More EV stuff - the "Surprise" rental EV

An author on the Atlantic vents about how unpleasant it was to be surprised with an EV as a car rental, when they were expecting an ICE vehicle instead.

TL;DR - if you’re renting a car an expecting to put a lot of “road trip” miles on it, rather than just going from airport to hotel to business meeting downtown and back, an EV can be a poor fit - so surprising someone with an EV as a car rental can be a bad first experience with EV’s. Since rental car companies apparently now have a very large number of EV’s, that could pose a bit of a PR/adoption issue.


I’m not sure if I posted about this before, but I have had a M3 from Tesla shoved my direction from the gold counter this May. I declined and found that it was the only choice. I dutifully picked the extended range and was semi excited about driving an electric car FOR THE FIRST TIME, EVER.

… and then the range anxiety kicked in. I was in a new city, driving a rental and required 96 miles each way to my destination in VERY blue collar central PA.

I asked again if there were any other options, even in other price ranges. “NOPE. It’s 8:20pm and we have only these cars left” was the response from the young woman at the counter.

So, dutifully, I idled (is that even a thing for EV?) to the gate. I almost made it out of the secure area when the exit agent noted that my B pillar cover was sagging away from the frame. Since this contained the seat belt anchor for the shoulder strap, they would not let me out of the yard.

Now, down to alternates of alternates, I found myself in a SRM3 from Tesla.

If your keeping track at home, I lost about 80 miles of range from that little transaction.

So, I left, trying to make it to my hotel for the week’s stay in industrial central PA.

By the time I got to the halfway point of my journey, near Allentown, I looked over to see that I had only 39% battery remaining. I started looking for charging points as I knew that even if I made it to my destination, I would have to find a charge point during the week in order to make it to Thursday. (my ‘week’ was actually only 3 nights and 3 days).

After finding out how to access the right features on that single screen, I finally identified that the charging station was an 11 minute detour and was THE CLOSEST ONE TO MY DESTINATION IN ANY DIRECTION.

I pulled off, plugged the car in and strolled over to the Red Robin, only 54 miles from PHL. The automated screen stated 30 minutes to full charge, which was mildly acceptable since I had no choice.

I grabbed a menu, selected a burger, ate and caught up on email to find my timer had 3 minutes left until the stated 30 minute charging cycle was complete. Without any further delay, I walked briskly back to the charging station to see “charge complete” 2 minutes before the timer was finished.

I noted that the per-minute charge for using the charger, without charging was $1.00/minute at almost 10pm on a Monday evening. (keep that in mind)

The week went relatively smoothly with the car because I had ONLY 4 miles each way to and from the office. I also deferred any touristy things to do (a habit I try to maintain to keep my sanity while on the road). Doing this, and by babying it, I was able to depart on Thursday afternoon with almost 62% battery life remaining.

Inevitably, I knew that I could not make it all the way back to the PHL from my location without a charge. So, back to Allentown I went. And, as expected, another 30 minute delay was needed to charge the car back to health.

Again, I went to an adjacent eatery to biofuel up while I waited. As the timer kicked just under 12 minutes remaining, I journeyed back to the car. To my surprise, the read out stated “Charged”, now incurring $1.50/min blocking fees.

I hurried out of the car to disconnect and stop running the clock. Coming back to my senses, I plotted the course to the airport and finished the trip.

At the counter, I asked how the fees would be handled. The confident agent stated that all fees will come 10-14 days afterwards when all charges settle.

My expense report listed an additional $77 for the privilege and convenience. There were ~$4 in tolls, so the balance was EV charging and the flat fee for bringing a car back with less than 90% on the indicator.

I was not pleased. This trip would have been a one stop fuel up and would have been a dramatically different experience had I had an ICE vehicle. Instead, I spent more than 1 hour, incurred additional costs and needed half a box of Alka-Seltzer to quiet my anxious stomach while en route.

Looking back, I see that there WERE actually chargers closer to my destination, so I could have traded a 30 minute supercharger stop for (hours?) a much longer charge in the evening. That would have possibly been a worse alternative as evening hours are precious while working on the road.

Pencil me in for HARD PASS on future road trips. That is unless it’s an uber and I don’t need to care what happens to the driver beyond my fare.

I am fully aware that all charges I incurred went to the company and not to myself, but I do not take expenses lightly, especially when they are AVOIDABLE.

Now back to your regularly scheduled ICE rental vehicle complaining about mundane door dings, flat tires and other nonsense that could impact any journey.


We recently rented a car (small SUV request) in Florida and when we went to pick it up, we were “given” an EV.

We denied the EV and had to pay more than the pre-determined rate to get an ICE.



A few quick comments:

  1. I hated rental car fees, or any fees, that “appear” after I’ve completed my trip. That ends up delaying the expense report or causing an additional expense report later.
  2. Let us know what they actually charge you in the end. If it’s a Tesla supercharger, they likely won’t charge the $1 idle fee unless someone was waiting there to charge. Of course, the rental agencies, often having their own unscrupulous fees, might add some of their own, like they do with tolls.
  3. It is particularly annoying that rental Teslas can’t or won’t allow you to use the app. The app is pretty good and gives you all the information you need to avoid many of the issues you faced (like end of charging, etc).

I agree that renting an EV, especially a Tesla, can be difficult for someone who never drove one before. Tesla owners have a phone app that immediately sends a notification when the car is charged or unplugged or a charger fault occurs. You can also use the app to check on the charging status. I don’t know if this is available for renters or not. But even if it is many would find installing it to be a hassle too.


