The Ultimate Guide to Rental Car Alternatives

If you're having trouble reserving a rental car, these alternatives might have some availability.
Sally FrenchJun 28, 2021

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Depending on whom you ask, we may be in the midst of a rental car apocalypse. Many have opted out of air travel in favor of road trips, making rental cars in far higher demand than what they were not just in 2020, but in the more-normal year of 2019 too.

For many rental car companies, there’s simply not enough supply of automobiles to keep up with demand. That’s wreaked havoc on vacationers who have already booked their flights — only to find that rental car prices are through the roof (and sometimes cars are sold out completely).

If you find yourself in a situation where rental cars are sold out or just too expensive, you don’t need to put the brakes on your vacation. A number of nontraditional rental car companies have proliferated in recent years. Some operate like the Airbnb of cars, where people rent out their personal cars. Others are operated by related players in the automobile space, like car dealerships.

When you’re exhausted by trying to find traditional rental cars, here are some of the biggest rental car alternatives to consider:

Turo

What it is: Turo is basically the Airbnb of cars, where you rent out a car — booked online or through the Turo app — from the car’s owner. You usually pick up the car at a pickup location, which could be the owner’s house, or a public area like a park or shopping center.

Some owners offer the option to deliver the car to you (usually for an additional fee), which can be handy if you’d like them to meet you at the airport or your hotel.

There are also a few cars that offer a feature called Turo Go, where you can unlock the car via an app, allowing you to start the trip without ever meeting your host.

Minimum age: 21 for most trips and car types, although some cars can be booked at age 18 with an additional young-driver fee.

Why we like it: The option to have your car delivered is especially handy — and a potential money saver. We tested Turo on a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii. The trip started at a fancy resort with expensive parking, so taking a cab to the hotel and staying a couple of nights on the resort grounds, sans car, was fine. When it was time to drive to the other side of the island, we had our Turo host meet us at our hotel, so we never had to pay exorbitant hotel parking prices. After the trip, we were able to leave the car at the airport, making drop-off convenient.

Cancellation policy: You can cancel for free up to 24 hours before your trip.

Potential drawbacks: Since you’re renting the car directly from the owner, quality may vary. With a rental car, you’re generally guaranteed to have a fairly new, just-washed car. Since Turo cars are owned by regular people, the car’s condition is a bit of a gamble.

Getaround

What it is: With Getaround, you rent out a car owned by a person rather than a rental car agency, but you never have to meet them. Instead, you pick up and drop off the car at its parking spot, which could be street parking in a designated area, or a parking garage (like in an apartment building). You’ll unlock the car via a Bluetooth-connected app, so you never have to talk to anyone.

Minimum age: 19 if you have a clean driving record (no violations or accidents in the last three years), otherwise 21.

Why we like it: A big reason to love Getaround is the ability to rent per hour. Maybe you’re not even on vacation, but need to rent a truck for an afternoon to pick up a giant granite countertop slab for your kitchen remodel. Or maybe you’re vacationing in a big city where you don’t want a car for the whole week, but want to take a day trip to a nearby second city or out for a hike.

Cancellation policy: You can cancel for free up to 24 hours before your trip.

Potential drawbacks: Like Turo, car quality and cleanliness varies widely since you’re renting the car directly from the owner. It can also be difficult to pick up and return some cars that are parked in garages, as you may have to go through extra steps, like entering gate codes or waiting for the valet to pull out the car for you.

Lyft Rentals

What it is: Ridesharing company Lyft launched Lyft Rentals at the end of 2019, allowing you to rent cars through its app. Since the lots where Lyft Rentals are located can be in sometimes obscure locations, you also get a credit with every rental to take an actual Lyft to your rental car.

While you reserve and rent the car via your smartphone app, the experience isn’t completely human-free. There is a Lyft employee onsite at the rental lots to help you get the keys upon arrival.

Thanks to a summer 2020 partnership between Lyft and traditional rental car company Sixt, the program has since expanded to allow you to rent Sixt cars through Lyft’s app, too.

Minimum age: 22.

Why we like it: Most of the other nontraditional car rental services are completely human-free. But that’s not necessarily always a good thing. It can be confusing to rely solely on an app — especially if the app has trouble connecting due to a poor signal and you can’t unlock the car. Lyft’s human touch is a nice perk.

Cancellation policy: You can cancel for free up to 24 hours before your trip.

Potential drawbacks: The minimum rental time is one day, so this service isn’t for you if you’re just looking for a car for a few hours.

Zipcar

What it is: Zipcar, which actually shares the same parent company as both Avis and Budget, allows you to book rental cars by the hour or day. The cars are usually parked in small lots or designated Zipcar parking spaces around the city, and can be unlocked via the Zipcar app. When you’re done with the trip, just return it to the same place.

Minimum age: 21 (or 18 if a student or where required by law).

Why we like it: Zipcar provides the best of both worlds. You can pick up cars all around your city for hourly intervals, enabling you the flexibility to rent a car for day trips without worrying about paying for overnight parking. And, since the cars are operated by Zipcar, you can almost guarantee high-quality cars (as opposed to renting from a person who owns the car and might not have cleaned or maintained it to traditional rental car standards).

Cancellation policy: You can cancel for free up to 24 hours before your trip for trips eight hours or longer, and you can cancel up to three hours before the trip for trips less than eight hours.

Potential drawbacks: You need to purchase a membership in order to actually rent Zipcars, and that’s on top of a bunch of other fees, including a one-time $25 application fee when you apply for membership.

Silvercar by Audi

What it is: Silvercar by Audi lets you rent Audi sedans and SUVs from select Audi dealerships (plus a few other rental locations) across the country. Use Silvercar’s app to reserve your car, which is also what you’ll use to unlock the car — enabling you to get driving without ever having to talk to anyone.

Minimum age: 22 in most states.

Why we like it: While you may have to show up at the Audi dealership for some rentals, most locations offer a service called Delivery to You, where they’ll deliver the car to you, as long as you’re within a certain distance of the dealership. If you’re a frequent renter, then the Silvercar loyalty program is excellent in helping you quickly rack up free rental car days.

Cancellation policy: You may cancel or modify your reservation at any time without penalties or a cancellation fee.

Potential drawbacks: This isn’t for budget travelers. We found that you could typically rent a standard sedan for about half the price of the lowest-cost Silvercar rental. But hey, you’re not driving a Honda Civic — you’re driving an Audi.

Depending upon where you are traveling and the time of year, we found Silvercar’s rates were roughly the same (but sometimes cheaper) than renting a comparable luxury car from traditional rental car agencies.

You have several non-traditional car rental options

The days of traditional rental car companies as your only way to hit the road are gone. There are plenty of nontraditional rental car options, ranging from renting an individual owner’s vehicle to riding in style in an Audi you’ve borrowed from a dealership.

If you’re booking a trip and have found that traditional rental cars are booked out or just overpriced, don’t panic. One of these rental car alternatives might be exactly what you need to kick your vacation into gear.


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