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6 Ways Rental Car Companies Have Changed Forever

The industry is prioritizing safety in a whole new way during the pandemic, so you can hit the open road with one less worry on your mind.

Unused rental cars at unused stadiumsRobert Gauthier/Getty Images

The new rules of the road

As states and businesses reopen, you might be thinking of hitting the road on one of these 25 epic American road trips or renting a cute, secluded cabin to get away. Regardless of where your wanderlust or workplace takes you, you might need a car once you arrive at your destination—or to get there. So, what can you expect from car rental companies in the middle of a pandemic? To find out, we spoke to representatives at Enterprise Holdings (whose brands include Enterprise Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental, and Alamo Rent a Car) and the car rental service Kyte. From transparent cleaning protocols to limited in-person interactions, here’s how car rental companies are trying to keep both customers and staff safe now and in the future.

Female's hand in surgical glove touching vehicle handle. Opening / closing car door.RuslanDashinsky/Getty Images

A contact-free rental process

During a pandemic, touchless transactions are critical for everyone’s safety. For that reason, reducing physical contact between customers and staff is an ongoing effort, says Sara Miller, Vice President of Corporate Communications at Enterprise Holdings. “This includes the addition of a curbside rental option, as well as delivery at some locations, to help promote social distancing by getting renters quickly on their way while limiting foot traffic in our locations,” she explains. “We’re also working on additional modified offerings so we can implement more permanent low- and no-touch experiences for our customers in the months ahead.”

Kyte, a rental car delivery company, has offered contact-free experiences since its inception. Customers rent cars on their smartphones, then wait for the vehicle to be dropped off by a masked and gloved delivery person. “[With] the general concept of rental cars being affiliated with a ton of paperwork and this dreaded factor of waiting in line, a change has been coming for quite a while,” says Bala Pichumani, who works in Growth & Operations for Kyte. “With customers ordering a car from their app, there’s no wait and no paperwork involved.” There’s also the potential for no human contact.

Hand with glove wiping car steering wheel.martinedoucet/Getty Images

Serious cleaning protocols

For the safety of everyone involved, car rental companies have raised the bar when it comes to cleaning cars between customers. At Kyte, this means each Surfer—the person who delivers your rental car to your door—is equipped with a variety of cleaning tools and products. The car, including the keys and fob, are sanitized prior to the handover.

When it comes to cars rented from Enterprise Holdings, Miller says, “customers can rest assured when they see the Complete Clean Pledge on their rental car.” She notes that extensive cleaning mandates “include washing, vacuuming, general wipe down, and sanitizing with a disinfectant that meets leading health authority requirements, with particular attention to more than 20 high-touch points.” Key touchpoints include all exterior and interior door handles, the steering wheel, cup holders, and more. If you need to sanitize your own vehicle, here’s exactly how you should clean your car’s interior.

Receptionist woman and customer protected at the reception from epidemic diseasemustafagull/Getty Images

Social distancing at the rental counter

Similar to the ways checkout lanes are changing forever, the service desk of your local car rental company will also be different during a pandemic. At some locations, you might notice plastic dividers known as “sneeze shields” to keep airborne droplets from crossing the service desk. And depending on the location, the service desk or counter might be equipped with hand sanitizer or even disposable masks. Though there is no all-encompassing way to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 at a car rental counter, wearing masks, regularly sanitizing your hands, and standing back far enough that you maintain six feet of distance from the agent could help. Whether you’re renting a car, hailing a cab, or picking up groceries, there are simple ways to change your everyday habits to stay safe.

hertz clean sealvia

Customer-friendly safety seals

In May, Hertz rolled out its Gold Standard Clean seal, a sticker-like ribbon that “seals” car doors closed after a vehicle has been sanitized according to the brand’s 15-point cleaning checklist. This mimics one of the ways hotels have changed during the coronavirus pandemic: In April, Hilton revealed CleanStay Room Seals, a visible indication that a room had been properly sanitized and reset. Though there’s no way to confirm that rental cars presented with a safety seal have been better sanitized than those without them, some customers find the visible reminder of the brand’s cleaning protocol reassuring.

Receptionist on Telephonemoodboard/Getty Images

Adapting to customer concerns

Coronavirus has made life difficult for all of us. Whether you or a loved one has been infected, you’ve decided to cancel summer travel plans, or you’re trying to decide whether to send your kids back to school in the fall, everyday decisions are now complicated by safety concerns. Fortunately, car rental companies are eager to ease any worries. “We do receive quite a few questions,” Pichumani says. “A lot of customers mention that the reason they wanted to stop using [car-sharing or ride-sharing services] is that they don’t trust the concept of driving another consumer’s car versus renting from a company that is required to deliver a sanitized service.”

Miller adds, “For those ready to get back on the road, we want them to know Enterprise Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental, and Alamo Rent a Car are ready to support them with an experience that’s safe, secure, and exactly what they’d expect from us.”

SFChronicleVirusDailySan Francisco Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images/Getty Images

Quarantined cars

Despite coronavirus fears, it’s likely that you feel safe and comfortable at home. Maybe you’ve memorized the list of coronavirus symptoms and the cheapest places to order your favorite foods online. But what if the worst happens while you’re on vacation? And what if you get a rental car that was last used by someone with coronavirus? Aside from a rigorous cleaning protocol, Miller says that Enterprise Holdings’ brands “have measures in place to immediately isolate and quarantine any vehicle if needed.”

As for Kyte, because of its delivery model, cars are often cleaned more than once between users. Pichumani says, “We started mandating that drivers clean our Kytes (the company’s cars) right before delivery. In addition to that, we have professional cleaning.”

Drone Shot of 10/110 Interchange at Sunsethalbergman/Getty Images

Rental cars: The future of travel?

At the end of May, CNN reported that the rental car industry “nearly ground to a halt.” But now that summer is in full swing and the list of countries that might not let Americans visit continues to grow, rental car companies have a chance to shine again. According to Miller, “As people consider traveling this summer, many are choosing the car as their preferred mode of transportation. For those looking to hit the road, doing so in a rental car reduces wear and tear on a personal vehicle while also providing access to a wide range of vehicle makes and models to meet their needs.”

Pichumani recalls how one recent customer rented a car “just to drive up and down the coast one day.” She also notes that people who typically fly somewhere far away for vacation will likely opt for local beaches or national parks this year. “We are really seeing a rise in local tourism, appreciating what’s around,” she says. “We’re here for them.”

For more on this developing situation, see our comprehensive Coronavirus Guide.

Leandra Beabout
Leandra is a lifestyle writer covering health, travel, and literature. A former high school English teacher, she covers books, words, and grammar for When she’s not on deadline, you can find her curled up with a new library book or road-tripping through Europe or the American West.

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