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Experts warn of rental car shortage heading into summer travel season

According to CheapCarRental.net, rental car rates across the U.S. are, on average, about 30% higher than average rental car rates from May 2019.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Travel experts are issuing a warning about anyone planning their summer vacation: Book your rental car now or you might not get one due to the current shortage

According to a survey from CheapCarRental.net, Charlotte’s airport came in as the number 25 most expensive place to rent a car this spring out of 100 listed, with an average rate of $476 a week.

"I've never seen anything like this,” said Christopher Elliott, a columnist for the Washington Post and chief advocacy officer for Elliott Advocacy. “This is a once-in-a-generation, maybe even a historic shortage of rental cars that we have."

As travel picks up across the U.S. and Americans return to "normal" life after the COVID-19 pandemic, rental cars are in high demand. But the pandemic led to a dramatic decrease in the number of cars. 

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"During the pandemic, the car rental companies downsized their fleets so they sold off a lot of their cars thinking that this was the end basically, and it wasn't the end,” said Elliott. “And so when demand came back, people started renting cars, and guess what? There were no cars."

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Elliott said a chip shortage is also factoring into car rental companies not being able to restock their fleet. WCNC Charlotte searched the Internet for car rentals in Charlotte without being able to find any immediate inventory Wednesday evening.

Travelers at Charlotte Douglas International Airport said they were forced to pay higher prices to secure a rental car. 

"Since the virus, I think everything is inflation,” said Kim Osorio, who rented a car to drive to South Carolina. “It's COVID inflation, so things were a little higher than expected.”

WCNC Charlotte is always asking "where's the money?" If you need help, reach out to the Defenders team by emailing money@wcnc.com.

Claudine Segree, who lives in Matthews, said she didn’t realize renting a car would be such a headache and couldn’t find any local rental options outside the airport.

“Everywhere is saying you have to go to the airport,” Segree said.

People who have been able to secure car rental reservations urge others to book early.

"Try not to wait till the last minute because if you wait till the last minute, there is a chance that you won't be able to get a car at all,” Osorio said. “Or if you get one, it might not be what you want."

With summer travel and the Fourth of July coming up, Elliott offers this piece of advice: "If you have not booked your rental car yet, do it now, turn the TV off and book your car now."

If you’re not able to get a rental car reservation, Elliott suggests looking into car-sharing options, mass transit, or biking and scootering availability wherever you go.

Contact Kendall Morris at kmorris2@wcnc.com and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.