Rental car rates rise as Toyota recall shrinks fleet

Rental car rates became even more expensive this week as agencies nationwide grappled with the loss of scores of recently-recalled Toyotas now sitting in mechanics' garages waiting for retrofits.

The dilemma prompted one of the country's largest agencies, Hertz, to say that it won't honor coupons or promotions for new rentals for at least several weeks until it adds popular mid-sized and full-sized Toyota models back into its inventory.

"We've scaled back on the number of deals and promotions we have out there," Paula Rivera, Hertz' manager of public affairs, told WalletPop. She declined to say how many of Hertz' vehicles were affected, but the company's 2008 annual report states that Toyota models make up 13% of its fleet worldwide.

Analysts said that roughly 8% of the country's rental car fleet overall -- or about 104,000 vehicles -- were pulled off lots belonging to Hertz, Enterprise, Avis, Budget, National and Alamo since the massive recall was announced last month.

Some companies were more forthcoming than Hertz. Avis said in a press release that the recall impacted about 20,000 vehicles, or about 7% of its fleet. Dollar Rent A Car told WalletPop that about 1.5% of its vehicles, or about 15,900 cars, were sidelined. The country's largest rental car company, Enterprise Holdings, which operates the Alamo, Enterprise and National brands, said about 4.1% of its fleet was impacted.

The news comes just as the travel industry is readying itself for spring break -- one of its busiest periods of the year.

The rental car rate for a mid-sized car rented for a day jumped about 4% over the last week, said Neil Abrams, president of Abrams Consulting Group. He cautioned that the rise may not be attributable to the recall, but to typical market fluctuations due to supply and demand.

"Rental car companies have been operating tight fleets for the last year and a half," Abrams said. "This situation has put them in a tighter position."

One thing is for sure, and that is that rental car prices are already up about 30% after companies shrunk the number of vehicles in their fleets by as much as 40% over the last five years, he added.

Whether your rental car is more expensive this spring is likely to depend on where you're traveling. Rental car agents in Southern Florida -- a popular spring break getaway -- suffered mightily during the Super Bowl, with some losing over half the cars in their fleet to the recall.

Car rentals booked through also reportedly increased in weeks following the Toyota recall at several major airports including John F. Kennedy International, Chicago's O'Hare International, Los Angeles International and Miami International.

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