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Making summer travel plans? Severe shortage of rental cars may affect you

Industry experts say travelers should book their rental car first, if you can get one.

CLEVELAND — If you're fully vaccinated, or will be soon, you may be considering summer travel. But thanks to the pandemic, there is a severe shortage of rental cars. That means families who usually book airfare first, should plan to book their rental car first, to see if one is even available.

“When was the last time we had a car?” Sandy Bozak thought aloud. The owner of Rent-a-Wreck, a Cleveland independent rental car company, is seeing rising demand. Bozak’s company rents used cars, unlike the major national car rental companies, which rents brand new vehicles. Even so, she has a hard time keeping cars on her lot.

“The people that would have demanded the new cars, and the people who wouldn’t have rented a used car, yes – We are seeing more of that type of clientele than we ever did before,” she said.

When lockdowns went into effect, and business and leisure travel dried up, rental car revenue took a steep dive. Hertz declared bankruptcy. Other major car rental companies sold off large portions of their fleet. Since Bozak rents used cars that her company already owns, she was able to better survive the pandemic.

“If they have 100 cars and they owe, say, $200 a month on each one of them, whether it’s either a lease or an actual payment, that adds up pretty quickly,” Bozak explained.

Sometimes travelers are paying ten times more for a rental car than before the pandemic. We took a look at a popular summer destination for Clevelanders: Myrtle Beach, S.C. When we tried to book a car through Enterprise Rent-a-Car for June 19-23, there was no availability. We searched for the same days in July and August, and found nothing available on those days either.

We did find an economy car available with Dollar Car Rental -- a two-door Chevy Spark that only seats 4 people. The price was $189.49/day, not including taxes and fees.

So families may have to turn to taxis, rideshares, like Uber or Lyft, or public transportation when they get to their destination. Another alternative is car-sharing apps like Turo, which has been described as the Airbnb of rental cars. For that same period in June in Myrtle Beach, we found a 2019 Ford Mustang convertible for $87/day, a 2012 Nissan Sentra for $55/day, and a 2021 Tesla Model 3 for $165/day on the Turo website.

As post-vaccination travel begins to take off, how you get to your destination won't be as tough as how you get around there.

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Editor's Note: The below video is from a previously published story