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Electric cars are becoming extremely popular, and it’s expected that over one million will be sold in the U.S. this year; approximately 50% more than were sold the previous year. If you already drive an electric vehicle, or you're just a little EV-curious, then you’ll be interested in renting one on your next vacation or business trip. 

But as someone who’s owned electric cars since 2016, and has rented over a dozen electric cars around the country, I can tell you that owning an EV and renting one are entirely different experiences. Here’s what you need to know before you switch on your next electric rental car.

A Quick Primer on the Types of Electrified Cars

Prius driving on road


There are three kinds of cars that feature some sort of electric propulsion. It’s not that complicated, but it’s important to understand the differences.

Hybrid Electric Vehicles 

Pioneered by the original Toyota Prius, these are cars that burn gas, but also generate some electricity that’s stored in a small on-board battery. The result is a car that gets great gas mileage, but one that you don’t have to plug in. In fact, you can’t plug it in and you must put gas in it. So really, renting a hybrid means that you’re just getting a very efficient gas car. 

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs)

These are hybrid cars with both a gas engine and an eclectic motor, along with a battery that can be charged from a plug. For example, I own a Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan that offers about 32 miles of pure electric range when fully charged. Once the charge runs out, it continues to get about 30 miles to the gallon, which is outstanding for a minivan. Along with the Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid, the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is often available for rent. Just note that you don’t have to plug these kinds of cars in if you don’t want to. Without plugging them in, these cars can operate just like any gasoline car. But you will save gas and money if you have the chance to plug it in.

Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs)

These are pure electric cars that don’t have gasoline motors and must be plugged in to recharge. While some older battery electric vehicles sometimes have ranges below 100 miles, the newer cars that you are likely to rent will typically have ranges of at least 150 miles, and likely much more. 

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What To Know Before You Accept an Electric Rental Car

First, you’ll want to know how much charge it has when you pick it up. Sadly, I’ve found many companies renting out electric cars that aren’t fully charged, leaving customers with limited range. Depending on your immediate plans, it’s not necessary that the car be fully charged. But your rental car should have more range than you plan on using that day, and enough to get you to your hotel or a charging station that you’ve planned out. 

You’ll also want to learn where the chargers are on your trip. Fortunately, the PlugShare app is a free resource that anyone can use to easily find the locations of vehicle chargers. In fact, hotels are increasingly installing vehicle charging stations, which are incredibly convenient for travelers.

Next, learn what the total range of the car is on a full charge. Some electric cars will go 180 miles on a charge, while others will go over 300 miles. However, make sure to reduce the range by at least 20% in very cold weather, and by at least 10% in very hot weather when you’ll be running the air conditioner at all times. 

You also want to ask the rental car agency how much charge you need to return it with. Most rental car companies won’t require you to return it with a 100% charge, and having to return it with just 75% is common. 

And just as you should with a gasoline car, make sure to document the state of charge before you rent it and after you return it. Unfortunately, I’ve rented cars that were just 30% charged and told to just return it that way, only to be hit with a fee for not charging it more. 

Finally, look in the trunk to ensure that it has an onboard charger for a regular outlet. These come in handy if you park overnight where you can access a plain old 120v electric socket. And if the car’s onboard charger is missing, then you’ll want that noted so you aren’t accused of stealing it when you return the car.

A Word About Renting Teslas From Hertz

woman driving a Tesla


Hertz® made big news in 2021 when it announced it was purchasing 100,000 Teslas. While I was really excited to rent a Model 3 from them (Hertz lets you reserve a specific model), I was deeply disappointed by the experience. The car was given to me with a very low charge, which made my first day with the car very difficult. But I quickly realized that Hertz strips their Teslas of nearly everything that normally makes them great. 

Teslas rented from Hertz are locked in “chill mode,” which removes the dramatic performance that they are known for. What’s left is a car that’s no more exciting than a Nissan Leaf®, which is a pretty pedestrian, first-generation electric car. 

Worse, renters are locked out of using Tesla’s mobile app, making it impossible to use many other key features. You can’t charge the car to more than 80%, which cuts a fifth of your range. Renters can’t unlock the car remotely and they can’t create presets for how they like their seats. You can’t even connect your phone for navigation or use Bluetooth connectivity, as you can in nearly any other rental car. In fact, I wasn’t even able to open the glove box in the Tesla I rented from Hertz! Support from Hertz and Tesla was non-existent. And although I would consider purchasing a Tesla one day, I will never rent one from Hertz again. 

When Is the Best Time to Rent an Electric Vehicle?

I’ve had the best experiences when I’ve rented an electric car for a day, to do lots of short trips around town. I’ve even rented electric cars for multiple days of short-distance, in-town driving, without even having to charge them. And on other trips to visit family, I’ve simply plugged the car into a regular socket overnight, using the charging cable supplied. 

But if I were renting a car to take an epic road trip to remote places, I’d have to strongly consider the availability of charging stations. And if I was on a really tight schedule with a lot of driving to do, I might just opt for a hybrid or plug-in hybrid instead, just to save time and not have to worry about finding chargers. 

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Bottom Line

It won’t be long until gasoline cars are as common as the old TVs with picture tubes, and it’s only a matter of time until you have the chance to rent an electric car. By knowing a little more about these cars, along with their strengths and weaknesses, you can have fun and save money at the same time.


Jason Steele

Jason Steele is a journalist who specializes in covering credit cards, award travel and other areas of personal finance. As one of the nation’s leading experts in the credit card industry, Jason’s work has been featured at mainstream outlets such as Yahoo! Finance, MSN Money and Business Insider.