from 72–250 kilowatts. The higher the kilowatt level, the faster the car will charge.
Tesla provides charging speeds by how many miles of range are added with an hour of charging — shortened to a somewhat confusing “miles per hour” rate. The highest-level chargers, known as V3 chargers, can add energy at a rate of up to 1,000 miles per hour, meaning you’ll only be hooked up for 15 minutes or so to get plenty of miles added to your range. Even with slower V2 chargers, seldom will a driver need to spend more than 30 minutes on the charger to get the range needed for the next leg of the trip.
The car’s navigation system displays nearby Superchargers and their maximum charging speed, as well as how long you’ll need to charge. If you have entered a planned trip into the system, the car will provide a list of which Superchargers you should stop at, and how long you’ll stay at each. The data company ScrapeHero claims there were 1,407 Telsa Superchargers in the United States as of the end of June 2022, with more coming online every week.
No worries here. Southern California certainly has its fair share of those 1,407 Superchargers — 288, according to ScrapeHero data. The map is covered with locations to charge on our hypothetical tour of Los Angeles. A week of vacation driving to the main attractions will never put you more than about 5 miles from the nearest Supercharger, meaning there would be no anxiety over finding a place to charge.
The Sunshine State has the second most Superchargers in the U.S., at 103.
Our Florida drive involves over-the-road trips outside Miami to the Kennedy Space Center and to Key West. This is where Tesla’s navigation system will really go to work.
If you input your drive from the Miami International Airport to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, it maps the drive and adds the charging stops you’ll need to make. Assuming you leave the airport with a fully-charged car, the 223-mile trip will take 4 hours and 7 minutes, including a 20-minute charge at a Supercharger in Fort Pierce. A gas-powered car would take about three hours and 40 minutes (assuming you don’t stop for gas). The return trip in a Tesla will take 4 hours and 3 minutes, including 20 minutes of charging in Rockledge and a 5-minute top-off in Pembroke Pines.
The trip to Key West turns out to be pretty similar, even with the interesting fact that there are no Superchargers in Key West. Plotted as a same-day round trip, you’ll want to stop on the way down at the last Supercharger along the route in Marathon and charge for 10 minutes, then hit the same Supercharger on your way back for 20 minutes. The total roundtrip travel time for this 320-mile journey is 8 hours (including charging). The gas-powered car has more of a time advantage this time around, totaling 7 hours for the round trip, plus any stops you make for gas.
4. Cost To Operate
Driving an electric car for the first time is going to be a fun experience, but the real reason most people are considering this now is to keep from buying high-priced gasoline. But electricity costs money, too, and you must make that part of your rental calculations.
The cheapest way to charge an electric car is at home, where you pay your regular price for electricity, with the average cost of residential power in the U.S. just shy of 15 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). At the Supercharger, get ready to pay more. The Superchargers bill the cost of the charge directly to the car’s owner. Note: Hertz reports it will add those charges to your total rental price, so no need to pay for power as you go.
If you’re looking for the highest gasoline prices in the country, you’re going to find them in California — especially in Los Angeles. Gas prices during the latest rise averaged well over $6 per gallon in Southern California. A gasoline-powered car getting 30 miles per gallon and going 100 miles per day on a busy L.A. vacation would rack up a fuel bill of about $150 during our weeklong rental.
The cost of charging our rented Tesla varies based on the time of day the charging is done. Around Los Angeles, peak charging (between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m.) can cost 58 cents per kWh, while off-peak charging is usually half that. Assuming we can charge half the time during peak and half during off-peak times, our average charge comes out to 45.5 cents per kWh. Tesla Model 3s get about four miles per kWh, so the same 700-mile vacation would take about 175 kWh, costing about $80 total — a $70 savings over gas.
Gas prices in the Sunshine state are not particularly high, usually below the national average and as much as $1.50 less per gallon than what drivers pay in California.
Thanks to our side trips, we’re going to drive further in Florida — about 1,200 miles for the week. Our gasoline-powered car is going to cost us about $200 at average Florida gas prices; charging our rented Tesla at an even mix of peak and off-peak Superchargers is going to run about $135 for the same week of trips — $65 saved.
Consider A Carshare
One final option for getting that electric car is Turo, which allows you to rent someone’s personal car — think Airbnb for cars. You can filter to see just electric cars in the area where you want to rent. It’s best to use the service’s app to make pickup easier.
In Los Angeles, summertime electric rentals run from around $250 for the week (for a 2014 Fiat 500e) to about $700 (for a 2022 Tesla Model Y). The app allows you to buy insurance at various levels, including its Premiere plan, which allows you to walk away from an accident owing nothing.