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Everything You Need to Know About Renting a Car During Coronavirus

Everything You Need to Know About Renting a Car During Coronavirus

Flying may still be risky, but you can safely rent a car for a summer road trip

Although rental car companies have faced a tough market in the last few months, this may be an ideal time to rent a car. Many New Yorkers are afraid to fly, while others are trying to avoid crowded public transportation. In general, it’s easier to drive alone or with family members than risk infection from strangers. And many families may be considering planning a family road trip this summer. But what if you don’t own your own vehicle? Are car rentals safe for either short- or long-distance travel? We did some research to find out. 

Is it safe to rent a car during the coronavirus pandemic?

As long as you’re not sharing a car with someone who may be infected, there’s not a huge risk in driving a rental, according to many experts. "Remember that most of the transmission of the coronavirus is respiratory—it's not through inanimate objects," says Thomas Russo, M.D., chief of the infectious disease division at the University at Buffalo. 

"Even if there's an area you touch that wasn't properly wiped down and might have been contaminated, as long as you don't touch your mouth, nose, and face, and have good hand hygiene in between, you should still be protected," he adds.

What precautions are car companies taking to prevent the spread of coronavirus?

“All rental car companies have instilled a protocol to protect their customers and employees from the virus,” according to Lauren Fix, an automotive expert known as The Car Coach®. “Each employee wears gloves, masks and wipes down anything they may have touched both inside and outside the car with a disinfectant.”

Brian Haggerty, auto-pro and owner of Cross Island Collision on Long Island, agrees that most major companies are taking adequate safety measures. “I deal mainly with Enterprise and they are sanitizing each car before pickup and using a hang tag to let the people know it’s been sanitized. They are wiping down all points of contact and washing the car before use.”

Alamo, National, and Enterprise, have informed their customers they are committed to COVID-19 cleaning regimens, which include vacuuming, sanitizing more than 30 high-touched areas and, if necessary, keeping a car in quarantine until germs have been eliminated. The sanitizing process includes a thorough cleaning and wiping of a car’s interior—including the dashboard, instrument panel, steering column, wheel, accessory panel, center console, cup holders, compartments, and seats, as well as the doors, door pockets, and the areas between the seats and the console and doorjambs.

Avis and Budget both claim they are not only cleaning and disinfecting the vehicle after each customer return, but also before employees move it around the lots, in order to protect employees as well as customers from any germs the previous driver may have left behind. 

Most major companies are requiring each of their different locations to use disinfectants that are “CDC-recommended and EPA-certified to be effective against the human coronavirus responsible for COVID-19," a spokesperson from Avis says. Many are also introducing safety seals for their vehicles. For example, Hertz is placing a "Gold Standard Clean" seal across the driver’s side door after the car has been sanitized. 

In addition, most car rental agencies are only using digital rental agreements and receipts, and drivers can show their license at a window instead of by hand. At locations equipped with Clear, drivers can also take advantage of contactless pick-up, with a facial scan to prove their identity before they exit the lot.

Many agencies have retrained their employees to follow COVID-19 safety procedures. “We’ve provided additional personal protective equipment for frontline associates, increased hand-washing procedures, and incorporated social distancing measures,” says Joe Ferraro, Avis Budget Group’s CEO.

Most rental agencies will also allow for curb-side pickups and will deliver a rental to a customer. Plus they are limiting the number of passengers on shuttle buses that take travelers from an airport or parking lot to the rental agency. 

What precautions should you take when renting a car during the coronavirus pandemic?

It certainly can’t hurt to do a little follow-up on your own. When you pick up your car, or when you call to inquire about a rental, ask the attendant what protocols were followed to clean that specific car. If you have any doubt, bring along some cleaning supplies and wipe down surfaces. Even if it’s not necessary, it might make you feel better. And, of course, if you’re traveling with someone who might have been exposed, everyone should wear a mask for the duration of the ride. 

If you do decide to go for it, you will likely find a good deal. Because many car rental companies are facing financial trouble—Hertz and Advantage Rent-a-Car recently filed for bankruptcy and more than 2,000 Enterprise employees lost their jobs—prices are low, and many policies have become more flexible. And if you happen to be in the market to buy, many of these companies are downsizing and selling used rental cars at a steep discount

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Shana Liebman


Shana Liebman is the features editor of NYMP. She’s a writer and editor who has worked for magazines including New York MagazineSalon, and Travel & Leisure—and she is the mom of two energetic little boys.

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