‘Slim pickings out there’: Rental car shortage driving up costs


EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — If you have a road trip coming up and plan to rent a vehicle, you may have a hard time finding one, or pay more for it than you were expecting.

To make up for lost revenue during the pandemic, rental companies started selling off their fleets, according to Lloyd Albert, senior vice president of public and government affairs at AAA Northeast. More than half a million rental vehicles were sold nationwide.

“All of a sudden, around Presidents’ Day this year, we saw a pretty significant shortage,” Albert said.

As more people get vaccinated and desire to travel, Albert said demand for rental cars is skyrocketing and they’re seeing a huge increase in reservations.

“We’re booking about 150 percent more than 2019,” he said.

Additionally, AutoSlash CEO Jonathan Weinberg says a shortage of semiconductor computer chips is making it hard for manufacturers to produce enough new vehicles to meet the demand, which is driving prices up and making it harder to find a rental.

“You need computer chips to control all the major systems in the car: engine management, climate control, entertainment systems,” he explained. “Now they’re facing shortages of these semiconductors which is causing problems all across the industry, namely that rental cars are sold out all over the place.”

Albert suggested seeking the help of a travel agent to find a rental car.

“This crunch will eventually resolve itself, but right now, it’s pretty much slim pickings out there,” he added.

A gasoline shortage out west is also impacting people’s summer travel plans. Albert says that while gas prices have been on the rise on the East Coast, there’s no shortage in the area and he doesn’t anticipate there will be.

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