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Nice car, perfectly adequate to the task at hand. Every problem you go on to describe are non-problems that, because you were unfamiliar with how to use the vehicle, became problems. Not too surprising given that it was your first time driving an EV.

Pretty similar to what you would have experienced if your rental car took only diesel when all you were familiar with was regular gasoline, and you needed to refuel.


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Never owned a diesel car. I had no idea it took 30 minutes to fill up a tank of diesel fuel.


I have owned a diesel car. I’ve never had to fill up 1/2 way through a 95 mile drive from the rental counter. AND THEN AGAIN on the way back.

Let’s get one thing straight: I went into this experience semi excitedly (even though the practical side of me said, just get the ICE vehicle). When I found out I didn’t have a choice, I immediately started making trip compromises.

To be fair, there were several things I had to learn as it was the first time through with a BEV. I also KNEW that I would be impaired by renting it. I was SURPRISED by the AMOUNT of impairment that would have been a non-issue with a REGULAR ICE car of any type.

I wanted to like it. I really did. But then reality set in.

If My trip was no more than 40 miles from the airport AND no more than 180 miles in total AND not in anyway up hill (Central PA is quite a bit uphill), I probably would have just eeked by with the “bring it back empty” $35 charge.

It’s an anecdote. I get it. But pay attention to what people are really experiencing. I’ve not hyperbolized anything.

YMMV ← which was the entire point of my post


Note: I haven’t been to a gas station in years, so my observations about diesel are no doubt out of date. But they used to be true.

The point, in case you are not simply being disingenuous, is that you don’t know what the issues might be. In the case of diesel, there are a few. First, not all gas stations have diesel available. Second, if you mistakenly put regular gas in a diesel fuel tank, you’re in a heap of trouble. Third, the price is unexpectedly different. In various ways, these things can lead to a bad experience.

Yes, that’s a reflection of the problem. You didn’t have to make any compromises, but you assumed you did. If this wasn’t sprung on you, and you had time to learn something about how Teslas make road trips easy, you would have had no problems and not had to make any compromises.

You would have known that that the Tesla navigation would take care of routing you such that you had plenty of charge for what you wanted. You would have stayed at a place where you could charge up overnight. Maybe you did, and didn’t realize it. In fact your trip would have been easier and cheaper. The compromises and extra expense came from being unfamiliar with the situation, leading to making poor choices.

Yes, well it was a reality that a person familiar with Teslas wouldn’t have experienced. What such a person would have experienced would start with great relief that they wouldn’t be stuck in a gasmobile and would get to drive a real car. Then everything would have been cheap and simple.

It’s really just about knowing how things work so you don’t make poor decisions. Most people in your position would have similar problems. The rental company should not be springing these things on unprepared people, especially people who are busy and in a hurry.


For the record, I was not being disingenuous.

I was being sarcastic.


My viewpoint is that in most cases it doesn’t make sense to rent EVs for business travel because of the needed charging time. On a personal trip you can plan it out, but on business you don’t have that time. I rented a Tesla recently (from Avis, I believe) and they told me I could bring it back empty with no additional fees. IMO that’s the what the rental model should be. Of course, the car is out of service while it charges at the rental office, but that cost could be baked into the rental price.


You do know about it charging going down hill?

tamhas, I certainly do. I even thought about it that night before packing up at the hotel. Based on my state of charge, there is zero chance I could have made it back to the lot without a charge.

I really don’t understand this. There are approximately 30 Tesla superchargers between PHL and Pittsburgh nearby to the most direct route. They’re all along 78 and 80 less than 100 miles apart. If Hertz didn’t help you with giving you a fully charged car, and didn’t explain how to use the map in the “ipad” to automatically bring you to one enroute, that’s SO bad. One of those stops would have taken 15 minutes and cost you about $10 unless Hertz is playing games. A new SRM3 gets about 230 miles on a full charge. It’s crap like that - bad service, just zero information provided - that keeps “adoption” down.


There you go. Teslas (and EVs in general) are different from ICEs in important ways. In a sense, they’re a club. When you’re in the club, you know how they work. If you’re not in the club, you don’t know.

One of those differences is in how you think about refueling. With an ICE car, refueling can be done on a whim in about 5 minutes at stations that are abundant. In an EV, you need to plan a bit more. Recharging stations are not on every corner. And recharging takes time. There’s no way around that.

If you’re not initiated in the EV club, you won’t know how to plan out your recharging. And that gets worse if you aren’t expecting an EV and get one dumped on you at the rental counter.



Education takes time.

The Captain

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Eventually when a sizable percentage of their fleet is EV, they will arrange for the car to be charging while it is being cleaned between customers. No additional down time will be necessary on the lot.

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Thinking about a problem when you haven’t the slightest clue how things are meant to work isn’t usually all that helpful. Tesla has a whole pile of short video tutorials. Among many others are ones that cover charging.

This one covers supercharging in particular.

Tesla makes it really easy to join the club.



Tesla sites are one thing, but there are TONS of Tesla groups out there (FB, reddit, twitter, youtube, whatever) full of people willing to help you almost instantly. Sometimes those folks even know more than a Tesla employee might know!


I never said it wasn’t. But when, exactly, do you suggest one do that when presented with a surprise EV at the car rental counter?

And let’s not forget that the article linked in the OP was about a Chevy Bolt, not a Tesla. And it was written by someone who is clearly pro-EV.